Coaching isn't the only problem in Buffalo

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

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The Buffalo Sabres fired Lindy Ruff on Wednesday after 15 years on the job, ending what had been the longest coaching tenure in the NHL.

Perhaps it was a move that was long overdue. After all, the Sabres have missed the playoffs six times in the past 10 years (including three out of the past five years) and advanced beyond the first round just twice over that stretch.

Maybe the Sabres need a new voice and a new direction behind the bench, and maybe it's the kick in the pants the players on the roster need as they sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

Maybe all of that is true. And maybe a coaching change was absolutely needed to help salvage a season that's quickly becoming a lost one.

But even if it was, Lindy Ruff wasn't -- and isn't -- the only problem with the Buffalo Sabres right now. It runs much deeper than the man who was sitting behind the bench.

If your team is struggling so much a third of the way through the season that you feel a coaching change is in order -- after a 10 year-stretch where missing the playoffs was more common than actually making the playoffs -- it might be time to also take a long look at the people responsible for putting the team together and consider making a change there as well.

In this case, that's general manager Darcy Regier.

Ruff may have been responsible for cooking the dinner, but Regier was the one doing the shopping and providing him with the ingredients. And they simply aren't good enough.

With Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Cody Hodgson the Sabres have three of the top 25 scorers in the NHL as of Wednesday evening and are not only at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, they're only a middle of the pack team in terms of goal-scoring as a team. That speaks volumes about the lack of depth that's been assembled on the roster.

And the roster is a mess. Not only from a (lack of) talent standpoint, but also a financial one.

The Sabres are spending a lot of owner Terry Pegula's money on mediocrity.

The trio of Tyler Myers, Ville Leino, and Christian Ehrhoff for example is making $26 million in terms of actual salary this season. And while the only person that hurts is the owner and his bank account, it's still ugly when it comes to the salary cap. In terms of cap space those three combine to take up 20 percent ($14 million) of the $70 million ceiling this season. That's not doing anybody any favors.

Ehrhoff was given a 10-year contract last year as part of the Sabres' summer spending spree. While his cap hit is a very manageable $4 million a year, it's all part of a 10-year contract. Ten years should have seemed like a bad idea to everybody other than maybe Christian Ehrhoff himself.

Leino was given $4.5 million a year over six years based on nothing more than one decent season and one strong playoff run with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Myers, who has regressed significantly since his breakout rookie campaign during the 2009-10 season, is in the first year of a seven-year contract, $38 million contract and has been one of the worst defensive defenseman in the NHL. No defenseman has been scored on more this season than Myers' 4.59 goals against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play (via Behindthenet.ca). Almost as bad has been his offense which has resulted in just three points in 15 games despite playing relatively soft minutes and logging more than two minutes of power play time per game. At this point he's Jack Johnson without the offense. His play has resulted in him being a healthy scratch three times since the beginning of last season, including twice already this year.

But even more than the bad contracts was some of the philosophical changes that were made this season, including the Sabres' desire to become a "tougher" team in the wake of the Ryan Miller-Milan Lucic incident last season. There was a lot of overreaction here, and it's impact has been felt up and down the roster.

This summer the Sabres traded talented and productive center Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars for agitator Steve Ott in effort to increase their sandpaper and grit. That stuff certainly has a place, but at the expense of talent? Especially when they moved Roy coming off a down year when his value was at its lowest point (buy low, sell high).

Going from Roy to Ott was obviously a significant drop in talent and production. The absence of Roy also made Hodgson the No. 1 center on the roster and while he's been a fine player offensively, he doesn't have the defensive awareness or ability you would like to see in a true top-line center in the NHL. The only forward in the NHL that's been on the ice for more goals against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play this season than Hodgson is Marty Reasoner. This despite Hodgson getting favorable offensive zone starts (52.4 percent of his shifts start in the offensive zone). So while he's produed a lot of offense for the Sabres, he's also given up a lot coming back the other way.

All of this adds up to an organization that needs a mighty overhaul. Maybe the coaching staff is a good place to start.

But it's not enough.

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