Lindy Ruff talks Tuesday. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Ex-Sabres Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller know Lindy Ruff can succeed in Buffalo

BUFFALO – Before the Sabres re-hired Lindy Ruff, one of the coach’s prominent former players, Jason Pominville, said he texted some friends and told them, “It has to be him. They have to bring him back.”

“Like, this is the time to bring him back,” Pominville wrote to them.

He had no inside information during the Sabres’ search for Don Granato’s replacement. The former winger simply knew Ruff could help a young, talented team take that next step.

Having played eight seasons for Ruff, including in 2005-06, when a team comprised of rookies like himself and other 20-somethings took the NHL by storm, Pominville learned the veteran coach can elevate a team.

When a friend texted him confirmation of Ruff’s hiring Monday, he couldn’t believe it.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, we talked about that a couple of days ago,’” Pominville told the Times Herald.

The former winger called seeing Ruff back in charge of the Sabres “surreal.”

Still, it’s hardly shocking to see Ruff, who has spent all 30 years since retiring as a player as an NHL head or assistant coach, behind the bench again.

In an email to the Times Herald, former Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, a rookie in 2005-06, wrote he’s not surprised Buffalo hired Ruff “considering his performance as a coach in the last 10 years.”

“He has had a great run,” he said of Ruff, who led the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars to the playoffs and also served as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers during that stretch.

In Ruff, Pominville said he sees “the perfect fit to get (the Sabres) to the next level.”

“I know Don did a lot of great things for the team, but, I mean, I’ve had Lindy as a coach,” he said. “I know him personally. I know how invested he is in the city, how much the fans are craving a winning hockey team.”

After dismissing Granato, Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said his players “are craving accountability, structure.”

Accountability became a major theme last week following the Sabres’ underwhelming 84-point finish. Players explained how they needed more from the coach and themselves.

Ruff expounded on it during his re-introduction Tuesday, calling it “a big word.”

“Accountability starts with each player taking a look in the mirror,” he said.

During his first stint with the Sabres, Pominville said Ruff held his players responsible.

“He was able to push the right buttons at the right time and hold us accountable,” he said. “Obviously, the game’s changed since then and he’s evolved and he’s been able to adjust his coaching style to coach a younger generation of players.”

Pominville believes Ruff’s recent work with the Devils, a team he coached nearly four seasons, also illustrates how he can help end the Sabres’ NHL-record 13-year playoff drought.

Before being fired March 4, Ruff led a young, offensively gifted team that reminds many observers of the current Sabres.

Pominville pointed out the Sabres (defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power) and Devils (Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes) each have two first overall picks.

While New Jersey regressed this season, missing the playoffs, they won 52 games, earned 112 points and advanced to the second round last year, a 25-win, 49-point improvement over 2021-22.

“They definitely took a step,” Pominville said. “They’re a good hockey team now.”

What helped the Sabres make a significant jump 18 years ago? Ruff played to his players’ strengths.

“Lindy saw he had a deep offensive lineup and let the boys play a fast-pace game,” Miller said. “It was an overwhelming style to play against. That got our group excited and made it easier to hold a hard line on the other side of the system, which would allow us to compete against the top teams by being good on both ends.

“It took time but knowing we could eventually compete with the top teams was a big part of our buy-in.”

That season, of course, the Sabres had virtually no expectations.

“I think we knew our potential but came in a little under the radar that year and exploded and took the league by surprise,” Miller said. “I see the talent within the lineup in Buffalo and I am excited to see them rise up.”

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