Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lindy, Darcy and a Wrap Up of Sorts

This is not a happy man.

"Someone please fire me."

I've gone on many, many times about how much I love and adore Lindy Ruff. But that guy up there? That's not my Lindy. He hasn't been himself for weeks and yesterday was pretty much the culmination. He looked and sounded exhausted and frustrated and beat down. I was half expecting him to announce his resignation right there at the podium.

I'm still not sure I'd go as far as saying I think Lindy should be fired. My primary problem with firing the coach and/or the GM is that I think it absolves the players. Let's face it, these guys are a bunch of douchebags. As individuals some of them might be okay (Goose, I'm looking at you, buddy) but collectively? Douchebags. They don't play hard for the 15 or 20 minutes they're called on to play every night. They shrug off any responsibility for the outcome of games with lame excuses. They repeat the same things they've been saying for two years about needing to play harder, sticking with the system, getting pucks in deep, plugging away. They're young but they're not babies. They're professional athletes. It's their job to play hard all the time. They should not need an older man to inspire them and spur them on. That's bullhonkey.

But I suppose it's the way of sports. There's something rotten at the core of the Sabres and unless ownership is ready to deal one of the primary pieces - Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville or Paul Gaustad - it might be time to say goodbye to Lindy Ruff. You can change the pieces around those five and hope the dynamic changes but I don't think it will. How many times has Jason Pominville said the same thing over and over after a defeat? How often has Derek Roy refused to play the way Lindy has repeatedly told them to play even though we've seen that when they play that way, they win?

Say what you will about Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn's hockey knowledge - and I'm pretty sure it has all been said at some point - but they're good businessmen. They have to realize the natives are getting restless. I think it's interesting that, unlike in past years, we haven't had any triumphant announcements about the booming season ticket renewals. It's early yet and I'm sure there probably are some people who will renew who just haven't gotten around to it yet - it's not like anyone needed those playoff tickets - but you'd think shrinking numbers would give people like Golisano and Quinn pause.

A new coach is the easy fix. It's the worst fix because it involves getting rid of the one person on the team I actually still like but it is the easiest fix.

Bucky Gleason said in the Buffalo News today that the rumors going around HSBC were that Lindy would be getting the axe while Darcy Regier stayed on so it's not like I'm going out on a limb talking about Lindy leaving. I do find it curious that despite the rumor being that Darcy was keeping his job, the replacements Bucky pitched were all GMs. As scary as it is to think about being on the same wavelength as Bucky, I'm wondering if he's thinking the same thing I am: No way Darcy Regier stays with the Sabres if they fire Lindy Ruff. I don't know how it'll all shake out but Darcy has always been very public about the fact that as long as he's the GM of the Buffalo Sabres, Lindy Ruff will be the coach. Will he stick with that? I dunno. At some point you think they'd have to go their separate ways - what, are they gonna work in tandem forever? - but maybe they want that parting to be on their terms.

I'm very, very curious to see what happens over the next few weeks and months in Sabredom. I suppose it's very likely that nothing will happen - it wouldn't be the first time - but it doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize there are problems with this team's make-up. I believe they would've made the playoffs had Ryan Miller not gotten hurt but despite what I said earlier in the season, there's not a chance they'd make a deep run unless Ryan put them on his back and carried them. The Stanley Cup is so difficult to win because the NHL playoffs are a grueling grind, physically, emotionally and mentally. These guys, as a group, are too fragile for that. Someone from within the organization has to see that. I think there will be changes. I don't know if they'll be good or bad or major or minor, but I think there will be changes.

As for what's going to happen here at Top Shelf for the next few weeks and months, well, I'm not entirely sure. I do have a couple more Sabres wrap-up posts started. I'll be watching and probably blogging about the playoffs, adopting and discarding teams on a whim. If there are any goings-on with the Sabres I will, of course, give you my take. I'm definitely planning on continuing the series of posts I started last summer about exploring places and activities in and around Buffalo. I'll be watching a fair amount of baseball. And they'll probably be odds and ends of other things to pass the summer - TV, books, movies, work, trips. I don't know. I do know I'm planning on passing the off-season here somehow so hopefully some of you will stick around and see what's going on. If you're moving on from your hockey blogs for the year, thank you so much for reading. Believe me, every comment and email is read and appreciated. I'm sorry we couldn't have shared a better season.

