BOSTON (CBS) – Appreciate a great coach while you have him.
That’s the lesson to be learned Wednesday after the Buffalo Sabres canned Lindy Ruff, who was in the midst of his 15th season behind the bench in Western New York. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Ruff was riding high on the type of success – minus the Cup title – Claude Julien has had since he came to Boston.
Despite several changes of ownership (sometimes to dishonest thugs) and numerous burn-downs and rebuilds of the Sabres’ roster, Ruff was always able to work a little magic, adapt his style to his personnel, and squeeze production out of teams once he had enough talent to accomplish the feat.
Under Ruff, the Sabres reached the conference finals in ’98, the Cup Final in ’99 and then the second round in 2001. After a few down years, Ruff again molded the Sabres into one of the envies of the league with consecutive runs to the conference finals in ’06 and ’07.
The Sabres reached the postseason in each of Ruff’s first four seasons and eight times in his 14 completed years, with the years they were out of the playoffs blamed more on finances than on coaching.
So now you look at Julien, who can wear his Cup ring anytime he likes and has led the Bruins to the playoffs five straight years after the organization missed the first two postseason parties after the ’04-05 lockout. There have been a couple second-round ousters and a couple first-round flops sandwiched around that Cup title. Nonetheless, whenever the Bruins begin a season they’re considered one of the favorites to win the Cup. Julien this season will take over second place on the Bruins’ all-time wins list.
A lot of credit obviously goes to general manager Peter Chiarelli and the personnel staff. But we all know that Julien, now the longest tenured coach in the Eastern Conference, has some input on what players come to the Hub. And we also know that despite the criticisms, Julien and his staff have developed some young talent into better-than-expected NHL players. Never mind what blue-chip draft picks Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton have become and what they’ll be – think more in terms of the way Johnny Boychuk, Brad Marchand and Adam McQuaid have blossomed beyond expectations.
Even in the face of a historic 2010 playoff loss and other extended in-seasons stretches of futility, Julien has kept the Bruins looking forward and they’ve time and again shown a knack to bounce back. You can pretty much book a ticket to the ’13 playoffs right now, and maybe even plan for a long run.
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The Bruins probably won’t face the type of financial calamities Buffalo did in the middle of Ruff’s term. That will keep expectations on Julien’s teams high, and maybe accelerate his expiration date because as we know, all coaches are hired to be fired.
No coach should be above criticism, but in the case of Julien any critique has to always come with a dose of gratitude for what he’s accomplished and probably will have done before his time is up.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.