News came down yesterday less than 24 hours after the season had ended that the Dallas Stars were not retaining the services of head coach Lindy Ruff for next year. Ruff, whose contract expired at the end of this season, had been the head coach in Dallas for the past four seasons.
Part of me is sad to see Lindy Ruff go as head coach.
March 10, 2014 is a night not many of us can forget. We watched Rich Peverley collapse on the bench, and saw the team with their heads hung low afterwards, embodying the uncertainty and fear we all had at that time.
After we found out that Peverley was going to be fine, Ruff had to somehow not only speak to the public about the situation, but find a way to rally his team to play in a game less than 24 hours after that traumatic incident.
On that day, I cannot imagine a coach that could have handled what happened better than Ruff did. It was obvious that Ruff truly cares about the players and helped them get through a quite shocking experience.
A less experienced coach in that situation may not have been as successful as Ruff was at understanding the magnitude of Peverley’s cardiac event — and the potential outcome that could have come from it — and recognizing that with the players instead of trying to simply put it behind them.
But, this is a “what have you done for me lately” kind of league — and the results were bitterly disappointing after the team went to a Game 7 in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last year.
You could always cite the injuries the Stars sustained before the season even began (thanks for nothing, World Cup of Hockey). The top nine was devastated at times, and it would be a challenge for even the best coaches when your team isn’t even together coming out of the gate.
You could also cite the fact that the roster construction wasn’t ideal. He was given the same two goaltenders that cratered in games the year before — the year in which the scoring was at-will and was often used to overcome deficits in net night after night. Then there was the whole carrying eight defensemen thing that made finding the right balance of blueliners nearly impossible.
That’s not something that you can honestly lay at the feet of the coach.
What you can lay at his feet, however, was the putrid penalty kill that never seemed to improve this year. A power play that was middle of the pack at best, with the fire power of a top five unit. The inexplicable line combinations, including giving prime playing time to Cody Eakin who recorded only 12 points in 60 games played with the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin and the constant revolving door on the blueline.
Yes, the hand dealt to Ruff was a tough one this season. But if the organization were truly committed to becoming (and remaining) contenders for the Stanley Cup, then it would be hard to sell fans on bringing back Ruff next season. If for no other reason than optics, that would have been difficult. However, his coaching decisions this season did not help make the decision tougher for the front office.
Ultimately, I think Ruff was the exact coach the team needed at the time he came on board. He put in place a style that was exciting and was given some horses to really make it run. He helped to create a good locker room environment in which the players thrived last year with a ton of off-ice leadership and on-ice winners.
However, as the Stars look at an offseason in which the expectations have been raised and the roster needs tweaks, it was a natural opportunity to bring on board a different coaching style that maybe will fit with the roster next season better than Ruff’s did.
So we say a thank you to Ruff for the things that he did accomplish in Dallas, and for setting our expectations higher for this team. And we now turn our eyes towards the future — a future that will be greatly defined by the team’s offseason moves this year, not the least of which is who they bring on to be the next bench boss for the remaining prime years of the Dallas core of Benn, Seguin, and Klingberg.