End is near for Lindy Ruff with Dallas Stars

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Lindy Ruff represents two interesting eras for NHL coaches.

The first is that of the franchise stalwart who could, under the right circumstances, spend 15 seasons with the same organization. He made the playoffs in eight of those seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, and coached them for 1,165 regular-season games.

But those days are done. Today, there’s only one coach with over 600 games with the same organization: Joel Quenneville, who only had to win three Stanley Cups to earn that longevity. Dave Tippett has 540 games with the Arizona Coyotes, a function of that organization’s plight than anything he’s done on the ice in recent years. Michel Therrien Part Deux with the Montreal Canadiens and Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings (a two-time Cup winner) were the only others with over 300 games with the same team, now that Claude Julien was fired by the Boston Bruins and Ken Hitchcock was turfed by the St. Louis Blues.

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Now Ruff is in another era of NHL coaching: The one where coaches are expected to work miracles despite sub-average goaltending.

The only difference is that most franchises that don’t fortify themselves between the pipes are doing so because they don’t want to spend top salary cap dollars on netminders, while Ruff’s Dallas Stars have over $10 million committed to puck ‘Welcome’ mats Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.

This is Ruff’s fourth season in Dallas. In his first season there, his team had a .911 save percentage. In 2014-15, it was second-to-last at .895 percent. In 2015-16, it was No. 25 overall, at .904 percent. This season, they’re No. 28 in the NHL at .896 percent, and will soon be back in that second-to-last position now that a child has allowed Jake Allen to find his competence, er, confidence.

That first season in Dallas? Ruff had Trevor Daley, Brenden Dillon, Sergei Gonchar and Alex Goligoski among his blueliners in front of Lehtonen and Dan Ellis.

This season in Dallas? Ruff has Dan Hamhuis, John Klingberg, Stephen Johns, Esa Lindell, Johnny Oduya … and some of these players aren’t having seasons close to their standards.

So Ruff has some of the worst goaltending in the NHL – one contract his GM Jim Nill inherited, and one that he handed out to Niemi – and a defense that’s seen more talent depart from it than has had talented reinforcements to sustain it.

All of this points to a coach who is certainly gone if the Dallas Stars miss the playoffs, and is probably gone if they make it but don’t advance.

From Tim Cowlishaw, sports columnist for SportsDayDFW.com and The Dallas Morning News:

Lindy Ruff will be gone at the end of this season, assuming the Stars don’t win a playoff series. Ruff was Nill’s hire. Every GM gets one coaching change and then it’s on him. So the clock starts ticking on Nill after Ruff leaves. Nill has been very good for the most part. But he hasn’t addressed goaltending when he needed to, and the results aren’t what they should be for this team.

How you feel about Nill’s performance is likely tied to how much you pin the goaltending on him. With a defensive group in a bit of a transition, there was going to be a necessity for better goaltending this season, and they haven’t gotten it. Lehtonen was a problem he inherited. Niemi is his problem. And while Nill has creatively added pieces around the lineup, his inability to be creative in fixing this issue is a little baffling.

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Still, we’ve got confidence that he’ll be a quality salesman at the trade deadline.

As for Ruff, we don’t want this to seem like a defense of his deficiencies as a head coach. Dude’s been dealt a raw deal on defense, no doubt. But the Stars’ 5-on-5 possession numbers have fallen off a cliff this season (49.5 percent), and their 5-on-5 offense is in the third season of a three-season decline (down to 2.25 goals per game).

It’s partially the hand he’s been dealt, and it’s partially his own diminishing returns.

All things combined, it’ll be the end of a era for Lindy Ruff, a guy who has seen his share of them.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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