It was a given Lindy Ruff would be a candidate whenever an NHL coaching job became vacant. No one, however, could have assumed his potential first game would be against the Buffalo Sabres.

Buffalo’s former coach is a top contender to take over the Tampa Bay Lightning after they fired Guy Boucher on Sunday. Ruff, let go by the Sabres last month after 16 years on the job, joined Tampa’s minor-league coach, Jon Cooper, as most likely to step behind the Lightning bench.

The Sabres play in Tampa on Tuesday.

“I’m hopeful that I can get something in place as quickly as possible, and I’m not looking to drag things out,” Tampa Bay Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman said at a news conference in Winnipeg. “I have an idea of what I want to do and a plan for what I want to do, and I’m trying to get that accomplished as soon as possible.”

Tampa played Sunday night in Winnipeg under assistant coaches Martin Raymond and Dan Lacroix, but Yzerman wants a permanent bench boss.

“I am going to hire and name a head coach for the remainder of this year and years to come,” Yzerman said. “I’d prefer to stay away from even discussing the candidates. For whoever may be sitting out there, it’s disconcerting for them. I know what I want, and I will try to get that done as quickly as possible.”

Yzerman and Ruff have worked together. Yzerman was executive director of Canada’s Olympic team in 2010, and Ruff was an assistant coach for the gold-medal winners. The connection further fueled speculation that Ruff could return to the state where he began his career as an assistant for the Florida Panthers.

Ruff has avoided the spotlight since a farewell news conference Feb. 22, two days after being fired. He said he definitely wanted to return to coaching after taking time to clear his head.