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Lindy Ruff Reportedly Among Devils’ Coaching Candidates | How Does He Stack Up Against the Other Names?

Elliotte Friedman reported today that Lindy Ruff was the “mystery candidate” for the Devils’ head coaching vacancy. Ruff has a long track record in the NHL, so we take this opportunity to look back at what he’s done as a head coach in the league.

Dallas Stars v New Jersey Devils
Lindy Ruff’s essence captured in a photo.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images

The Devils’ coaching (and GM) search continues with no end in sight as we approach July, but we did get a little bit more news on that front this afternoon. Today, this tweet was posted from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet:

That, unfortunately, does not get us any closer to the answer of who will be the next coach for the Devils, but it does allow us to add Lindy Ruff to the list of possible candidates (and probably officially remove Rickard Gronborg from that group).

So... Lindy Ruff. Certainly not the most exciting name out there when you’re talking about potential hires, but before jumping to conclusions, it’s worth taking a look at his track record as a head coach. We reviewed all of the other mentioned coaching candidates in this post from a few weeks ago, so we’ll just follow the format used there for Lindy Ruff now.

Lindy Ruff

NHL Head Coaching Record (W-L-T-OTL): 571-438-78-84

Current Position: Assistant Coach with New York Rangers

Most Recent NHL Head Coaching Position: Dallas Stars

Coaching Background: Lindy Ruff has been a coach in the NHL since the year Bill Clinton was inaugurated for his second term, so he’s been around for a while. Most of that time as a head coach was spent in Buffalo, where he coached for 15 seasons, spanning a time period which includes four of the Devils’ five Finals appearances as well as two lockouts. Ruff took the Sabres to their only Cup Final appearance since 1975 in his second season coaching, where they fell to the Stars in one of the more controversial endings to a Final ever (featuring the horrid skate-in-the-crease rule that wreaked lots of havoc in the late 90s).

Ruff was, of course, the beneficiary of Dominik Hasek being at the peak of his powers in that era, but that was still a pretty underwhelming roster outside of the crease, so I’m willing to give him some credit for the success. Ruff’s Sabres made the playoffs in his first four seasons at the helm but then (somewhat conspicuously) fell into mediocrity for a while after Hasek left, missing the following three years. Ruff got a pretty long leash to work things out, though, and he and the team were rewarded coming out of the lockout, when the Sabres morphed into one of the best squads in the league with a dominant team featuring Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Ryan Miller, among some other good players. The Sabres would endure back-to-back tough losses in the conference finals under Ruff before sinking back into mediocrity again after co-captains Briere and Drury bolted for the Flyers and Rangers, respectively. Ruff’s Sabres would have one last run of relevance, getting back to the playoffs in 2010 and 2011 behind Vanek, Pominville, Miller, and Derek Roy, but would have limited playoff success, winning one round between those two seasons. After the Sabres again sank back to mediocrity in 2011-12 and 2013, that would finally mark the end for Ruff.

In the end, Ruff made the playoffs in eight of his 15 seasons in Buffalo, reaching the conference finals four times and the Cup Final once. The playoff record is pretty strong at 57-44, even if the overall body of work is a mixed bag. Ruff didn’t coach any one type of team in Buffalo, which perhaps speaks to some versatility in his coaching. His early teams basically bunkered up and tried to claw out a couple goals and let Hasek do the rest, but his mid-2000s teams were legitimate scoring powerhouses, including the 2006-07 team which led the league in scoring.

Ruff’s second coaching stop had a lot less longevity, but was a similar mixed bag as his time in Buffalo. He was hired by Dallas the season after he was let go by the Sabres and immediately snapped a five-year postseason drought for the Stars, sneaking into the final wild card spot in the West before losing in the first round. Ruff’s arrival did happen to coincide with the trade that brought Tyler Seguin to Dallas, which certainly helps when you’re trying to build a good hockey team, but either way Ruff got enough out of a pretty bare-bones roster outside of Seguin and Jamie Benn to get them to the playoffs. Ruff’s Stars would actually find themselves just on the other side of the playoff bubble the following season, despite finishing with one more standings point than the season prior. In 2015-16 Ruff would have his best season in Dallas, coaching a free-wheeling run-and-gun team that led the league in scoring but was largely defense-optional. That team would finish with 109 points and win a round in the playoffs before ducking out to the Blues in a seven-game barn-burner where they managed to give up four or more goals in each of their losses. The Stars would have a hugely disappointing follow-up season where that offense dried up in 2016-17 and that would be it for Ruff in Dallas. Ruff caught on as an assistant with the Rangers’ coaching staff after that and has been there since.

A Quick Take: Lindy Ruff seems to have a bit of a rep as a defensive coach, and perhaps that is the style he likes to tout, but he is clearly capable of coaching an offensive powerhouse if that’s what’s there for the taking, with two league-leading offenses on his resume. I’m not necessarily enamored with Ruff, who basically has made the playoffs in half of his seasons as a head coach, but it seems like you could do much worse. Ruff feels like the exact median candidate to me. CJ posted Ruff’s coaching impact charts from Micah McCurdy on Twitter today, which basically show as much:

So Ruff is a completely out-of-left-field candidate, but he is not necessarily an incapable head coach. I think the Devils could do better but they could also probably do worse. If a coach can be Just a Guy, Lindy Ruff might be that Guy. With today’s reporting, he now looks like a Guy who has a shot at being the Devils’ next coach.