LeBrun: Devils Coach Lindy Ruff on Sorry Lindy chants, his future, texting players and more

TORONTO β€” “Fire Lindy,” they sang two games into the season.

“Sorry Lindy,” they chanted last Saturday, just three weeks later.

Chants like the first are common in sports. The second? player on the Devil Bench wasn’t able to sum up what the fans were saying until after the game, but they loved it when they found out.

“During the game, everyone looks at each other and says, ‘What are you shouting about?’ We didn’t get it,” Devils blueliner Damon Severson said Thursday. β€œAnd then, after the game, we found out and we talked about it in the room. It’s pretty funny. Of course we started 0-2 and we’ve been hot ever since. I guess they wanted blood to start the season and now they’re apologizing. So at least they are honest.”

They apologized to the coach, to be precise.

And it seemed a little early, just two games later, when the fanbase turned against Ruff, but to be fair, expectations are higher this season, and the Devils have a hardcore fanbase that’s been patiently waiting for that turnaround -the cornerstone of this conversion.

β€œWe have very passionate fans. Their expectations are high for obvious reasons,” Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald said Thursday. “You grew up with the Marty Brodeurs, Scott Stevenses and Scott Niedermayers of the world – and the winners.

“But most of all, the fans admitted, ‘Maybe we were wrong.’ You don’t really see that in sport. It’s unique. You see the “fire” chants all over the sport, but you don’t see the other side very often.

“But Lindy, take away all the numbers and all the years and all the experience, he’s just a great person.”

Ruff, 62, has developed quite a thick skin after all those years behind the bench in a career that sees him on active duty for the first time NHL Head coach in wins and fifth all-time.

He was hired and fired, winning a Jack Adams Award in between. Been there, done, give it to me.

Still, it was hard to ignore the fans chanting “Fire Lindy” after just two games into the season.

“Actually, I’d just like to put it behind me and just move on,” Ruff said the athlete on Thursday. “You know, it upsets your kids. But I said to them, ‘Over the years, there have been things that you’ve been upset about. Put that tough skin on.’”

He also got the fans’ frustration at 0-2. β€œI really did. We really had a good pre-season. We signed some players. Our expectations were higher.”

That the Devils fans turned around three weeks later and said “sorry”? That’s cool. And not something you see often.

“I find that part fascinating, yes,” Ruff said with a chuckle. β€œBut I think to do that we had such an incredible run. I don’t know if in other situations where they sang about firing the bus, they could turn it around and run on that scale.”

Well, there is. An 11-game winning streak will silence many critics.

What’s also fascinating about all of this is that Ruff has an expiring contract. Who knows what the future holds after the season?

Not that the fact that he’s a pending unrestricted free agent worries him.

“No, I’m so comfortable with it,” Ruff said. “I have a great relationship with Tom. As we entered this thing, I knew exactly where I would be. No, that’s the farthest thing from me. By far.”

Fitzgerald said having their coach on an expiring contract shouldn’t be a big deal for anyone. And it’s certainly not something the GM and trainer talked about at length.

“We haven’t talked about it, to be honest,” Fitzgerald said. “The way I look at contracts, I mean I had one-year contracts as a player. It’s part of your job. It’s part of the sport.

β€œFor me, I have the right to continue to judge where we are. I have really good people – things are going really well – but I don’t think there’s any rush. That stuff will take care of itself anyway.”

There are people in the hockey world who have wondered what it means for Ruff’s future if Andrew Brunette, a Jack Adams finalist last season, with the Panthers, was signed on as an associate coach last summer following his surprise departure in South Florida. The obvious narrative between the lines was that Brunette could be part of a succession plan.

On the other hand, as my TSN colleague Darren Dreger tweeted earlier this week, Brunette has a release clause in his contract that allows him to leave for another job as head coach if such an offer goes through this season.

One thing I was curious about, given his age and because coaching has never been more difficult in the NHL, is whether Ruff thinks he’ll still have a burning desire to continue as head coach after this season.

Ruff answered without a second’s hesitation.

“I want to keep going,” he said. “I’m healthy, I’m feeling good – so just try to keep at it. I love the game too much. I think that’s why I’m still standing here.”

So, who really knows where this is going?

All we know so far is that Ruff coaches one of the most exciting teams in the NHL. It’s a team that reminds me a bit of those fast and fun ones saber Teams Ruff coached are coming out of the 2005 suspension.

“Yes, I think there are a lot of similarities,” Ruff said. “And I think to be able to play like that you have to have the manpower.”

The devils come at you in waves. The team is four lines deep.

It’s also a young team. One thing I always wonder about in today’s NHL is how older coaches treat these young players.

It’s an odd question, I know, but I was curious as to how Ruff actually communicates with them.

“I have a good time with them whether it’s texting or we’re talking on Instagram or Snapchat or whatever,” Ruff said, laughing. “They say, ‘Do you have what it takes?’ I say, ‘Of course I have the stuff. I have to keep an eye on you.’”

Seriously, you can’t really leave a voicemail anymore.

“If you dial a player now, there’s a good chance you’ll get a voicemail that’s not set up,” Ruff said. “So you know that. The best way to reach them is to text them. Every once in a while I’ll text a player after the game about what they did well. The best way to get an answer is text. Telephoning is now almost obsolete.”

The main reason Fitzgerald brought in Ruff is his ability to develop young players. And that’s obviously happening in front of everyone.

The key, for Ruff, is relationships.

“You can know X and O really well, but you have to really get to know your players,” Ruff said. β€œThat is more important than anything else. Shut down your computer, get to know your players. I take great pride in trying to reach most of the guys every day or two. Just walk around and talk to them about the game, talk about where they play, talk about why we’re changing lines, what we’re looking at, what they can do better.

“I think if you’re open-minded and honest with them, sometimes they don’t like to hear what you tell them, but most of the time they absorb it.

“More importantly, when they’re talking to you, make sure you’re listening β€” that you understand their point of view matters, too.”

(Photo: Ed Mulholland / USA Today)

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