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Ruff still in tune with Sabres

| Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010

When the Penguins fell into a funk early this season, a faction of fans wanted Dan Bylsma kicked out of town.

Excusing the coach from his duties is a way of life in the NHL, and in Penguins history, coaches are dismissed with particular frequency.

But which approach is best: firing a coach every couple of years or riding one guy for the duration?

Ask the Buffalo Sabres, and they'll tell you the Penguins would be wise to keep Bylsma for a long, long time. The Sabres have enjoyed terrific success under Lindy Ruff, the league's longest-tenured coach.

"Everyone always wants to blame the coach for everything when things go wrong," Buffalo's Jason Pominville said. "But you know what• It usually isn't the coach's fault, and there's something to be said for having this kind of stability."

Ruff has been with Buffalo since 1997, and his players swear by him.

"He has a tremendous energy and tremendous knowledge," the Sabres' Derek Roy said. "We have always fed off it."

It is largely believed that the refreshing presence of Bylsma was instrumental in the Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup run. Such surges wouldn't seem likely from a team playing under a coach who has been around for more than 13 years, but the Sabres believe Ruff is more in tune with his team than ever.

Exhibit A came Tuesday, the day before the Penguins visited the HSBC Arena. With local news cameras rolling during practice, Ruff voiced his displeasure with the power play by launching an array of expletives that made for priceless video.

"That's his way of keeping things fresh," Roy said with a smile.

Bylsma has something that Ruff doesn't: The coach won the Stanley Cup after only four months on the job. Ruff is still looking to lead his team to the championship, coming closest in 1999, when Brett Hull's controversial goal gave Dallas the Stanley Cup.

Even though he hasn't led the Sabres to that elusive title, Ruff's reputation continues to grow. He is the Jerry Sloan of the NHL, a coach who is universally respected.

"I think that he's been there so long and had so much success say something of his ability to adapt to the game and to adapt to his current roster," the Penguins' Matt Cooke said. "Everyone has respect for him."

The NHL is a copycat league. After the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers fired coaches in midseason and then reached the Final, other teams will try to follow the same path. But Buffalo is perfectly fine with Ruff and continues to have faith in him.

"He brings a lot," Roy said. "You can't say enough good things about him."

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