Oh, that reminds me! I've been meaning to tell you this story. Mark and I went to the Detroit game last week. We went out to dinner beforehand and while we were standing at the front of the restaurant, waiting to be seated, a gentleman walks over and says to me, "Are you Heather?" I say yes and start to panic a little because I do not know this guy. But as I'm scrambling through various scenarios he adds, "My name's Doug. I'm a loyal reader. Your blog is excellent." You guys, I'm a celebrity! Poor Mark had to put up with me making cracks about how famous I was for the rest of the night ("Where's my food? Don't they know who I am?!") long after it had ceased to be funny. If you ever see me out and about, please don't hesitate to say hello. I can't promise I'll make the best impression in person but I won't bite. Doug, again, you made my night. And the kids loved your joke. (Why is the calendar so tired? Because it just completed a 31 day March.) One of them walked around the rest of the day telling it to everyone else in the building.

In honor of the closing of the Sabres season, I offer you a battered and bruised but nonetheless heartfelt, Let's go Buff-a-lo!


Anonymous said...

I hate to see Lindy go. Would love to see Darcy gone... but i think they are both toast. I hope Lindy gets his spirit back coaching for Canada in the next month or so.

As for the team... oy! I wish they had just tanked it at the end... but they really played well the last 4 or 5 games (Detroit being the exception). I guess they realized they could be out of work too.

Vanek's Hair said...

I have to say I walked out of the arena Saturday with a bit more of a positive attitude than I have in the past few weeks. I know most of it had to do with the non-hockey parts of the game, but I still was happy, had enjoyed myself and am totally against blowing everything up.

Shakeups are in order, for sure. But I do not favor the Sabres acting for the sake of "doing something." Do the right thing, not anything. Cutting Miller and putting Max in goal is "doing something" but it won't work. I exaggerate for effect. Gasbags are good at that.

As far as Lindy Ruff. My opinion of him is colored by all the credit he has banked over the last 11 years here. But there are some things I don't like about his coaching. The constant public calling out of players works against him. It isn't 1978 anymore. Players have options. I also don't like the Random Line Generator he consults before and during every game. Stick it out with lines so that they may learn to play off one another.

There are also a few things that are very clear to me. The players hate "the system." Why should they like it? The past two years it has been forced down their throats and they have struggled. It is not producing results for them. Scrap "the system." All the system crap has a lot guys visibly playing tight. They are thinking rather than relying on instinct and it shows. Also, a number of players have regressed. Is that "the system" or something else, I don't know.

I disagree with popular sentiment. I hear a lot, from a lot of different people, "No one can coach this group." Really? No one. There does not exist a single hockey mind on the planet that can look at this group of players and say "I can make it work." I do think Lindy Ruff can do it. He did a few years ago. I thought it showed a lot about him as coach, coming out of the lockout and letting the players be who they are and developing strategies around that. The past two and half seasons, it has been trying to fit round pegs into square holes, as the saying goes.

I am interested in what happens this offseason. I refuse to call for anyone's job, because I just can't.

Heather B. said...

VH, if I'm calling for anyone's job, I'm doing it very half-heartedly. I'd prefer Darcy and Lindy both stay especially Darcy. But I guess I have finally gotten to the point where I feel like Lindy has lost part of the core and I'm just not sure how easy it's going to be for him to get them back.

I'm with you on the system. I don't think the players we have enjoy it or are good at it. But it works. I guess I'm just not sure how effective the way they played post-lockout is going to be now that teams are built to defend that style of play.

Shakeups are in order, for sure. But I do not favor the Sabres acting for the sake of "doing something." Do the right thing, not anything.

What would you consider the right thing? Any ideas?

Vanek's Hair said...

I don't know that I can profess to knowing the "right thing" to do. It was more of a general comment. I was not saying you specifically were calling for anyone's job. I think, at the risk of reading into things you have said in the past, that you, like me, think it is somewhat repugnant to call for another person's (regardless of profession) job.

That said, if a shake up in the GM/Coaching area is coming, the better option is to hire a new GM. Let that GM evaluate Lindy Ruff and make a decision. I don't know that it would work as well the other way. If (Insert Imaginary New name here) believes he can work effectively with Ruff, great. If not, allow him the flexibility to bring in the coach of his choice.

Next, roster. There is no question that good players will be available this offseason, both by way of trade and in free agency. The cap is holding steady and a lot teams are in dire cap situations. Not so with the Sabres (a credit to the current front office for being out in front of the downturn in the cap). Also, much like baseball this past offseason, the big money a lot players expected isn't going to be there. I like Jay Bouwmeester a lot. He is probably also the hottest ticket on the market. But unlike the past three offseasons, teams are not going to have money to light on fire. I am not saying he is the only player to consider. But he is big, physical, can skate, has offensive skill. If not him, someone else who fits that description. It has been a while since the Sabres had a true number 1 defenseman. Maybe never. A true number 1 will make a lot of the players better because they will draw easier defensive assignments. I look at the young defensemen on the Sabres (Butler, Sekera, Weber) and like them a lot more than the current starters.

