Steve Yzerman sounds like he knows who he wants behind the Tampa Bay Lightning's bench. He's still trying to make it happen.
Yzerman, the vice president and general manager of the Lightning, fired coach Guy Boucher this morning. He met with media in Winnipeg, where Tampa plays tonight, to discuss the coaching search. The leading candidates are former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and Jon Cooper, who coaches the Lightning's minor-league club and won the AHL title last year.
"I will tell you I’m hopeful that I can get something in place as quickly
as possible, and I’m not looking to drag things out," Yzerman said. "I have an idea of
what I want to do and a plan for what I want to do, and I’m trying to
get that accomplished as soon as possible."
TORONTO -- Today is the first day since July 20, 1997 that Lindy Ruff is not the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Jeez. Think of everything that has gone on in the hockey world since then, or just simply in life.
For 12 players and three of the four assistant coaches on the roster, Ruff is the only head coach they've ever played for or worked under in the NHL. So it's pretty surreal that they're getting ready for tonight's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs without him.
The players and coaches were on the bus in Amherst yesterday to come to Toronto and some said it was odd Ruff wasn't there yet. When he showed up, he hopped on board and said he had some news. Several thought he was announcing a trade. Instead, he said he was fired and thanked them. And then he hopped off.
"That's when we totally realized changes were on the way," captain Jason Pominville said here today. "We all said, "We gotta go out there and see him.' It was pretty emotional for everyone."
Lindy Ruff spent 26 years with the Buffalo Sabres as a coach and player. The run came to an end Wednesday. The Buffalo News has it covered:
*Ruff came to First Niagara Center for practice, meeting some of his players and looking at video before heading to a news conference to honor high schoolers who will take the ice downtown next week. It was like any other day in Sabreland.
Ruff then worked his struggling team hard on the ice, a 90-minute practice that was one of the longest of the season. He met the media for 4 minutes, cutting off questions a little earlier than on most days this season. Then he headed out to his home in Clarence.
*When it actually happened, Bucky Gleason writes, my first thought wasn't about the Sabres finally making a bold move that they owed their fan base. I wasn't thinking about who would replace him. Strangely enough, it was about how much I owed Lindy Ruff, knowing that I could never repay him.
*Regier arrived 20 minutes late to announce that he had fired Lindy Ruff as his head coach, Jerry Sullivan writes. It was fitting, because like so many of the general manager’s moves, this one was long overdue.
*Ruff dreamed of holding the Stanley Cup in his adopted town of Buffalo. He pictured himself skating around Memorial Auditorium with the chalice over his head. He envisioned himself clutching the Cup on the bench in First Niagara Center.
Ryan Miller was on the team bus, ready to depart for Toronto this afternoon when Lindy Ruff came aboard and told the Sabres players he'd been fired as coach.
"We’re not playing great hockey, and there’s a lot of pressure on the organization I can imagine right now," Miller said during a phone call with The Buffalo News. "Ownership or management need to do something. It’s unfortunate. I feel like it’s a situation we put the coach in. We weren’t executing. If we were executing but still losing, I think that’s one thing. But we’re not playing the game the right way.
The Sabres made one move by the the time their 90-minute practice ended today, putting forward Cody McCormick on waivers. But stay tuned. Lindy Ruff made it pretty clear that's not all-systems-go on the SS Sabre for long.
"If we're going to be like this, it isn't working the way we're going," Ruff said of his team, which is last in the Northeast Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference and 27th in the NHL overall standing. "I think the indication today is we're going to have to try some things and that's what we're talking about."
Ruff made an exit-stage right from his meeting with reporters at that point, but had answered questions for about four minutes. So what does it mean?
A simple move could be to bring up Kevin Porter from Rochester for Thursday's game in Toronto. But there's plenty of indication GM Darcy Regier is heating up trade talks, given the dire straits his team is in.
As for McCormick, he's got another year left on his deal at $1 million and has no points in eight games this year. He gave the Sabres eight goals, 20 points and 142 penalty minutes two years ago after being acquired from Colorado to replace Andrew Peters but hasn't approached those totals since as he's battled concussions and a severe finger problem that kept him out of the first eight games this season.
McCormick apparently became expendable now that the Sabres have John Scott. The fourth line in general is providing absolutely nothing offensively. That's certainly not their job but other teams do get some push from that trio and the Sabres have not.
"Part of it with John there, we're crowded at that position," Ruff said. "And with Pat Kaleta on the right side, I tried to put Cody at center. We've got too much of almost the same thing."
Ruff said Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Ennis both sat out today for maintenance and should play tomorrow in Toronto. Click below to hear Ruff's meeting with reporters today (2:20 update: The Sabres confirm Terry Pegula will do no interviews today).
"I just haven't got off to a good start," said Leopold, who has one goal, three assists and a minus-7 rating. "I'm trying to keep the confidence up, trying to get into plays, trying to make things. It's the little things, not big things that have been getting me a little bit. It's not the first time I've sat and watched a game. You learn from it. It creates a fire underneath you and urgency to get better."
Leopold said he was in the dumps all day Monday over Pittsburgh's tying goal Sunday, the Pascal Dupuis tally that came after a Jason Pominville turnover at the Buffalo line. Leopold dropped coverage on the cross-ice pass from Kris Letang.
While disappointment over the Sabres' 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh today was evident throughout the dressing room, there were wildly different views of the game.
