This could get rather awkward if a contract cannot be worked out but it looks like the Dallas Stars won the Lindy Ruff sweepstakes.
The NHL being the funny beast it is, though, the hiring of Ruff by new Stars general manager Jim Nill is being spun in some quarters as a consolation prize. The job, it is said, was offered to Alain Vigneault, who said no because he’s headed for the New York Rangers. Then there was supposed to be a wait for Phoenix Coyotes head coach and former Stars coach Dave Tippett. But he’s started contract negotiations with Coyotes GM Don Maloney, which is as good an indication as any that those in charge of the hockey team are pretty sure an arena lease will be struck with the City of Glendale in the next couple of weeks to prevent the team from moving.
Finally, there was former Rangers head coach John Tortorella, who is making the rounds of the teams with vacancies. He was also interviewed by Nill, who has not made his choice known.
The fellow who spilled the beans was Stars president Jim Lites, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Lites said Thursday at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon that Nill wants to hire Ruff and the only thing standing in the way is negotiation a contract.
If Lites has jumped the gun, this will be one heck of a start to his first GM job for Nill, who chose Dallas after turning down many other offers over the years. But you have to figure Nill and Lites are on the same wavelength, since Nill took the job because of his regard for Lites, who was president of Nill’s former employer, the Detroit Red Wings, for many years.
No matter when he finally signs his contract, Ruff is hardly a consolation prize. In fact, he is the pick of the litter when you consider the miracles Ruff worked over 16 years in Buffalo. For the last six or seven of those years he kept a substandard roster competitive as the owners slashed the budget. Only Tippett of the above group of coaches has managed a similar magic act.
Aside from being an imaginative and innovative head coach, Ruff has the best dry sense of humour in hockey. His introductory press conference in Dallas should not be missed, as Ruff should have plenty to say about losing his only Stanley Cup final as a coach to the Stars in 1999.
That came in the wee hours of the morning when Brett Hull scored the famous toe-in-the-crease goal in overtime to give the Stars the Cup. Since the NHL went to a zero-tolerance approach that season to any player so much as approaching the goal crease, the goal was hardly kosher.
Ruff and the Sabres were rightly outraged, especially when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his sidekicks fled the Buffalo arena, leaving only Bryan Lewis, the director of officiating, to face the heat.
The goal made Ruff see red for years, and it still doesn’t take much to get Sabres fans ranting on the subject. But at some point, Ruff was able to joke about it.
A couple of years ago when referee Bill McCreary retired, your agent tracked him down for a feature on his distinguished career. McCreary was considered the NHL’s best referee for many years but like all officials he had a few things he wished he could do over. One of them was not waving off Hull’s goal.
Before the story ran, I was at a Sabres-Maple Leafs game so I mentioned McCreary’s regret to Ruff. He looked at me deadpan and said, “He’s got to let that go.”