Ruff Times in Buffalo: Lindy/Players Feud

Craig KanalleyContributor IDecember 5, 2008

Pre-lockout mediocrity is showing its ugly face again in Buffalo.

Think the slug is bad?  The way the Sabres have been playing lately...reminds you of the goat head days.  The bad goat head days.

A stew of failure is brewing, has been brewing for a few weeks now with the Sabres 2-8 in their last 10.  Players are fuming, the coach is spewing...this pot just might boil over.

As if a 2-0 home loss to Nashville wasn't enough, head coach Lindy Ruff declared to the team that it was time for a new season, that the team would start 0-0.  That new season began with a 2-1 loss against an injury-ridden, AHL-stocked Florida Panthers.

You know it's bad when...

  1. Every time MSG catches Ruff on camera behind the bench, he shows either sighs, rolling eyes, or looks of disgust.
  2. The team's best offensive player last game was Maxim Afinogenov.
  3. Thomas Vanek has scored more goals at this early point in the season (18) than the Sabres as a whole have scored in the last 10 games (17).
  4. And worst of all, the team's veterans can hardly control their disgust with the head honcho.

On that last point, the league's longest-tenured coach is losing a battle with the players in recent weeks to gain their trust, their respect, and their very best.

His No. 1 job should not be creating the lines, figuring out when to call a timeout, or mulling over who the healthy scratch of the night should be.

His job Numero Uno is to keep these guys' heads in the game, to prepare them for tough times, and to show them the way out of the abyss.

The team finally did away with contract/personnel distractions over the summer.  Now it has—if nothing else—a mind game between the Coach and the Players.  Probably, almost certainly, something much more serious.  It's starting to affect the team's performance in a most troubling way.

Henrik Tallinder voiced his displeasure with Mr. Ruff when he was sat (healthy scratch) two games in a row last month.  He then added the horrible cliche, "but he's the coach."

Maxim Afinogenov was not surprisingly peeved too, when he suffered a similar fate.  Most recently, his butt was in the press box against Nashville, and what did the team do?   It turned in its most woeful offensive output of the season, with hardly any energy and no spark at all.

Now the Face of the Franchise, Ryan Miller, has made his feelings known, whether consciously or not.

Per John Vogl of the Buffalo News:

"The Buffalo Sabres' goaltender, singled out by Lindy Ruff after Thursday's 2-1 loss to Florida, abruptly ended his interview today shortly after being told of Ruff's comments. The coach said the first goal 'was an easy play for Ryan to read,' and Miller used the slight to close his chat.

"Told that he may face more odd-man rushes because the coach wants his defensemen to join the play more, Miller…clearly taken aback by the earlier words and getting more emotional by the second…uttered, 'Well, I guess I'm going to have to read better,' and took off toward the team bus."

A loss in Tampa on Saturday would sink the Sabres below .500 for the first time this season.  I hate to say it, but it would be an appropriate time for Lindy to be shown the door.  When you lose your players, there's nothing more to do.

He's been nothing but good for the Buffalo community, he's a first class guy, and he's clearly a top-notch coach, but he shouldn't have to deal with a team having trouble with puberty.

The influx of youth, Sekera, Mancari, and the like, has led to an odd divide in the Sabres locker-room.  Instead of complementing the veteran leadership, it's put players like Afinogenov and Tallinder on the outside looking in.  They aren't the least bit happy.

The team of youngsters is facing serious growing pains.  It needs a new captain to steer the ship...Lindy's tactics, while often useful, aren't righting this squad's wrongs.  The move needs to be made before it's too late.