Steve Ott, for example, was impressed with how the Sabres rallied from a 2-0 deficit and had a lead in the third period. Ryan Miller, in a profanity-filled chat, was furious the team blew that lead and got no points.
Guys were more talkative on the ice in First Niagara Center. They cheered their teammates during a session-ending shootout drill. They loudly complimented their goalies for big saves during the breakaways.
Yes, winning feels good. Now they just have to do it again.
Tyler Myers celebrates his third-period goal. (Harry Scull Jr/Buffalo News)
By Mike Harrington
It was one of those nights.
The Sabres were decent in the first period (albeit unable to get the puck out of their zone for the first 82 seconds). They were horrific in the second, getting richly deserved boos on their way off the ice in a 2-1 hole that would have been about 6-1 or 7-1 were it not for Ryan Miller.
Something pretty darn interesting must have gone on in that dressing room in the second intermission. Tyler Myers and Lindy Ruff both admitted there was plenty of anger and the third period that followed was easily this club's best of the year.
When the 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins was complete, Drew Stafford (the elephant finally off his back after scoring his first goal), greeted the media in an outlandish fur coat with Sabres logo on the back. He then unleashed this gem as reporters encircled him: "Guys, I want to thank Mike Harrington for letting me borrow his coat."
Lindy Ruff: "The team will feed off my energy." (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)
By Mike Harrington
Lindy Ruff was a bundle of energy after the Sabres' one-hour practice today in First Niagara Center. After seeing his team take a season-high 42 shots on goal and play much better defensively in Tuesday's 2-0 loss at Ottawa, Ruff wanted to keep his players' spirits up in the face of its 5-8-1 start. And he was as upbeat as he's been with the media in a long time afterward.
"We'll find it. We've gone through it," Ruff said. "We knew we were a little young down the middle but it will come. I'm confident it will come. It's all on me to clean this mess up. I'm not done trying."
Tyler Myers (right) met Colin Greening along the boards last week in Ottawa and gets another shot tonight. (Getty Images)
By Mike Harrington
OTTAWA -- The Sabres have done a lot of talking the last few days amongst themselves. But what's the old adage? Talk is cheap. Let's see what it means on the ice.
We get a big look tonight at Scotiabank Place as defenseman Tyler Myers returns to the lineup for the game against the Ottawa Senators after sitting out two games as a healthy scratch. Myers had long talks with coach Lindy Ruff and veteran Robyn Regher last Friday in Long Island and said today he's prepared to be "starting from ground zero"* tonight.
"It feels good to be back in but I don't know if it's a relief," Myers said today. "I don't come here just to get in the lineup. I need to put together a solid defensive game and just build it from there. I've tried to work as hard as I can using the time I have to try to mentally get prepared and that's the biggest thing. I don't think at this point it's anything physical. It's just getting my head straight."
OTTAWA -- In his weekly appearance on WGR Radio this morning, coach Lindy Ruff announced that defenseman Tyler Myers and center Mikhail Grigorenko will return to the lineup tonight against the Ottawa Senators. Myers has been a healthy scratch the last two games while Grigorenko sat out Sunday against Boston.
There was no indication who will be coming out of the lineup. The Sabres are scheduled to skate at Scotiabank Place at 11:30.
UNIONDALE -- As paramedics stabilized his neck on a stretcher and prepared to take him to a hospital, Patrick Kaleta feared the worst.
"You get thoughts cruising through your mind there, hoping everything turns out all right, wondering if it’s my last game that I ever played, things like that," Kaleta said today in Nassau Coliseum. "Luckily, everything’s good and I’m able to come back and play."
Andrej Sekera practiced with the Sabres Friday in the Nassau Coliseum and is expected to play Saturday against the New York Islanders. Adam Pardy has been loaned back to Rochester.
So the Sabres' options could include dressing all seven defensemen (using T.J. Brennan as a power-play specialist) or scratching one. For purposes of this poll, assume Christian Ehrhoff plays and everyone else could be in peril.
Do they simply scratch Brennan? Or does Lindy Ruff make a bolder move and finally tell Jordan Leopold or Tyler Myers -- who is last in the NHL in plus-minus at -9 -- to take a seat in the press box?
Thomas Vanek is pumped after pulling the Sabres within 4-3. (Getty Images)
By Mike Harrington
It certainly helps to have the NHL's leading scorer but it's still hard to imagine the Sabres are third in the NHL in goals with 35. But that's the fact. Of course, being tied for last in goals-against with Washington (41) remains a huge issue.
Here's the latest numbers on Thomas Vanek's epic start to the season:
Christian Ehrhoff says he's ready to play tonight. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)
By Mike Harrington
Coach Lindy Ruff said the Sabres will dress seven defensemen for warmups prior to tonight's game against Montreal. He'll then make a decision which six to suit up for the game or perhaps whether to keep all seven in the lineup.
The biggest news is that Christian Ehrhoff should be ready to go after missing Tuesday's game in Ottawa with an undisclosed muscle strain. Ehrhoff is Buffalo's runaway ice time leader this year at 23 minutes, 54 seconds per game and is a plus-2 while playing the most consistent game among the blueliners this season.
Ehrhoff was injured Sunday against Florida and said his issue developed when he woke up Monday. He tried to take the morning skate Tuesday in Ottawa but was quickly shut down.
"After a couple laps, I knew it was not working," he said. "A couple extra days helped."
John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.
Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.