Lindy Ruff

Lindy Ruff lived up to his name. That's because rough is the perfect word to describe Lindy's style of play.

Ruff was a below average finesse player - with bad skating and puck skills for an NHLer. He was however a conscientious defensive forward who used his size and strength to bang pucks loose in the corners and in front of the net. He was one of the best role players in the league in the decade he played.

So how does a player of below average skills last in the NHL for 12 seasons and go on to be an excellent NHL coach?

Lindy was a tremendous team player and the perfect guy to have in the locker room. In fact his best contributions to his team may have been in the dressing room and away from the ice rather than on it. He was so good with young players and with creating team chemistry that he was almost as valuable as a 20 goal scorer. He was the obvious choice to replace Gilbert Perreault as team captain in 1986.

Plus Lindy had the rare ability to play defense as well as left wing. He was drafted as a defenseman but when it became obvious he didn't have the speed to play at the NHL level he was shifted to the wing. He did fill in on defense in case of injuries throughout his days on the wing. Later on in his career he shifted back to defense as a full time job.

Ruff was drafted by the Sabres with the 32nd overall pick in 1979 (despite suffering a career threatening hip injury in his last season of junior) and quickly became one of the most popular figures in this strong sporting town. For almost 10 seasons he bled the Blue and Gold of the Buffalo Sabres. In addition to all the intangibles he brought the team he chipped in with some timely offense. He averaged about 10-15 goals and 30-35 points when played left wing. This despite some serious injury problems. His three best years were all cut short by injuries - 1983-84 saw him on pace to set career highs in all categories with 14 goals, 31 assists and 45 points in just 58 games; 1984-85 had him on pace to score 27 goals but he only ended up playing in 39 games; and 1985-86 saw him eclipse the 20 goal mark for the only time in his career despite playing in just 54 games.

Lindy, who converted back to defense by 1987 and played there for most of the remainder of his career, was traded on the 1989 trading deadline for a 5th round draft pick (which turned out to be skilled defenseman Richard Smehlik) of the New York Rangers. He finished his career with the Rangers 2 1/2 seasons later but injuries continued to plague the effective grinder.

Lindy continued to play in the minor leagues for two seasons after his NHL days were done. He was being groomed for the coaching world while playing with AHL Rochester and IHL San Diego. By the time he officially hung up his blades in 1993 the expansion Florida Panthers came calling and offered Lindy an assistant coach position. Lindy was a big part of the quick rise of the Panthers and their surprising 1996 Stanley Cup finals appearance.

Lindy got a chance to run his own bench at the NHL level - despite having no head coaching experience - in 1997. It was a nice homecoming for Lindy, as the Buffalo Sabres offered Lindy their head coaching job. Lindy was the perfect choice in Buffalo - a long time ex Sabre who was so well liked in the community and who could continue to instill the lunch bucket, hard work attitude that so fitted the Sabres team. It was an excellent choice and Lindy, unlike many coaches in the NHL today, should be able to stay with the Sabres for some time with the success he's had.


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