By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
The sting of disappointment was quite visible on the faces of Lindy Ruff, Larry Quinn and Darcy Regier as they faced the media Thursday morning to explain why the Sabres lost to the Bruins in 6 games, and what they plan to do about it.
I actually started the questioning with the most obvious: "Three of the four top seeds in the Eastern Conference were eleminated in the first round (Washington and New Jersey joined Buffalo with quick exits), and the epitaph will probably read they were built more for the regular season, but needed to be a bit bigger and stronger for the playoffs. Is that perception fair, or accurate?"
Ruff, who just learned the Sabres have picked up the option year on his contract and will begin talks on a new deal in the next several days, said he didn't think that was the case in the Sabres-Bruins series, and made several strong points from his perspective to back it up. While his rationale will no doubt sound like excuses to many frustrated Sabres fans - and I get that, believe me - you have to admire Ruff's sincerity and focus.
Asked if Ruff wants to continue coaching in Buffalo, Ruff was emphatic about how much he likes the makeup of his team, although admittedly some changes are still needed, and his driving force is to "win a Stanley Cup for Buffalo". Ruff had a steely look in his eyes when he said that, and having followed him closely back in the days when Ch2 broadcast the games and I was with the team on the road often, he's a guy who walks the walk. Never forget, Ruff was one of the most fiery competitors the Sabres have ever had on the ice.
Regier became almost emotional near the end of the press conference as he talked about how badly he felt for the fans, and he said its his responsibility to continue to improve the team that he believes continues to be on track to make another run at a Cup. He said if anything ever caused him to leave the game, it would be the difficulty of losing. You often don't know it by his demeanor, but Regier is also a fierce competitor.
Regier, while saying he also didn't think the Sabres needed to be different for the playoffs - he pointed out the Caps and Devils were two of the biggest teams in the Eastern Conference - acknowledged the Sabres did need to make some changes in the off season.
Particularly interesting was his luke-warm response when asked about the future of Tim Connolly, who had a disappointing post season to say the least. "I don't know", was the best he could muster, and Ruff also added that Connolly was a disappointment. Ruff seemed far more positive about his other top line center Derek Roy, who was also a disappointment in the playoffs.
Managing Partner and part owner Larry Quinn said the team is in good shape salary-cap-wise, and that Tom Golisano would not handcuff the team in terms of spending IF they could acquire a player who would help the team within reasonable terms. It's obvious one such player they'll be shopping for, is a defenseman who can help them on the power play, which was an abysmal 0-20 in the Bruins series.
Regier made another interesting point about emerging star Tyler Ennis, when he was asked why Ennis, like fellow first round pick Tyler Myers, wasn't called up to the Sabres earlier. Regier said young players have to "earn" their chance at the NHL, and he said he cautioned Ennis not to go into the off season thinking he "has the team made" because he was productive late in the regular season and into the playoffs.
To me, its a positive that Ruff will be back, and the team will continue its stability while moving forward. It's easy to overlook how much better this team was than the previous couple teams that just missed the playoffs, and with a good cast of young players in the mix and coming up, the improvement should continue.
Will Ruff get his dream of winning a Stanley Cup for Buffalo? I know this; making sweeping changes right now, as the team continues on an upward swing, would be the surest way to ensure that DOESN'T happen.