lindy ruff:

Lindy Ruff: the Most Powerful Man in Hockey Heaven, Finally

You gotta’ feel bad for Mike Weber these days.

Last season, Weber tied for 2nd place in plus/minus on the Sabres with a +13, lead the team in hits (158), and was 3rd in blocked shots (99). He also added 4 goals and 13 assists, and he did this all in just 58 games. He continuously put himself between Ryan Miller and Philadelphia’s shooters in the playoffs, leading the team with 16 blocked shots. He was the star of buffalo74’s much under-heralded “Mike Weber Watch.”

All that, and the guy has to sit in the press box and watch games this year. A healthy scratch. The seventh defenseman. All the while, the 6 ahead of him are playing great, and it doesn’t look like any of them are coming out of the starting lineup anytime soon, barring injury. Top six take note: avoid Weber’s hits during practice. He’s not going to let up. Call it frustration, desperation, or pure determination, Weber must put everything into every hockey shift he has this year just to get a sniff of ice time during a real game. It’s tough times for Weber.

And it’s a wonderful time for Lindy Ruff.

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Put me in coach! I'm ready to... hit things.

Ruff has gone from one of the most green defenses in the NHL to a balanced squad full of blue-chip veterans and prospects. It’s a squad so deep, that when Drew Schiestel (an AHL all star last season and the Sabres best bet for the number 8 d-man) went down for 4-6 weeks with a MCL injury, no one seemed to notice. It’s a weird twist of fate for the defense corps. With Pegula, the Sabres have the additions of Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr eating up huge minutes of ice time. Without Pegula, Weber and Schiestel may have been battling for the 6th, maybe even the 5th defensive spot.

Meanwhile, Jochen Hecht looks to be coming back from his injury. The offense, augmented by Pegula with the likes of Brad Boyes and and Ville Leino (along with the emergence of Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe) is also out of space. Ruff will have to make a tough decision on where to place Jochen when he makes his return, and who to take out. Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick seem to be the likeliest candidates to sit for Hecht, but why mess with a lineup that is 2-0-0 and has outscored its opponents 8-3?

Ruff wields the ultimate power of the modern era coach: he can put anyone’s butt in the pressbox for any game, any time he wants. And the players know it. They know Mike Weber is ready, willing and more than able to take up the slack if someone gets lazy on defense. They know that Hecht, or even Matt Ellis or AHLers Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno could step in at any time to replace a forward floundering on his confidence.

Ruff wields the ultimate power of the modern era coach: he can put anyone’s butt in the pressbox for any game, any time he wants. And the players know it.

Gone are the days when Lindy Ruff had to have screaming fits with enigmatic players who just didn’t play The System the way he needed them to.

HechtLurking Lindy Ruff: the Most Powerful Man in Hockey Heaven, Finally

Hecht is lurking. Don't screw up, forwards.

Gone are the days of that ill-fated 2005-06 playoff run, when Ruff and his Sabres ran out of serviceable and healthy defensemen in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Gone is the unhealthy sting of the injury bug: replaced with a deep and lasting dose of healthy competition.

Tough times for Mike Weber? Yes. It’s going to be tough for him, or anyone else, to crack this lineup. If anyone loses their place as a starter, it’s going to be miserable trying to get back in. These boys are going to push each other to the brink, and maybe beyond.

Coach Ruff has been to the brink before – 1999, 2006, 2007. Maybe this is the kind of push that he and the Sabres always needed to get them over it. Ruff doesn’t have to say a word. He decides who plays and who sits, and he’s got a wealth of bodies fighting for his attention.

He’s the most powerful man in Hockey Heaven right now. Finally.

Go Sabres.

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The Offseason: Ain’t it Funny how the Night Moves

This was a fun night to be a Sabres fan.

“How,” you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. While hockey players hit the links, fun and informative (and some disappointing) stuff continues to filter through the summer sports abyss. (Sorry “Home Run Derby,” but the only thing worse than “Home Run Derby” is highlights of “Home Run Derby.”)

We’re deep into the offseason now, and hockey news is hard to come by (save the delirious rants of HF Boards rumor-supposers. Schenn for Stamkos? Put out the “cigar,” sir).

Still, it’s been a fun day here in the B-lo. Here’s our mentions (which I am sure won’t make the ESPY’s, but more on that later):

Maxim Afinogenov is getting married!

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Hey Lindy - someone finally cracked the "enigma code!"

For those who care, that’s tennis star (now retired) Elena Dementieva who is the beautiful bride-to-be for the (now NHL-retired) Afinogenov. As for what they are drinking, well, with Max comes always some measure of mystery. Odds are that vodka is involved.

Meanwhile, over at the “ESPY’s,” which apparently happened, a lot of hockey folk got left out. Tim Thomas was not even an afterthought for whatever “American Athlete of the Year Award” they have these days, and Rick Martin was left out of their eulogy sequence. I don’t know if ESPN is trying to make a statement and pick a fight with the NHL here, but I do know that you never, ever, pick a fight with a hockey player.

God speed Rico – we still miss you.

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Lindy Ruff is the Clear Winner on UFA Day

Regehr. Ehrhoff. And…?

Sabres fans are in a tizzy over the delivered promises of Pegula and Black. It’s finally July 1st, but the new ownership group didn’t wait until today to direct this team towards that Cup. A passionate pitch and draft day flight convinced Robyn Regehr to bring his defensive shut down skill set to Buffalo. A similar pitch, and a contract loaded with massive bonuses, added the fleet feet and sweet slap shot of Christian Ehrhoff.

Yea, fans are pretty darn pleased, and they should be – but they can’t possibly be as happy as Lindy Ruff right now.

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He went to Napoli's!

Ruff was named the 15th coach of our beloved Buffalo Sabres on July 21st, 1997. There’s a good chance that some of you reading this might not have been born yet at that time.

He’s been patient, and has worked well with what Darcy Regier has been afforded to give him (and Darcy had really done a bang-for-your-Golisano-buck job for him).

When Pegula came into town, most of the media-mob-mentality was that Pegula should run Regier out of town, and take (Canada’s Assistant Olympic coach) Lindy Ruff with him. Pegula let us all know at his first presser that he did his research – Darcy was staying, “the shackles were off,” and added “Lindy ain’t going nowhere.”

The fact is, even without a wallet, Regier and Ruff lead the Sabres to the brink of a championship in the 05-06 and 06-07 season. Most would agree that the Cup would have been ours without the absolute decimation of our defensive corps in 2006. But that success, and all the failures and frustrations of the past, are, well, in the past.

The future, so far, contains a beefed up defense – arguably, one of the best in the league. We have yet to see what might be added during the coming UFA frenzy, but we’re all smiling already. Just not smiling as much as Ruff.

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The frustration is over.

He finally is getting the tools to finish the job.

Go Sabres.

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