Tim Schmitt: Rotating Sabres’ captaincy not Ruff’s best idea

Tim Schmitt

It’s sacrilege to doubt Lindy Ruff’s magic. In his time as Sabres coach, he’s created a counter-punching fortress around a spineless goalie, then reinvented the franchise with uncatchable pint-sized forwards.

He’s been masterful as an underdog — see 1999’s miracle run — and done admirably as a front-runner; last year’s run to the conference finals with a team that had clearly lost its mojo his most shining example.

That said, one of Ruff’s most recent moves, rotating the captaincy each month throughout the season, seems a smack in the face of the tradition the title holds.

Yes, the system worked OK with Chris Drury and Daniel Briere last season, but come playoff time, who was the team’s emotional leader? Most would say Ryan Miller, who the league rules isn’t eligible for the title, but others were torn between Drury and Briere. When the Presidents’ Trophy winners finally hit a skid, few knew who to turn to.

This isn’t a novel idea. Ruff also used the rotating captaincy in 2003-04 — and the Sabres finished in the Northeast Division basement.

It’s not that the “C” comes with genuine value, but on a team begging for a unified leader, the Sabres need to find a front man other than Miller. There are a few candidates, but the nomination of Jochen Hecht by his peers should clinch the deal.

Hecht, too, needs to evolve, becoming more assertive in the locker room and on the ice. He’s too talented to have never scored 20 goals or 60 points in a season. He’s a good two-way player, which means teams are more worried about his defense than offense.

And on a team that’s constantly gauged on player development, he needs to become the new poster boy.

Paul Gaustad will probably find the “C” on his chest at some point this season, and Teppo Numminen would be an obvious choice should he return from heart surgery.

But Buffalo needs someone to pick up the slack from not just the statistical loss, but the emotional void left behind by the departure of last year’s co-captains.

Allowing one player, preferably Hecht, the chance to grow into the role through an entire 82 games would do more good then any attempt to spread the wealth.

Contact Group Sports Editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.