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Sabres Central

Ruff is squirming on the hot seat!
By Rick Anderson
January 15, 2000

Enough is enough. Even the players are talking about trades. When is Darcy Regier going to earn his pay check? He has done absolutely nothing this year besides appearing on his weekly television show on Empire Sports. Where are the tools that Sabres' owner John Rigas promised last June?

As the Sabres sink lower and lower in the standings and their esteem has hit bottom, a MAJOR SHAKEUP is the only solution to the Sabres current plight.

Lindy Ruff knows that he's on the hot seat right now. The Buffalo Bills fired two of their coaches this week after losing on the "Homerun Throwback" kickoff return with 3 seconds remaining. Bills special teams coach Bruce DeHaven and running backs coach Bishop Harris were given their pink slips this week after the Bills lost their second Wild Card game in two years. Lindy Ruff knows that he could be the next coach to go if he can't turn the Sabres' ship around. You could see the frustration and grief in his expression during his post game conference Friday night. He seemed to be near tears as he tried to explain the sorry performance the Sabres put on before a packed house against the Montreal Canadians that night.

"There's a couple of things left (to do)," said Ruff. "Such as trade a couple of guys, which is probably the biggest wake-up call of all. (Trades) shake up the whole atmosphere. You get some frustrated guys who can't get out of (a slump). It's as good for them as it is for us."

Making a trade is like pulling teeth as far as Sabres' general manager Darcy Regier is concerned. After the Sabres had a similar slump last year, Regier waited until the March trading deadline to pull the trigger on a couple deals. The Sabres were able to get rid of Matthew Barnaby for Stu Barnes and sent Mike Wilson packing to Florida for Rhett Warrener. However, those trades were just Band-Aids for the Sabres' major wound which has been bleeding profusely since a year ago Christmas.

Buffalo needs a forward along the likes of Keith Primeau to booster its anaemic offensive attack. The power-play this season is the worst in the National Hockey League. The only two players on the Buffalo squad who score with any frequency are Miroslav Satan and Maxim Afinogenov.

The Sabres played a 0-0 tie with Boston on Thursday and came back and lost to the hapless Habs Friday 2-1. Both games were against teams who have been seriously struggling this season and the Sabres blew their chance to gain 4 points in the standings.

In explaining the Sabres poor play, Ruff said, "We didn't have many guys who wanted to make a play, take a pass. You could see the guys were afraid to do anything. It was a tough, tough way to go down.

"You can't use excuses. You can't use fatigue. We used to be the best team in back to back games.

"We had guys running, you could see we were running in our own zone. That's the worse thing you could do. Positionally, we were horrible. But we were running - running scared. Guys were following guys around. We didn't just get in our box with the guys supporting in the middle and just standing still. We had one guy chasing a guy at the blue line, he was locked man-on-man. We had another guy that was circling in the other direction. We had one guy who was out there for two full shifts. I think we wanted to play at times, but we couldn't catch them."

The Sabres had no life, no spark in the game against either the Canadians or Boston. For that matter, the Sabres haves had the fire lit under them only a few times all season. The team that was one game and one disputed goal from winning the Stanley Cup last year has completely become unraveled this season.

The players are starting to sense the imminence of upcoming trade.

"I think the management has tried everything possible," said Rob Ray. "Lindy has tried every possible line combination. He's sat guys, he's put guys into the lineup. Everything has been tried. You know things just aren't going. When things aren't going and we are half way through the season and we are falling fast out of a playoff spot, something has to be done."

Vaclav Varada, who's aggressive play from previous seasons has disappeared, knows that he could be one of the first to go.

"(Regier) has to do something," said Varada. "There is no spark. Two games, one goal against teams that we should beat. Lindy did his job. He pumped everybody up. We were ready. We just didn't do it."

Michael Peca, who has had a few games in which he displayed his aggressive style of play, still is struggling putting the puck in the net.

"Sometimes the answers aren't as clear as you want them to be," said Peca agreeing that some kind of trade is imminent. "That's when management steps in and solves the problem."

When talking about trades, Ruff was asked who needs to go.

"I don't think you pick and chose," Ruff answered. "You don't like to see anybody go. It's a tough part of the business. Sometimes, it's just to shake up the whole atmosphere. You get some frustrated guys that maybe can't come out of what they're in (funk). It's as good for them as it is for us. It doesn't mean that they are not a good player. Maybe that's not the answer."

Ruff knows that he's tried everything, from being patient, to benching players to bringing up prospects from Rochester. He's had sessions where he has yelled at the team, but has found that's like yelling to a wall. Now it's up to Regier to get off his duff and bringing in some players outside the organization that can pump up the offense. But Regier likes the comforts of being patient and not pulling the trigger until all the good players available are already taken.

Regier claims that he's making calls and is constantly inquiring about possible trades. However, anyone can do that just to look good. The final verdict on what kind of job any general manager is not how elegantly he can speak or the high price threads he wears, but what kind of talent he acquires for his team. John Muckler, operating on a shoestring budget, produced miracles. He brought in most of the players who won the Northeast Division regular season title under Ted Nolan and also the majority of the players who took the Sabres to game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals last June. Regier is around the quietest GM is Sabres history where player activity is concerned.

That leaves Ruff scrambling to make ends meet. He has been constantly changing lines in an attempt to get something going. He's banged heads and given players a pat on the back. Ruff is at his wit's end. He must be saying constantly to himself, "Do something, Darcy! Get me some players who want to play!"

At one point during the press conference on Friday, Lindy wiped away what appeared to be tears. He was emotionally drained and had no solutions for the team's problems. "There's games when you want to work so hard, you get so uptight about working hard you can't work anymore," he said. "You're stiff out there. We had some guys - you could see them squeezing their sticks, they couldn't make a pass. It's not that they don't want to make a pass.

"These guys don't want to come out here and not entertain the crowd. There's the pressure of recapturing that feeling from last year ... being one of the best teams. There's a lot of pride in that room, but they're hurting too. "

Ruff related to the press that he too has been taken for a ride by this team.

"We pick you up, put you on a pedestal for a second and then we drop you right down. When we hit bottom, we hit hard. You beat the Leafs in this building and then you think ‘Here we go, that's the game that will get us going in the right direction, it's the start of the New Year' and then ... BOOM (Lindy smashes the table with his fist for emphasis). Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."

That brought about a few laughs from the crowd of reporters, but it was very short lived.

When asked if the players have a false sense of security because they think they can pick it up when the playoffs come around, Ruff said, "The way we played at the end of last year, we were playing good hockey. Tonight wasn't good hockey. If you want to feel secure about playing tonight and losing and still making the playoffs, that's a false sense of security. That doesn't add up to making the playoffs."

So now the ball is in Darcy Regier's and John Rigas' court. Rigas promised to "supply the tools to get the job done." The only tool he could be supplying soon may be the axe to use on Lindy Ruff. Another scape goat for Buffalo's major league sports teams. Then after Rigas uses his axe on Ruff, Lindy can join DeHaven and Bishop Harris as being the innocent victims of their teams' horrid play. Maybe that Demonic goathead on the Sabres jersey actually represents scapegoat.


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