It's always sad when any professional sports team says goodbye to someone who has been synonymous with their organization for years.  Never has that been more true than with Lindy Ruff's departure as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.  So how will fans of the blue and gold, and hockey fans in general, look back at his career behind the bench in Western New York?

Most will remember it fondly.  With Ruff at the helm, Buffalo enjoyed success this city and team had not seen since the mid-70s.

The franchise itself became crucial to the overall success of the NHL.  It proved that hockey could thrive in a small market and it eventually took over what had always been a football town. 

Lindy embodied all the things the people of this area pride themselves on: hard work, determination and a genuine passion for his profession.

Ahead, we're going to take a look back at four different stages of Ruff's coaching career in Buffalo.  While some were more successful than others, his longevity with one team must be appreciated.

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After yesterday's 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the fact that Lindy Ruff was no longer the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres really started to sink in. 

Was the change needed? Without a doubt. 

Ruff's 16 years certainly had its ups and downs, but it just seemed that the team wasn't responding to him anymore. The calls for him to be fired began a few years ago, but they really did not gain any traction until last season's awful December and January, which saw the Sabres fall to 15th in the Eastern Conference for a couple games. 

But beyond the product on the ice, when you have someone in such a prominent position around for 16 years, they find a way to indoctrinate themselves into your lives. 

If anything can be said about Lindy Ruff, it's that he fit the Buffalo persona perfectly.

He never backed down from the challenge that was the Sabres' roster for many years. He was hardened by so many people telling him how bad his city and team were . He was rough around the edges and wore his emotions on his sleeve most nights. 

Simply, he fit in perfectly in Buffalo. The fans loved him, and most still do. And despite all the memorable moments in this 16-year love affair, there is one moment that sticks out above all others. 

In fact, it occurred six years ago today. 

The Sabres were the class of the Eastern Conference and their rivalry with the Ottawa Senators was at its peak, having beaten them four games to one in the previous year's Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

The game was extremely fast-paced, as the Sens had their stellar line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley at the time, and the Sabres were leading 3-2 about five minutes into the second period. That's when Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil came across the slot with a borderline elbow to the head of then-Sabres captain Chris Drury

Drury was dazed on the hit, with the iconic shot of him sitting awkwardly on the ice with a pool of blood under his head ingrained in so many Sabres fans' minds. 

The Sabres and Ruff took exception to this, and with the benefit of having the last change as the home team, sent Patrick Kaleta, Adam Mair and Andrew Peters out on the ice against the Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley line. 

Then chaos reigned. 

Mair jumped Spezza. Heatley took a baseball swing at Peters' head. Marty Biron "fought" Ray Emery. Spezza ducked into the referee's arms to avoid fighting Peters. 

Then came the part when every single Sabres fans was on Team Ruff. 

The Senators' coach at the time (and general manager) Bryan Murray started screaming at Ruff from his bench. After a minute, Ruff responded, yelling across the broadcasting gap between the benches at Murray and eventually delivering the line that would find its way onto t-shirts and signs for years to come:

"Don't go after our [expletive] captain."

Ruff was suspended for a game and fined $10,000, which the City of Buffalo raised for him (it was donated to charity). But what stood out was the lengths Ruff went to protect his team, especially on a team that was known for its offensive proclivity and not its "toughness."

A lot of Sabres fans can tell you where they were for that game and how they felt after it. Most probably won't be able to tell you the Sabres ended up winning a barnburner 6-5 in a shootout, but that didn't matter. Lindy Ruff had essentially ascended to deity status in Buffalo. 

And despite the lows of the past two seasons and the fact that it was probably his time, that's how Lindy should be remembered. 

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Lindy Ruff may not have seen the hammer coming down immediately, but he knew there was trouble in Buffalo.

The Sabres appeared to have a good chance at making a run at the Boston Bruins in the Northeast Division at the start of the season. The Sabres had been soft last year, and they added gritty Steve Ott from Dallas and humongous enforcer John Scott.

That definitely made the Sabres tougher, but it did not make them better.

It was one step forward and two steps back for Buffalo in this truncated season, and General Manager Darcy Regier decided he had seen enough when the Sabres dropped a 2-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets in Buffalo.

The loss dropped the Sabres to 6-10-1. They are in last place in the Northeast Division.

