Image via Wikimedia Commons
Of all the names that have surfaced thus far in the search for the next Vancouver Canucks coach, Lindy Ruff is one of them. And it’s odd that his name keeps coming up. There’s no shortage of NHL teams that are run like a banana republic in regards to coaching, where the name on the coach’s office is often printed in masking tape rather than anyone splurging on a $10 engraving that you can get done at the mall. Yet it took more than a decade for any of the major faces in the Buffalo Sabres organization to face the proverbial firing squad.
Ruff, who failed to turn a team with new money into a team that made the playoffs, took the bullet, but most analysts could probably deduce that the issue in Buffalo was the frivolous spending of general manager Darcy Regier. After years of icing competitive teams on a budget nowhere close to the cap, Regier wasn’t a scrupulous with Pegula-bucks, spending buckets of money on Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff, trading for Robyn Regehr, opening the books to re-sign Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford, and then throwing it all away by trading for Steve Ott last summer.
The team stunk. Awful, awful, awful, and Ruff bit the bullet, though through no fault of his own. Read past the jump.
In fact, it’s a similar situation to Vancouver, where the big name additions to the team never panned out. The risks taken on by Regier were greater at the time of his signings, however. Leino had more red flags than a North Korean rally, and Myers got a seven-year deal after, count it—one plus-Corsi season on the Sabres’ back end.
Which brings us to Lindy Ruff. What does he have to bring? Championship experience? Nope. A new-age, “West Coast Offence”-style? Nope. Youthful exuberance? Nope.
Ruff has been around the NHL as a coach for 20 years, as an assistant for the Florida Panthers and as the long-time head coach for the Sabres. It was quite clear when he was fired that Ruff lacked an ability to get positive match ups for his top players. I looked at the Sabres’ usage chart the day he was fired:
It’s not particularly messy, and it shows that most of Ruff’s forwards didn’t see too much of a disparity in either face-off zones or against competition. For the most part, they huddled up with the same player roles. Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek find themselves at same spots on the graph. In no world should your checking centreman have the same role as the team’s top-scoring winger, but that is what led to the downfall in Buffalo. The only major difference in this chart between players is that Marcus Foligno starts way more shifts in the offensive than the defensive zone and Patrick Kaleta the reverse. The other players who see lots of offensive zone time: Nathan Gerbe, Mikhail Grigorenko and Matt Ellis, have played fewer than 150 minutes this season.
It’s sort of like Los Angeles’, actually. I’m not sold on the idea that Darryl Sutter is a particularly good coach, despite the Stanley Cup ring. The difference between him and Ruff is that one has a real good roster to work with. It’s rare that a coach will be able to turn an unimpressive roster into an impressive team by deployment alone. (The only example I can think of is the 2011 Tampa Bay Lightning)
The conclusion isn’t “Lindy Ruff doesn’t deploy players properly, ergo he sucks”, the conclusion is moreso that the developments in regard to zone matching and player matching may have passed Mr. Ruff by. I think that there are better options when looking at fired coaches from this season (I believe I get to cover one Mr. Guy Boucher this week) or coming up from the minor ranks.
I don’t think in this situation you’re even looking for experience or respect. You’re looking for a philosopher and a tactician, one who is open to new ideas.
That’s not Lindy Ruff. I don’t know what Lindy Ruff is going to be doing next year, but as Mike Keenan can attest, you get about 15 years after a Stanley Cup appearance of having a “free pass” to an NHL coaching gig. Perhaps there’s a team that is in need of Ruff’s name and credentials, but the Canucks shouldn’t be worrying about how many times the next coach’s pass is stamped. They don’t need to sell tickets, or convince the hockey world that they belong.
Lindy Ruff just ain’t the guy.