Buffalo Sabres: Why the Ron Rolston Experiment Needs to End


After Thursday night’s embarrassing loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Buffalo Sabres have moved to 0-4-1 with a minus-nine goal differential, behind only Florida and the New York Rangers.

The Sabres knew this was going to be a tough year, as did the fans. This is nowhere near the firestorm that surrounded both Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier last season when the team started slowly. 

The issue is not that the team is losingthat was expected more or less. The issue is that the team looks as hapless as it is. 

Ron Rolston was brought in to be a teacher for the young kids on his roster, but the flaw in the plan is that a coach with Rolston’s strengths is not typically relied on for victories. 

In Rolston’s previous jobs, that much held true. As the head coach of the United States Development Team, his job was to develop the American talent in a program that serves as a feeder program to the NHL, NCAA and sometimes CHL. The team plays in the USHL and typically against older teams, so it’s not expected to win games as much as Rolston was expected to further the talent pool. 

In Rochester of the AHL, winning was a bigger priority, but an AHL club is in existence for the success of its parent club in the NHL. Coaches don’t get fired in the AHL for losing seasons for the most part. 

Obviously, the NHL is different. 

Rolston has shown his inability to coach an NHL team in a number of ways in just five games this season, and the team’s performance is suffering as a result. 

A coach needs to place his players in a position to succeed. The systems need to be in place to complement the players and promote the style of play the team is best suited to play. 

The problem? There are no systems. 

A team typically has a system for everything—forechecking, the neutral zone, the defensive zone, the power play, penalty kill, breakouts and zone entries. Systems are more readily apparent in some of these areas than others, like the defensive zone and special teams.

To put it simply, Buffalo’s defensive zone is a mess. The power play is a mess. The penalty kill is doing fine, but the penalty-killing personnel is vastly similar to Lindy Ruff’s. The assumption is that the Sabres are tapping into their knowledge from that system, which typically was one of the best in the league. 

In the Sabres’ first game against Detroit, they were given two five-on-three power plays, including one less than five minutes into the game. Both of those opportunities were almost embarrassing to watch, as the Sabres seemed like they didn’t know what to do with the puck. Needless to say, they did not capitalize. 

With all of the young players on the team this year, it is imperative that they have a system that they can grow in. Without that, how can Rolston expect them to succeed? 

There has been a lot of talk on how well Tomas Hertl and Sean Monahan have fared with their respective teams, and there are tons of factors lending themselves to that, but top on that list is the fact that they have entered established systems with established coaches who have set them up for their successes. 

Rolston doesn’t give the Sabres’ youth the same luxury, but he then has the gall to call them out on their compete level.

The Mikhail Grigorenko situation is complex and a discussion to have another day. Does he need to step it up? Absolutely. But he also cannot be expected to succeed in between John Scott and Patrick Kaleta

Expanding on that a bit, Rolston has shown next to no ability to manage a game. Demoting Grigorenko midgame when he’s not playing well is understandable, but demoting him to allow Kevin Porter to play second-line minutes is inexplicable. A coach’s knee-jerk reaction cannot be to place what may be his best shot at a No. 1 center within the organization on the fourth line in favor of a guy who is a second-line AHLer at best. 

For a coach who is supposed to be youth-friendly, Rolston has been anything but, and this isn’t even considering the veterans on the team. 

The Rolston experiment is failing miserably. With each passing game it looks worse and worse. Now the only questions are when the very vocal fans of the Sabres start calling for his head and how Darcy Regier can possibly survive this one.

Suffer on, Sabres fans. Suffer on.

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18.  

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