Earlier this season, I wrote an article about whether the Buffalo Sabres should retain head coach Ron Rolston. Whether GM Darcy Regier returns or not – and at the moment it looks like the needle is more on the “not” side of things – Rolston has proven himself a worthy candidate to remain the Sabres’ head coach for next season. Unfortunately for Rolston, the odds are not in his favor.
If Regier is relieved of his GM duties, that is not a good thing for Rolston. Usually when a new GM is hired they want to bring in their own people, scouts, players, and coaches in order to put their stamp on the franchise. While it was Regier and Lindy Ruff tied at the hip more so than Rolston, the illusion of change usually isn’t realized until most of the biggest names from the previous front office are let go. Not retaining Rolston as head coach could be a big mistake.
By the end of the season it was clear that Rolston had finally begun to change how the team was operating. Everyone was already at a training disadvantage this season due to the lockout, but when the Sabres fired Ruff during the season it only made things harder for Rolston. The lockout complicated anything Rolston may have wanted to implement as well. It is hard enough to take over for a coach that has been such a fixture of the Sabres like Ruff had become, but to take over in a season where there was virtually no practice time is an Olympian task. Rolston barely had any practice time to implement any of his personal system changes due to the constant careening between games.
Still, Rolston began righting the ship by the end of the season. While the four game losing streak at the end of March basically doomed the Sabres’ playoff chances, the team was reinvigorated for the month of April winning eight of 12 games. The team fought hard to make the playoffs despite the hole they had dug themselves throughout the season, which is as much a reflection on Rolston as it was the players. Even after the Sabres had been eliminated by the New York Rangers, they won their last two of three games, which were all against either playoff teams or teams competing for a playoff spot. Instead of rolling over, Rolston got the team to continue to play hard.
The Sabres showed marked improvement by the end of the season as well. Their last ranked power play caught fire in the last two weeks of the season and climbed out of last place in power play efficiency. Veteran players like Steve Ott and Christian Ehrhoff saw a rise in their offensive play in the last month of the season. Young guys like Cody Hodgson and Jhonas Enroth also saw elevation in their game under Rolston. Even fringe veterans like Brian Flynn and Kevin Porter became solid contributors for the Sabres down the stretch.
With a full offseason to build the team with players of his choosing and the ability to make systematic and strategic changes, Rolston could make the Sabres’ recent plan to rebuild much more fun. The team will be competitive under Rolston, and for the fans at least, it could give them enough to cheer for so that the lack of quality during a rebuild doesn’t seem nearly as bad. Rolston deserves to become the full time head coach of the Buffalo Sabres and hopefully whoever the GM ends up being will see his value and lift the “interim” tag from Rolston’s current head coaching position.