Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff holds a Sabres jersey Tuesday flanked by general manager Kevyn Adams (left) and owner Terry Pegula. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

In current Sabres, coach Lindy Ruff sees similarities to special 2005-06 team

BUFFALO – As general manager Kevyn Adams searched for the Sabres’ next head coach, he said he kept thinking back to his conversations with Lindy Ruff.

Ruff, of course, was a strong candidate from the get-go. Adams wanted a coaching veteran capable of holding players accountable and pushing the Sabres to the next level, and Ruff, having led Buffalo to the playoffs eight times during his first stint here, certainly fit his criteria.

As Adams did his due diligence – he said he interviewed at least 10 candidates – he kept thinking about the opportunity and potential Ruff said he saw in the Sabres.

“Lindy Ruff would not be sitting up here if he did not believe this team could win,” Adams said Tuesday during Ruff’s re-introduction as coach in the KeyBank Center pavilion. “That’s why he’s here. He’s here to win. The past is the past. That’s great. But this is about now. This is about the players in that locker room now.

“This is about the fans that come in here and can believe in something great. That’s why he’s sitting here. And that’s what I saw and felt as I had those conversations.”

During those conversations, Ruff, 64, said he questioned himself. He said when Adams contacted him, he did not accept the job right away.

The New Jersey Devils fired him March 4. The Sabres, who own an NHL-record 13-year playoff drought, dismissed Don Granato last Tuesday following a disappointing 84-point season.

Ruff said he had to ask himself why he would take the job?

“You know, why would I do this?” he said. “Then I came to a point, why wouldn’t I? Because I’m a risk-taker. And I think if there’s no risk, there’s no reward. So I’m putting myself in that position.”

Ruff has taken risks and tried to challenge himself and evolve throughout his 30-year coaching career.

Instead of pursuing fresh opportunities, he stayed in Buffalo during some lean years. Remember, the team went bankrupt in 2003. After the Dallas Stars let him go in 2017, he spent three seasons as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers. Veteran NHL head coaches rarely take assistant jobs.

But during his time in New York, he said his role allowed him to “stay current with players.” His stint with the Rangers likely helped him land New Jersey’s job.

Buffalo’s current team reminds Ruff of the one he coached here in 2005-06, when the Sabres emerged from the lockout showcasing perhaps the NHL’s deepest lineup. That young, slick group took the league by storm, piling up goals and falling one win short of advancing to the Stanley Cup final.

“This team is so similar to where we were at back then,” he said of the team led by co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury and a slew of young players, including goalie Ryan Miller. “Deep with talent. It’s just we needed to play the game the right way.”

Ruff said part of that style entails playing “a real fast game” like his team 18 years ago.

“Use your speed and use your talent,” he said. “Every player has something to offer and a different skill set, but use that skill set to make us the best offensive team. We really had a team that had (a) defense that were involved with the play to help a great offense. That’ll be a big part of it.”

The 2005-06 team and a few others during Ruff’s first run here from 1997-98 to 2012-13 hold a special place in the hearts of disenchanted fans.

In another market, hiring Ruff, whose last team, the Devils, missed the playoffs this season, would be a tough sell. In Buffalo, where the Sabres must boost season-ticket sales, Ruff is already on billboards.

Adams has stressed hiring Ruff, who received a two-year contract, according to The Buffalo News, wasn’t brought back for nostalgia purposes.

“I want to make one thing very clear – it is tremendous that Lindy has a long, storied history in the Buffalo Sabres organization,” Adams said of Ruff, who also played 10 seasons for the Sabres. “It is terrific that he is connected to the city of Buffalo and the Western New York community, but that’s really just an added bonus. He’s the right person for this job and I truly believe that he is the person that’s going to take us to the next level. Our players are craving it.”

Still, Ruff’s presence will evoke memories of past glory. He played 10 seasons for the Sabres and captained the team during his final three years. As coach, he led the team to the Stanley Cup final in 1999 and the Presidents’ Trophy in 2006-07.

Ruff, who came to town as a teenager in 1979, understands how much winning hockey means to the community.

“It would mean a lot to have this group of players experience what I was able to experience as a player and as a coach,” he said. “This building shook in some of the playoff series that (I was) involved with. I can still remember the 8-0 Philadelphia win (in 2001) and sitting in the office and thinking, ‘The building is shaking. It’s incredible.’”

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