Regier fired Ruff and brought in Rochester Americans head coach Ron Rolston (source: NHL.com) as the team's interim head coach for the rest of the season.

Rolston will have a chance to make a claim for the full-time head coaching position in the team's 31 remaining games. However, he is by no means a cinch to keep the job.

Here's a ranking of the top five candidates. Much could change as other coaches are hired and fired, but here's a look at how things stand as of Feb. 20.

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The Lindy Ruff era in Buffalo is over. The Buffalo Sabres official twitter account tweeted earlier Wednesday that Ruff had been "relieved of his duties." 

Darcy Regier announced this afternoon that Lindy Ruff has been relieved of his duties as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. More to follow.

Ruff had been the head coach of the Sabres since 1997, with a career record of 571-432-84 and 78 ties. He also played for the Sabres from 1979-1989.

The move comes after a 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets that left fans, players and even coaches sounding fed up with the way the team has played this season. The Sabres are now 6-10-1, last in the Northeast division and 13th in the Eastern Conference.

After weeks of speculation on Ruff’s future, the only speculation that remains will be Ruff’s replacement. A few options include Sabres assistant coaches James Patrick or Kevyn Adams, Rochester Americans head coach Ron Rolston and former NHL goaltender Patrick Roy. Roy was the coach of Sabres rookie Mikhail Grigorenko in the Québec Junior League.

Other speculation will be if Sabres general manager Darcy Regier will be with the team much longer. Regier, of course, will be responsible for Ruff’s replacement. His job security may be determined if the coaching change results in a playoff appearance.

The Sabres also waived forward Cody McCormick Wednesday. The move clears up a roster spot that would allow a player to to be called up from Rochester. If McCormick clears waivers, he would be another veteran addition to the Amerks. The Sabres waived Matt Ellis and Adam Pardy this season, and both ended up in Rochester.

The Sabres will look much different by the time they take the ice in Toronto on Thursday night. 

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The Buffalo Sabres made a huge change on Wednesday as they fired longtime head coach Lindy Ruff.

TSN's Darren Dreger first reported the news on Twitter:

Ruff had been the head coach for the Sabres since the 1997-98 season, making him the longest-tenured head coach in the NHL prior to this news. In that time, he reached the postseason eight times, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals once. 

Unfortunately, he was no longer having the same level of success with the squad.

Last season, Buffalo narrowly missed the playoffs, finishing three points behind the Ottawa Senators for the final spot in the Eastern Conference. This year has been even worse as the squad started with a 6-10-1 record.

Only two teams in the east had fewer points than the 13 points of the Sabres, and both of those squads had played two fewer games.

The Sabres were able to score efficiently, but they ranked 26th in the NHL in goals against. Their power-play percentage of 12.9 was also second worst in the league.

When asked about the struggles last week, Ruff told the media, "It's on me to clean up this mess. And I'm not done trying" (via USA Today).

It appears that the ownership was also done waiting for the turnaround to come.

Before coaching, Ruff was a player that spent 12 years in the NHL. Besides a few years with the New York Rangers, he spent the rest of his career playing in Buffalo.

Unfortunately, his longtime relationship with the franchise has come to an end. Hopefully, the 53-year-old coach will be able to find another position after a successful stint with his old team.

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Despite being the longest tenured head coach in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres have parted ways with Head Coach Lindy Ruff after 15 years behind the bench, this according to the team.

The team has scheduled a press conference 5:00 pm EST to discuss further details.

Ruff's Sabres are experiencing one of the worst seasons during his tenure, starting the season 6-10-1, sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference Standings at the moment.

Buffalo reached the playoffs eight times under Ruff and won the Eastern Conference Championship during the 1998-99 season, losing to the Stanley Cup Champion Dallas Stars in six games.

Ruff won 571 times in 1165 games as the Sabres' head man, and finished first in the Eastern Conference Regular seasons standings twice (2006-07, 2009-10).

In 2005-06, Ruff was named the Jack Adams Award winner as the top coach in the National Hockey League.

Unfortunately the groans and rumors calling for Ruff's firing grew even louder after Buffalo missed the playoffs last season and played so poorly in the early going, including back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Winnipeg in the past two games.

Buffalo Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier has not announced a replacement.

Buffalo visits Toronto on Thursday, the first game without Ruff behind the bench in 15 years.

