Should Ruff & Regier be fired?
Times are tough in Buffalo. The jobless rate is soaring and Buffalo has been
ranked in the top ten most miserable cities in this country. Even so, the Sabres
fans have been digging deep into their pockets all season to support a team that
they need to lift their spirits. The Sabres have failed to do that, and in fact,
are making things even more miserable in Buffalo these days.
With companies, large and small, folding, with so many people suddenly thrust out into the cold, losing the jobs and homes, the professional athlete seems to be living on a different planet, unaffected about the chaos going on around them. They get their multi-million dollar contracts and live according to their own rules, and march to their own drum beat. The Sabres players are the prima donnas, the poster children, of how out of touch these pampered athletes are with the world.
With their playoff lives on the line, the Sabres are playing their worst brand of hockey in a decade. They just don't seem to care, and are more interested in their millions sitting snugly in their bank accounts than representing a city that cares so much about them. They just don't realize how privileged they are to just to have a job these days, let alone a job that is a game which pays them millions per year.
With the average American (and Canadian) struggling just to make ends meet and to keep a roof over their heads, there just doesn't seem to be any desperation in the Sabres locker room. Sure, they are good at "player speak" where they fall back on these catchphrases to explain how they have to work hard to get back into the race. During post game interviews, players grab these cliches to explain their poor play: "Clutching our sticks too hard," "gotta battle through our mistakes," "We have to skate harder," "We have to play hard for all 3 periods," and "we aren't going to quit." It may sound good, but the fans want action, not words. They want wins, not excuses!
With the Sabres falling all over their skates in the final stretch to the playoffs, Lindy Ruff is feeling the heat to get the team playing they way they can. It is his job to get the team up and ready for each and every game, but lately it appears as if his message is either going over their heads or is not being listened to.
Ruff and Sabres GM Darcy Regier are the longest head coach/GM tenure in the NHL. Their days together may be quickly coming to a close. Could it be that the players are purposely trying to get Ruff fired? It seems so by their level of play the past month.
One thing is certain. If the Sabres fail to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year, drastic changes will have to be made. It all goes down to the bottom line. The bottom line is that in order for the Sabres to make any kind of profit, they need to get in at least one playoff series where home attendance revenue will put them over the top. Without that extra income for two straight years, it will force Sabres owner Tom Golisano to make some difficult choices.
Just two years ago this spring, Buffalo was alive and excited about the Sabres chances of winning the Stanley Cup. They had gone to the Eastern Conference finals two straight years and 10,000 fans partied outside HSBC Arena for every playoff game while the fans packed the house inside. Now, Sabres fans may be forced to find a different source of entertainment, considering the economy, the high ticket prices, and the lousy entertainment value the Sabres are supplying. The bottom line will influence any future moves Golisano makes to get the team back into the playoffs and into the black. The bottom line could force Golisano to make a move he would hate, and that is to get rid of his good buddy club of Regier and Ruff.
The blame game
Who is directly accountable for the Sabres demise? We will examine all the aspects of this collapse and put the blame squarely where it belongs.
Let's start with Ruff. In all pro sports, it is the head coach who goes first when a team's play goes south. The Sabres have gone so far south this season that the ice in HSBC Arena is melting!
There have been seven NHL coaches fired this season. Some of the firings have raised a lot of eyebrows. Guy Carbonneau, Michel Therrien, Denis Savard, Barry Melrose, Peter Laviolette, Craig Hartsburg, and Tom Renney have all been sacrificed for the improvement of their team. The biggest shockers were Laviolette, Carbonneau, and Therrien. Lavioletter led his Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup just a couple years ago. Therrien led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup finals last year, and Carbonneau is an icon in Montreal. If there is no sacred ground for these esteemed coaches, then surely Ruff is on thin ice these days.
When Ruff was asked on his weekly radio show this week about whether his message was not getting across to the players, he became irritated and came back with a gruff answer. He definitely is on the hot seat. The question is whether Ruff should be the sacrificial lamb?
First of all, I want to come out and say that I've been a Lindy Ruff supporter for the past few years. In years past, I have suggested that he be fired, but after examining how he operates and how up front he is during his press conferences, I became a strong supporter.
With that being said, it may be time for the Sabres to find a coach who can get the team over the hump. The hump in the road is making the playoffs and the Sabres are on the verge of missing them for the second straight year and for the 5th time in 7 years.
Lindy has done everything he possibly can to shake this team up. He has drilled them until they dropped during practices. He's benched players who are not performing. He's talked himself blue in the face trying to get the point across. Just why isn't the message being heard? Do the players stop listening to him, or are they trying to get him fired? There are many questions to muddle through in examining this mess called the Sabres.
