BUFFALO – Give it a week or so, even just a few days. Plenty of NHL teams are struggling right now. Coaches will get axed. You can bet Lindy Ruff’s name will be connected to most vacancies.
Ruff, fired by the Sabres on Wednesday after 15 seasons, wants to coach again, saying Friday, “I got to keep going. I love the game.”
The 53-year-old will get offers soon. Of course, he might want to wait. He’ll be able to enjoy that option.
Sure, Ruff’s star has dimmed a bit over the years. The Sabres have missed the playoffs three of the past five seasons and are headed toward another DNQ this season.
But Ruff should have his pick of jobs. He’s that respected, even if he’s only appeared in one Stanley Cup final and hasn’t won a playoff series since 2007.
The old guard still runs the NHL, and Ruff’s an old-school guy, having spent all but two of the last 34 years in the big leagues as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach. He knows everyone in the game and everyone knows him.
The NHL recycles its coaches. Seventeen of the 30 coaches are on at least their second head job.
Most coaches flame out and look finished. Almost all of them land on their feet.
Florida fired Peter DeBoer after he couldn’t lead the lowly Panthers to the playoffs in three seasons. New Jersey picked him up months later, and the Devils reached the Cup final last year, his first leading them.
Bruce Boudreau looked beaten down after the Sabres pummeled Washington 5-1 on Nov. 26, 2011. The Capitals fired Boudreau two days later. Anaheim hired Boudreau just two days after, the shortest stint ever between coaching jobs. The Ducks began Sunday 12-2-1.
Boudreau replaced Randy Carlyle, who had won a Cup in 2007. Toronto hired Carlyle on March 2. He has the Maple Leafs positioned for their first playoff appearance since 2004.
The cycle will keep repeating itself.
Ruff has plenty of options. If he wants, he can sit out this season or even next one, survey the landscape and make a decision about his future.
He’d be a terrific broadcaster. He could sometimes be prickly and short to the media, but he usually gave long, thoughtful and brutally honest answers. His sense of humor is unmatched among coaches.
He’s incredibly quick and would be a natural for television.
Even Tuesday morning, hours before the Sabres’ disastrous 2-1 loss sealed his fate, Ruff briefly joked with a Winnipeg reporter who had asked about his starting goaltender (Lindy doesn’t tell). On Friday, as he discussed his dismissal, he peppered jokes throughout his 13-minute talk. He ended by saying he’d been spending his free time driving to Tim Hortons trying to win prizes on coffee cups.
Don’t rule out Ruff pursuing a general manager’s gig. Yes, he’s always been a coach. But he has talked about how he’d like that job someday. That might be further down the line, though.
He’d make an interesting candidate. He’s a good talent evaluator. Other than some free agents, most players the Sabres have let go don’t have much success when they leave town.
But Ruff will likely pursue coaching.
The San Jose Sharks, losers of nine of their last 10 games, are reeling following a 7-0 start. The Sharks’ annual playoff struggles have kept coach Todd McLellan on the hot seat for years. The feeble Columbus Blue Jackets just hired a new president and general manager. An old regime hired coach Todd Richards.
There you go. Two jobs could be opening soon. Both might already have a top candidate.