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The Buffalo Sabres should have the team that came out for the third period against the Bruins Friday night stick around for a few games. After being serenaded with boos from the home crowd after the second period, Buffalo got its wakeup call.

The Sabres didn’t just outplay the Boston Bruins in the third period; they dominated the deepest team in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo outshot Boston 10-3 in the third and outscored Boston 3-0.

Wherever Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford were hiding through 14 games, they showed up in Buffalo Friday. The two players that have been the biggest goats of the season thus far were the two—and only two—reasons Buffalo won Friday.

Stafford is the player that can get Buffalo out of its funk. He finally got the puck in the net for the first time this season, but his play on his assist was more impressive. Instead of dumping into the corner, he skated hard toward the net and put a shot on goal, and Christian Ehrhoff put in the rebound. It’s a good sign for Buffalo to see Stafford become aggressive.

The same can be said for Myers. He did score a goal, but his assist was more impressive. He skated through five Bruins deep into the corner and threw the puck to Cody Hodgson, who tipped it in. Myers’ best stat, though, was having a plus-two rating. If Myers and Stafford have regained some of their confidence, Buffalo’s season may not be over.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, the schedule is not in their favor. The schedule up to now should have been the easier portion, despite the much-talked-about 14 games in 24 days.

Buffalo has yet to play the Penguins, Devils, Rangers, Jets and Lightning, who lead the NHL in scoring. Buffalo has three games remaining with those five and the Montreal Canadians.

The Sabres already have one game down with the Capitals, Islanders and Panthers and two down with the Hurricanes. The Sabres only have two points in those five games. If they miss the playoffs by a couple points, they will look back on those missed opportunities.

However, the schedule could be looked at as a positive. Buffalo will be playing the teams they are chasing, which will make it easier to climb in the standings. They still have two games left with the Maple Leafs, Bruins, Senators and Flyers. Ottawa especially should take a tumble, with Jason Spezza out until late March and after losing Erik Karlsson for the year after a gruesome Achilles injury.

The Sabres had some much-needed rest this week, and they have three out of the next four at home. They have momentum to build off of after the way they defeated the Bruins, although they were in the same situation two weeks ago and they squandered the opportunity.

It’s a positive sign for the Sabres that they could win a game Thomas Vanek didn’t have a point in. It may have only been one period, but Buffalo has a lot to be happy after defeating the Bruins.

Now they have an opportunity to rack up the points and turn their season around.  

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Sports are built on competition and entertainment. It would be ideal to have a team that will be entertaining on its way to a victory, but sometimes beauty is sacrificed for wins. In a sport like hockey that has non-stop action up and down the ice, it would seem nearly impossible to have a team that makes the sport boring. But the way the Sabres have played this year has them defying that logic.

It’s one thing to be bad and it’s another to be boring. Both together make the Sabres nearly impossible to watch. It’s only 14 games into the shortened NHL season, but watching the Sabres has already gotten to the point of being a chore.

Buffalo looks like they play at 80 percent of the speed as the NHL. If their plan is to wear teams down and win games, it’s not working. Buffalo has 11 points through a league high 14 games. If they are doing it to play a conservative, defensive, low-scoring game, that’s not working either. Buffalo is 27th in goals allowed per game (3.43).

In my opinion, Buffalo’s worst problem is the power play. I can’t remember a team that has so much trouble getting the puck across the blue line into the offensive zone with the man advantage. Buffalo’s power play ranks 26th at 13.5 percent, and has only one goal in eight road games.

Buffalo’s power-play struggles cost them a goal in Ottawa Tuesday night. Christian Ehrhoff had to retreat deep into the Buffalo zone, made a wild pass into the neutral zone and turned the puck over, which led to the Senators capitalizing on the opportunity.   

The Sabres have turned into two different squads: with and without Thomas Vanek. Buffalo has 38 total goals this season and Vanek has a league-high 23 points. If Vanek has a game where he doesn’t have at least two if not three points, the Sabres don’t have a chance at winning.

Lindy Ruff did make a smart move cutting Jochen Hecht’s ice time. But if he lets off another backhanded shot beyond the faceoff circle, he should be cut altogether. I’m all for putting the puck onto the net, but sometimes a weak shot like that can end any offensive pressure.