Regier asleep at the wheel
Regier should get the bulk of the blame for the Sabres being on life support. He gets paid big bucks for sitting on his hands most of the season and doing nothing. It is only around the trading deadline when Regier wakes up and shows that he has a little pulse. Recently, his pulse hasn't been as strong as it should be. Over the years, I have compared him to that fictional character Niles Crane on the TV show Fraser. Not only does Regier look like the balding Niles, he is also as timid.
The Sabres should have axed this clown 10 years ago. That's when Regier offered Ted Nolan a slap-in-the-face 1-year contract after Nolan had just won the Jack Adams Trophy as the top NHL coach. Regier should have been fired when he ticked off his captain, Michael Peca in brutal contract negotiations. Peca got so incensed over Regier's tactics that he sat out a year, demanding to be traded.The Sabres could have used Peca's services that season to make the playoffs, but both Regier and Peca were too stubborn to settle.
Regier should have been fired after he let Dominik Hasek walk all over him, allowing Hasek to point a gun at his head, demand that he be traded, what team he would be traded to and what players the Sabres would and would not get. Regier showed his true character when he put his tail between his legs and cowered to Hasek's demands. The Sabres got squat for Hasek, who played many years after being traded.
Regier should have been axed for many other instances of non-activity before trading deadlines, for his poor management of player contracts, for allowing players to slip into free agency and not getting anything for them. When Regier's policy of not negotiating players contracts during the season cost him Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, he took a lot of heat. Recently, as a knee-jerk reaction to those mistakes, Regier has overpaid to re-sign players. He overpaid for Daniel Paille, Jason Pominville and just recently, Tim Connolly. All those players have disappeared on the ice once they got their big new contracts.
Regier should have been fired years ago, but somehow manages to keep his job. Maybe this will be the year that Regier will finally be shown the door.
Players not living up to big contracts
This is the real reason for the Sabres collapse this season and the failure to make the playoffs the past two years. The players are overpaid and underperforming. They are fat cats who just don't realize how lucky they are to have the kind of dream jobs they have. If they could trade places with those who have lost their jobs and homes, maybe they would put just a little more effort on the ice, show that they care, show some desperation, and bleed for the crest on their jersey. There certainly has been a lack of any of that this season!
A professional player at this level should not need his coach to constantly get him motivated for each and every game. A player, with the huge paycheck and the glory of playing in the big leagues on national TV, should put forth 110% every night. The Sabres are so inconsistent in their efforts, that they are consistent. They may play hard for one period, and then rest on their laurels and go into a shell game. The Sabres are supposed to be professional and mature. Ruff has preached the system until he is blue in the face. He has overworked them in practice, punished them by benching them, tried all sorts of line changes. Nothing works.
Maybe it is time to clean house and bring in players who will play up to their abilities, and not continue this lazy style of hockey that is sinking the Sabres ship.
Will Pro Sports bubble burst?
With the state of the economy the way it is, it is just a matter of time before the pro sports bubble bursts. The NHL may be the first pro league that will have to restructure salaries to keep from going under.
I have been talking about this subject for years. Just how long will these pro athletes continue to make astronomical salaries, especially in the light of the economic collapse that is facing the world? If all the businesses are failing, if people can no longer afford these overpriced tickets, when will the salaries of these fat cat players be slashed to something more reasonable?
Big business is what has helped make pro football and the other pro leagues what they are today. It's the executive suites that allow the owners of these teams to pay such lucrative contracts to players who should not be getting anything over $100,000 per year.
Pro sports epitomizes the greed that is prevalent in this country and is the key element to what could be its downfall. Greed, greed, greed. That's all what pro sports is about. It used to be, in the 50s and 60s, where it was still about the team, the crest on the jersey. It wasn't about stats and big million dollar contracts. The pro athlete was much more humble than those gangster rap artists who are always getting caught by police and then getting off with a slap on the wrist.
It is predicted here that with the economy of this country and the world going down the tubes, the pro athletes time on the luxurious pedestal is short-lived. In just a few years, the NHL player could be making an average of $200,000 per year, and consider themselves fortunate to have such a high-paying job. On top of that, the players will be performing much better, giving it all and not taking nights off, like the Sabres have been doing the past month.
The bottom line will rule, not only in pro sports, but right here, right now as far as the Sabres are concerned. When the Sabres finish out of the playoffs once again, and the team loses money because of it, major hard decisions will have to be made by Golisano and his managing partner (and now part owner) Larry Quinn. Will Ruff, Regier or both be sacrificed for the cause? Will some of these lazy, fat-cat players be traded? Something has to be done this offseason, and it may be drastic. Come next October, the Sabres makeup will be much different than the one floundering on the ice presently.
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