By Mike Harrington
Lindy Ruff is out as coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
In a stunning end to the 16-year reign of the NHL's longest-tenured head coach, general manger Darcy Regier announced via the team's Twitter account that Ruff has been relieved of his duties shortly after 3 p.m. today.
There is no immediate word on a replacement for Ruff.
UPDATE: Regier is slated to meet the media at 5 p.m.
The Sabres' next game is Thursday night in Toronto. They return home to host the New York Islanders on Saturday night.
The Sabres are 6-10-1 and mired in 13th place in the Eastern Conference. They are last in the Northeast Division and 27th overall in the NHL. Ruff's final game was Tuesday's dreary 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, a loss that saw First Niagara Center fans loudly boo the team for long stretches.
Ruff, who was a rookie with the Sabres in 1979 and ascended to become the team captain, took over as coach of the team when he replaced Ted Nolan on July 21, 1997. He turned 53 on Sunday.
Ruff led the Sabres to four trips to the Eastern Conference finals and to the 1999 Stanley Cup final, where they lost in six games to the Dallas Stars. He had a career regular-season record of 571-432-84 with 78 ties.
Ruff was the second-longest tenured coach in North American pro sports next to Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
There was no indication anything was amiss today as Ruff ran a hard, 90-minute practice in the FNC. Afterward, he acknowledged, "If we're going to be like this, it isn't working the way we're going. I think the indication today is we're going to have to try some things and that's what we're talking about."
Reporters took that to mean more roster moves were coming in the wake of the waiving of popular tough guy Cody McCormick earlier in the day. There was no indication Ruff was in any trouble, despite the team's record.
Players continued to brush aside questions about Ruff.
"It's players," defenseman Robyn Regehr said today. "Coaches don't win hockey games. Players do."
Regier has long said he believed in Ruff as his coach and as recently as Feb. 6 said, "It won't be the coach" when asked by The News if changes in the offiing would include a move behind the bench. Most observers who regularly cover the Sabres felt Regier would never fire Ruff and that both men would have to be replaced by owner Terry Pegula for there to be changes atop the Sabres' organization.
Pegula has also been a staunch Ruff supporter from the day he took over the team. During his introductory press conference on Feb. 22, 2011, Pegula famously said Ruff "ain't going nowhere" when asked about the status of his coach.
Still, Ruff's teams have struggled mightily in recent years. The Sabres have not won a postseason series since 2007 and have missed the playoffs entirely in three of the last five years. On locker cleanout day after last year's playoff miss, players such as Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek were critical of Ruff's methods and said the coach treated players too harshly.
Ruff said this year he had "reinvented" himself after summer meetings with the team's top players and he had been noticeably more patient with his team and the media this year than in the past.
The Sabres won their first two games this season but have been a disaster ever since with brutal play from their defense and inconsistent scoring from all but their top line. Ruff has scratched veteran defensemen Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold and constantly shuffled his lines. He's also scratched rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko, the team's No. 1 draft pick for the last two games.
Ruff seemed out of answers after Tuesday's loss, a game he called "embarrassing". Pressed on what needed to happen, Ruff said, "We’ve got to take a hard look at everything,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “That’s what we have to do. We really do.”
Ruff said today that look had taken place. There was no indication it was going to land on him until word came out of the decision by Regier that was clearly influenced by Pegula.