When the Buffalo Sabres put their faith in general manager Darcy Regier to rebuild the organization, his first order of business was making a decision on the team’s first new head coach since Lindy Ruff was hired in 1997.
It would be a decision that spoke volumes about the direction of the organization, and Regier’s own desire to make dramatic changes to it.
On Tuesday, the Sabres formally hired interim coach Ron Rolston to replace Ruff, after going 15-11-5 in a prolonged audition; and it’s a move that tells us a lot about where the Sabres are going.
First off: You can argue he earned the job. As Regier said in his contentious postseason press conference:
“Ron’s situation will be that he and I will sit down over the next week, maybe couple of weeks, re-evaluate the season and have discussions about our relationship going forward," Regier added, "I would add that I think he did a very good job under trying circumstances, but again, we’ll address that down the road."
Rolston coached this Sabres team back to the playoff bubble at a time when it was trading away assets – Jason Pominville, Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr – and in the swirl of emotion that followed Ruff’s dismissal.
But here’s why he was hired: Because the Sabres are rebuilding, and because he’s someone that’ll never try to override Regier.
Rolston’s background is as a coach of younger players, be it his two years with Rochester in the AHL or his several seasons coaching the U.S. Under-18 team, earning three gold medals.
Hence, if the Sabres are going into a rebuild – and even Regier admitted they were – Rolston might be the best choice to continue coaching the veterans while attempting to turn the younger players into a solid foundation for the franchise. From Matthew Coller of WGR:
Who else would you rather see work with Grigorenko when he returns as a 19-year-old? Or Larsson when he's ready? Who else would you rather see teach Cody Hodgson how to play in his own end or push Tyler Ennis to properly backcheck?
Who better to fix Tyler Myers' broken game than the guy who's known for teaching immature players to grow up?
But the choice is also Rolston because it’s a safe, non-threatening choice for Regier. The one name associated with this opening was Patrick Roy, and that’s the antithesis of what Regier’s looking for, which is coach more easily controlled.
Maybe he is going with the safe choices for the team instead of the risky business to try and keep his job. Maybe the organization needs to get him a phone that he can make outbound phone calls on. Next year’s head coach doesn’t have to be Ron Rolston. In fact, despite the job he did this year, he shouldn’t be the head coach next year.
Given the state of the franchise and his history developing young players, Rolston’s not a bad choice. He’s just an uninspired choice.
Same GM since 1997. Interim coach that’s now the head coach. No Ryan Miller and/or Thomas Vanek, along with other departures. There isn’t a hell of a lot here for Sabres fans to be excited about in the short term.
But the short term is no longer the target in Buffalo.