Ruff sat Tyler Myers for two games and it looked like he responded well after a couple games off. Ruff should think about sitting Drew Stafford next. After 14 games, Stafford has yet to score a goal.

After years of waiting for Stafford to become a legitimate scoring threat, it’s time to pull the plug. Stafford is what he is: a player that will score in bunches and pad his stats in 15 games a year and disappear the other 67. Stafford and linemate Marcus Foligno are tied for the worst plus/minus among Sabres forwards at minus-6.

If Terry Pegula doesn’t realize his team needs a coaching change yet, he isn’t the owner Sabres fans wanted him to be. A change now would still give the team time to resurrect its season. As bad and boring as this team has been through 14 games, they are only three points out of a playoff spot.

There’s no question the players in Buffalo have tuned out Ruff. The rest of the season will be hard to watch if a coaching change doesn’t come soon. 

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The Buffalo Sabres began this shortened season with a lot of promise.  Yet, after only 10 games in, that promise has again become disappointment.  So what are the biggest reasons this team already seems destined to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year?

Simply put, their defense has been terrible so far and they only have one line scoring.  Combine that with the continued struggles of their supposed franchise goalie, and that's the blueprint to a 3-6-1 start. 

But more than anything, this team is begging for change.

Why isn't Lindy Ruff on the hot seat already?  And is Darcy Regier going to, as he always does, idly sit by and watch this team plummet down the standings before he even considers making a move?

Let's take a look at the four biggest reasons the Sabres look like they're headed for a last-place finish, and what they need to do to change their fortunes.

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Lindy Ruff has been behind the bench for the Buffalo Sabres since 1997. The way the Sabres have been playing so far this season has Buffalo wondering if 2013 will be his final season with the team.

For a coach that’s been with the team for 15 seasons, Ruff hasn’t had the success to warrant that long of a stint. Ruff only has eight playoff appearances in his first 14 seasons. When you consider four of those seasons were from 1998-2001, Ruff’s lack of success stands out even more.

He only has four playoff appearances in the last 10 years and only made it out of the first round twice. The Sabres haven’t won a playoff round since beating the New York Rangers in 2007, yet Ruff is still the head coach.

For a coach that gets criticized for not having enough offense, the Sabres’ problem this year has been on defense. Buffalo ranks 26th in goals per game allowed. With Thomas Vanek playing at an MVP level through nine games, Buffalo is ninth in goals per game offensively. The problem will be when Vanek comes back to earth; the defense will still be faltering.

The Sabres have been soft and undersized for years, but Ruff has been given new talent the last two offseasons and has not turned them into wins. Through free agency, trades, drafts and rookies breaking in, Ruff has been given Ville Leino, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, Cody Hodgson Steve Ott, John Scott, Marcus Foligno and Mikhail Grigorenko. More importantly, they got rid of Tim Connolly and Derek Roy in the process. Yet, Buffalo only has seven points in nine games through 2013.

By the way, Connolly is playing for Toronto’s AHL team.

In defense of Ruff, the longer tenured Sabres are the problems. Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Jordan Leopold have been the three main underachieving culprits. They have the three lowest plus/minus ratios on the team: Myers -6, Stafford -7, Leopold -8.

Watching these three play with a lack of enthusiasm isn’t a new concept though. Either Ruff can’t get through to these players or he has players in roles that give them too much responsibility.

Jochen Hecht hasn’t offered much either. He only has one assist and a plus/minus of -3.

I think Myers is just a confidence issue that will be resolved, especially as he plays with Regehr again. Stafford, Leopold and Hecht look like they need a seat on the bench for a while. Their replacements may not be much better, but they can’t be any worse.

As far as Ryan Miller is concerned, we’ve seen Miller play like the best goalie in the world before. He hasn’t been sharp this year, but I think the lack of defense in front of him has been the bigger problem. Miller has had the capability to cover up defensive problems in the past, but not to the point of the defensive problems the Sabres are having this season.

In my opinion, it’s a lot easier to change one coach than it is to swap or fix 10 players. Ruff has not changed his style of coaching and it’s made Sabres games boring and hard to watch. Judging by how quiet the First Niagara Center has been this season, it sounds like Buffalo hasn’t been given a reason to get excited about its hockey team.

General Manager Darcy Regier still has time to make a move to improve his hockey team this year, but it probably won’t be a coaching change.

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