BUFFALO, N.Y. - Lindy Ruff won't be going anywhere after the Buffalo Sabres picked up the one-year option to retain the head coach for a 13th season.
What might be changing is the team's off-season approach to building a contender.
In a departure from his patient, build-from-within philosophy, general manager Darcy Regier on Thursday said he's preparing for a busy off-season in a bid to improve his team through free agency or trades.
"I will try to be busy, yes," Regier said during a wide-ranging news conference held three days after the Northeast Division champions were bounced by Boston in the first round of the playoffs. "Yes, I think we have to make some changes. What exactly they will consist of, it's too early to know."
Among the most pressing needs are addressing a power play that went 2 for 35 over its final 11 games, including a dreadful 0 for 19 in six playoff games. And don't rule out the Sabres trading top-line centre Tim Connolly, who was a playoff bust with one assist against Boston.
"I don't know," Regier said, when asked if he expects Connolly to remain a member of the team. Regier then clarified himself by noting Connolly has one year left on his contract, but added that the entire roster will be evaluated.
What won't be changing?and this isn't a surprise?is Ruff's role.
In announcing the team triggered its option to retain him, Sabres minority owner Larry Quinn said he's prepared to negotiate a long-term extension with both Ruff and Regier, who is under contract through next season.
"Any notion that they're not going to be part of the process of us getting there, let's dispel that now," Quinn said, referring to the Sabres' attempt to rebuild themselves.
Ruff had no intention of going anywhere, and is looking forward to next season after helping the Sabres return to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
"The obvious disappointment is staring us right in the face, but I'm really excited about this group of players," Ruff said. "I can say this season was a tremendous step forward in the regular season. And it was a kick in the backside, and a step backward in the playoffs."
With a 483-389-122 record, Ruff is the Sabres' winningest coach, and ranks 17th on the NHL list after moving ahead of his former mentor, the late Roger Neilson, this past season.
Hired prior to the 1997-98 season, Ruff is the NHL's active leader among coaches with the same team. Since he was hired, there have been 154 coaching changes in the NHL, including the New Jersey Devils, after coach Jacques Lemaire announced his retirement this week.
Ruff was mostly upbeat over how the Sabres made strides this season, and dismissed criticisms that his team was out-muscled by the Bruins.
Ruff's biggest concern was the play of the Sabres special teams in the playoffs, which he called "our greatest disappointment." Aside from an anemic power play, Buffalo's penalty killers allowed six goals on 22 chances.
Aside from Connolly's poor play, Buffalo also got very little production from second-line centre Derek Roy and wingers Drew Stafford and Raffi Torres, who was acquired in a deal with Columbus at the NHL trading deadline in March.
Torres is a free agent this summer and isn't expected to be re-signed.
Regier did express interest in retaining two key free agents?veteran defencemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman?but only at what he called "the right price." Veteran backup goalie Patrick Lalime is also a candidate to be re-signed after completing his two-year contract.
One question mark is the status of captain Craig Rivet, who will get a second opinion before determining whether to have surgery to repair a nagging shoulder injury. Regier said it's likely the defenceman will have the operation, forcing him to miss four to six months.
Rivet first mentioned the likelihood of an operation a day earlier after cleaning out his locker. He wore a brace while playing with the injury throughout this season.