March 3, 2003
Big names available as Sabres look to future
By RANDY SCHULTZ
There are many questions surrounding the Buffalo Sabres and what type
of activity they will be having as the NHL trading deadline nears.
But despite whatever deals the team makes, the biggest question is
will Sabres GM Darcy Regier be around long enough to see the end
results of those deals?
With the teams ownership situation still in limbo, it is a good bet
that Regier, along with Sabres head coach, Lindy Ruff, will not be
back next season. It is felt that if Buffalo gets new owners, they
will want to start out with a fresh, clean slate.
Regier made the deal last week that sent Sabres veteran forward
Vaclav Varada and a fifth-round draft choice from the 2003 NHL Draft
to the Ottawa Senators for prospect Jakub Klepis.
Interestingly, Regier contacted prospective Sabres owner, B. Thomas
Golisano, as well as the NHL, prior to making the deal.
The deal is considered a good one for the Sabres future. Klepis is
considered a top future prospect that could make an impact in the NHL
in two or three years from now.
The Sabres have been battling for last place overall in the NHL for
several weeks. Although Ruff has indicated that the only thing the
team has to play for now is pride, that has been lacking at times.
In fact, there are many players who would tell you that they would
just like to get the season over with. Put everyone including the
players, coaches, front office and fans out of their misery.
With the Sabres out of the playoff picture, the pressure to make a
deal is not as great as, say, two months ago when the team was still
in the playoff hunt. Other than the Varada deal, the only other trade
Regier has made was back in October when defenseman Jason Woolley was
dealt to the Detroit Red Wings for future considerations.
Regier has stood pat on the idea that has been open to making deals
all season, despite being owned and operated by the NHL. He has also
indicated that he would not trade just for the sake of making salary
Without an owner in place, Regie contends that he didn't want to
unload any key players if it put the deal to sell the team in
Talk about a weird situation. But that is how the Sabres season has
gone this year.
It is likely that the Sabres will make another move or two before the
trading deadline ends on March 11. But it is likely they won't be
moves that will help the team at the present time.
Of course, this means that the team is looking towards the future.
But that seems clowdy at best. Will the Sabres be in Buffalo next
season? Will they move? Will they be disolved? That will be
determined in the upcoming weeks.
NEEDS: The Sabres are a team that needs scoring help. They also need
toughness and some more grit up front.
Defensively, the Sabres seem sound, despite all of the injuries they
have suffered in that spot this year. They could afford to give up a
player in that position to strengthen itself up front.
Don't look for the Sabres to unload any of their goaltenders. Marty
Biron seems safe for now with the Sabres, as does Ryan Miller who is
playing full-time with the AHL's Rochester Americans.
As for backup netminder, Mika Noronen, his fate could be determined
during the off-season. With the disappointing season he has had this
year, it is believed that the Sabres may give him another year,
unless a better offer comes along.
BUZZ: It appears that Regier is interested in building for the
future, and in the process save money. Money seems to be the key to
the Sabres present, as well as future.
So any deals Buffalo makes at this point will be for future
considerations or players currently playing on an NHL team roster
that have a low salary.
BAIT: With everything said, there are no real sacred cows on the
Sabres if the price is right with a deal. The Varada move came as a
complete surprise to everyone, including the players.
So Sabre players will now be on alert for the next eight days.
The most talked about players that could end up being traded include
defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, centre Chris Gratton and right winger
Zhitnik has been rumored to be going to the Detroit Red Wings,
Anaheim Mighty Ducks or even the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Gratton has been talked about in possible deals with the Colorado
Avalanche or Mighty Ducks.
Satan trade rumors began a few weeks back at the All-Star break. Talk
had it at that time that the veteran forward might be going to the
But Regier has tried to downplay that deal, although it just doesns't
want to go away.
Other Sabres who have been talked about in deals include right winger
J.P.Dumont, centre Curtis Brown and right winger Maxim Afinogenov.
Afinogenov's name came up over the weekend as possibly going to the
New York Islanders.
There is even talk of long-time veteran forward Rob Ray possibly
being reunited with Senators GM John Muckler.
MEMORY LANE: Probably one of the best deals that Regier ever made
came on March 23, 1999 when he traded defenseman Mike Wilson to the
Florida Panthers for defenseman Rhett Warrener and a 1999 fifth-round
draft pick, which turned out to be goaltender Ryan Miller.
Warrener has become a fixture on the Sabres blue line and Miller is
considered a possible starting netminder with Buffalo.
The worst trade to this point in time still appears to be the Michael
Peca to the Islanders for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt. Peca is
being touted as an MVP candidate, while Connolly and Pyatt are still
struggling to stay in the NHL.
For the trade that never took place category, one wonders what would
have happened if Scotty Bowman had traded Gilbert Perreault for Guy
Lafleur back in 1979 when Bowman took over as GM of the Sabres. It
was a Hall of Famer for a Hall of Famer deal.
Bowman had just come over to Buffalo from the Stanley Cup champion
Montreal Canadiens. This rumor was floated out there for the first
couple of years of Bowman's tenure with the Sabres.
OUTLOOK: Right now the future of the Sabres is still unclear until
the ownership situation is cleared up. If, or when, that happens
Sabre fans will have a better picture of where the team is headed, no
matter if it means moving the team or simply not existing anymore.
As for now, the soap opera-like atmosphere that surrounds the Sabres
on a day-to-day basis makes things all too interesting.