Up front, a true banger. Maybe two. A big person who makes it difficult for opposing defenses to play against. Unfortunately, Gaustad disappears for stretches (which does not make him unique on this team). He is difficult to play against when he wants to be. It would also help if the guy was over 30. Maybe a few players over 30. Too many young guys on the team that love being local celebrities and having a huuuuge (for WNY) money. Some guys over 30 who can tell these guys "Look, you only get so many shots at winning"

The cap room is there. The pieces for trade are there. I am not suggesting blow it up. I think the core is still strong. They have drafted well, and their development process is still good. And winning championships rarely is by way of signing the big sexy offseason players (which contradicts what I said above about Jay Bouwmeester). It is usually the moves that no one gets excited about that make big differences.

Heather B. said...

Vanek's Hair, I didn't think you were getting on to me for calling for anyone's job. I just wanted to clarify that despite the criticism of Lindy in this post, I would be more than happy for him to stay.

We're very much on the same page it sounds like. I'd love, love, love to get a number one d-man in here even if it means sacrificing Hank in a trade. I love Butler, Sekera and Weber and hope they all play a lot next season but they're such a young group that they're sure to go through growing pains and struggles next season, maybe the next couple of seasons. And that's not even taking into account potentially having Tyler Myers up too. Having someone who can eat a lot of top pairing minutes and keep those guys off heavy assignmnents would certainly help their development. If that person can set a tone physically, even better.

I really think one of the things most underrated about Drury and Briere's loss has been their age and maturity as compared to the rest of the team. Both a little older, married with kids, just more settled. I don't have a problem with young guys going out and having a good time and enjoying their money and their fame but I think it helped to have a Drury around making sure they all kept their heads on straight and their priorities in line and as you said, making sure they realize they're not going to get a chance to be great every season.

Heather B. said...

I hope Lindy gets his spirit back coaching for Canada in the next month or so.

I hope so too.

Mark B said...

I'm with VH's comment about Lindy's "random line generator". If there's one thing I've complained about Lindy, this is the one. Vanek-Connolly-Stafford were going so well and then were broken up. I know Vanek got hurt, but Stafford should have stayed with Timmy as Staffy hadn't looked that good since his callup in 06-07.

I don't know what changes they should make this offseason, but there should be several. No one should be safe or untouchable, with maybe the exception of Ryan and Vanek. Maybe Goose. This team wasn't all that fun to watch this year with the exception of a few games, and that's a shame for the fans. I really don't like a lot of the players and I hope there's a shake up. Lindy and Darcy? I'd like Lindy to stay and maybe Darcy to go, but I have no problem with him staying too. I don't hate him like others do.

Becky said...

"But there are some things I don't like about his coaching. The constant public calling out of players works against him."

"All the system crap has a lot guys visibly playing tight. They are thinking rather than relying on instinct and it shows."

Strong points made by Vanek's Hair that I have thought myself in the past and held onto, rather than let them fly out the other ear.

Heather B. said...

I don't hate the calling out of players in public - I'm going to assume Lindy attempts to talk to them privately first which admittedly, may not be correct. What I do hate is Lindy threatening to bench everyone who isn't playing hard and producing but only following through on that threat with a few people. Hank, Stafford, and Paille all earned their healthy scratches but so did Jochen, Pommers, and Roy-Z. Don't make empty threats, Lindy :P

The random lines, yeah, that does drive me crazy. I don't remember Lindy doing that as much as he has in the last couple of years although I guess the couple of years before that the lines were steadily performing. I guess I can understand feeling the need to tinker when things are not going well but it also seems like guys would need time to settle in and find some chemistry with each other.

Vanek's Hair said...

Heather, I agree with you that Lindy Ruff takes ice time from certain players for underperforming, yet continues to keep other players in the line up in spite of their poor performance. I really think Max was ruined by a lot of that. Not that Max was exactly innocent. But, and this is in conjunction with my random line generator, he (Max) would have been better served to play regularly with the same two linemates. Those two could get accustomed to his quirks.

Norm said...

Two words. Derek Roy.

Make him go away and you change the entire complexion of the team.

Heather B. said...

Norm, I have a post on Derk Roy coming up. It's not quite as severe as that but it's not the most positive thing I've ever written either.