uspw_5094304It is the end of an era for the Buffalo Sabres. Head coach Lindy Ruff has been fired after coaching the club since 1997. Ron Rolston will finish out the year as interim head coach until a more full-time replacement can be found. If the former bench boss of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program proves himself, he may get a long-term commitment.

The firing is the result of a slow start for the Sabres, capped off in large part by a what GM Darcy Regier called “a tipping point” when the team lost 2-1 to the Winnipeg Jets a day earlier. Discussions to fire Ruff came about earlier in the day and the news came out shortly after the former coach ran a 90-minute practice.

The 6-10-1 Sabres are scheduled to play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. The team is currently off to T-Dot, but Ruff was able to visit with his former players while they got ready to get on the bus. Rolston will travel with Regier to meet his new players in Toronto.

Ruff leaves the Sabres with a 571-432-162 record. He became the 15th coach in franchise history in July of 1997. In the 1997-1998 season, he led the Sabres to the Eastern Conference Finals. In his second season, he led the club to the Stanley Cup Final only to lose in controversial fashion to the Dallas Stars.

Sabres owner Terry Pegula is on record as being a big backer of the former coach, so the firing came as a surprise to some in the Buffalo community. “The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach but also as a person,” Pegula said. “His qualities have made this decision very difficult. I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always.”

Ruff was a sparkling and fiery personality behind the Buffalo bench. He was fined in February 2007 for apparently “precipitating” a brawl between his club and the Ottawa Senators. He was fined again in the post-season of that year for criticizing officials.

He won the Jack Adams Trophy in the 2005-2006 season. By January of 2011, Ruff had become just the 16th coach in NHL history to win 500 games and only the second to do with just one team.

For the Sabres, this is a chance to move forward. The post-Ruff era presents a wealth of opportunity for the club and a chance for Pegula to put a winning team on the ice. As for Ruff, he won’t be without a job for long. The speculation has doubtlessly already begun.