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Sabres hire Lindy Ruff, who guided Buffalo to the 2011 playoffs, as head coach

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes

Feb 10, 2024; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New Jersey Devils head head Lindy Ruff looks on form. Behind the players bench against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Lindy Ruff has some unfinished business in Buffalo.

Some 11 years after being fired as the Sabres’ winningest coach, and following head-coaching stops in Dallas and New Jersey, the 64-year-old Ruff is getting his old job back after being hired by the Sabres on Monday. He takes over a team in the midst of an NHL-record 13-season playoff drought, replacing Don Granato, who was fired last week after three-plus seasons behind the bench.

For Ruff, the hiring marks a homecoming. The former Sabres defenseman and captain went on to spend 14-plus seasons coaching the team, including its final postseason appearance — a seven-game, first-round loss to Philadelphia in 2011.

His return also revives the memory of Ruff’s bid to defend his job in Buffalo a week before he was fired when he said: “It’s on me to clean up this mess. ... And I’m not done trying.”
n substantially since he departed a month into the NHL’s lockout-shortened 2013 season.

During that 11-year span, the Sabres have finished with the NHL’s worst record four times, are now on their seventh coach and fourth general manager, and have undergone several rebuilding phases. The team closed last season with the NHL’s youngest roster.

In hiring Ruff, general manager Kevyn Adams fulfilled his vision of bringing in a coach with extensive experience.

Ruff won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s coach of the year with Buffalo in 2006. He ranks fifth on the career list with 1,774 games coached and 864 victories, with a franchise-record 571 coming in Buffalo.

Adams’ brief career as an assistant coach began in 2011, when he was hired to work under Ruff in Buffalo.

“As I went through the hiring process, it quickly became clear Lindy was the person for the job,” Adams said. “He has experience, a proven track record, familiarity with young players and so much more. I want to be clear, though, that this hire was not made with nostalgia in mind. Lindy is the right person for the job now, and any history with our organization and community is simply an added bonus. I believe wholeheartedly that Lindy can help our team reach their goals.”

Ruff coached the New Jersey Devils the past four seasons, including a trip to the second round of the playoffs last year, before being fired in March. He was replaced by Travis Green, and the Devils still missed the playoffs.

“This is a team ready to take the next step,” Ruff said. “I am both humbled and honored to be trusted to help this team win now. It is not a job that I take lightly. ... There is no doubt that we all need to embrace the challenge ahead of us. The work starts today and I could not be more excited.”

Sabres players, including forward Alex Tuch, last week credited Granato for helping spur their development, but questioned his ability to hold them accountable. Buffalo (39-37-6) won three straight games just twice this season and crumbled in the wake of higher expectations set a year earlier when the Sabres missed the playoffs by just two points.

Tuch’s eyes lit up when asked about the prospect of Buffalo hiring Ruff.

“He was my favorite coach,” said Tuch, who was a Sabres fan growing up in Syracuse, New York. “Lindy’s a great coach, a really smart guy. I’ve always been a huge fan of his. I’ve no idea. But that would be pretty cool, though.”

Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin chuckled and said, “It sounds great,” when informed of Adams’ desire to hire an experienced coach.

“You can’t not play hard in this league. You cannot not play the right way,” Dahlin said. “So we need that. And I’m excited for it.”

Ruff guided the Sabres to the playoffs eight times, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1999, when the Sabres lost a six-game series to Dallas. The decisive game was decided on Brett Hull’s goal in triple overtime. It still is referred to as the “No goal” game in Buffalo because replays showed Hull’s left skate was in the crease, which should have disallowed it, given the rules at the time.

The Sabres also lost consecutive Eastern Conference final appearances in 2006 to Carolina and ’07 to Ottawa.

Ruff went on to coach the Stars from 2013-17.

Buffalo’s 13-season playoff drought is tied with the NFL’s New York Jets for the longest active streak in North America’s four major pro sports.

As a player, Ruff spent 10 seasons with the Sabres from 1979-89. After breaking into coaching as an assistant with Florida, Ruff was hired by the Sabres in 1997, replacing Ted Nolan.