The Buffalo Sabres ended coach Lindy Ruff's 16-year tenure Wednesday. Despite what some fans may say – especially those who only remember the most recent frustrations – the outgoing coach enjoyed enough success to make him worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame even if he does not land another job – which is only an option if Ruff himself chooses not to work as a coach again.
Ruff once captained the Sabres and has been a staple in the community for decades. He either played or coached in 1,754 regular season games – a whopping 54 percent of the franchise's history (3,256 games to date).
Sure, there were plenty of dark years. The Sabres failed to qualify for the playoffs in six of the 14 years he was able to complete, and they are well on their way to not qualifying again this season.
But people tend to forget what he brought to Buffalo. Ruff had 571 wins, the second-most ever for a coach on a single team and 12th all-time. He also ranks 15th all-time in playoff wins with 57.
A part of that is simply due to how long he was here. When Ruff was hired in 1997, there was no Facebook or Sept. 11, and Screech was still playing Screech on one of the "Saved by the Bell" new classes. Across the NHL, 170 coaching changes were made during Ruff's tenure. Only the San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich (1996) has a longer tenure among the coaches of teams in the four major North American sports. He'd been the Sabres' coach longer than four teams (Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota and Atlanta/Winnipeg) were in existence.
Four owners (if you include the NHL temporarily after the Rigases were indicted) all found Ruff worthy of the top job. The most recent, Terry Pegula, said Wednesday the move to part ways was tough:
"The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach but also as a person. His long tenure with the Sabres has ended. His qualities have made this decision very difficult. I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always."
But he was more than a friend. Ruff produced results for every one of his bosses at some point. Ruff went to the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals and made it to the conference finals three other times. He also has one President's Trophy, two division titles and one Jack Adams Trophy on his resume. And he has a gold medal from helping with the Canadian national team at the 2010 Vancouver games.
So, even without raising a finger ever again, Ruff would have to at least be seriously considered for a Hall nod. But he's still only 53, so he has several good years of coaching left. So once the smoke clears from Wednesday's move, he'll find himself with what will likely be limitless options.
And, even if doesn't immediately feel it, the appreciation of the community he has for decades called home.
For the record, Barry Trotz now holds the longest tenure mark in the NHL, having been with Nashville since its inception in 1998-99.
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