By Mike Harrington
The Sabres were back at First Niagara Center today to clean out their lockers, have exit physicals and meetings with staff that included General Manager Darcy Regier. As could be expected after another non-playoff season, the mood was a somber one. The Sabres have missed the playoffs two years in a row, four seasons out of six and seven years out of 11.
Said winger Drew Stafford of this year's miss: "There's just no excuse for that."
While reporters have heard a lot from Ryan Miller this week about his potential exit from Buffalo and his 500th game -- and Miller spoke again today for more than 11 minutes -- the star attraction today was winger Thomas Vanek. And like Miller, Vanek admitted he thought plenty that Friday's shootout win over the Islanders was his last game as a Sabre.
"Let's be honest," Vanek said. "I'm not stupid. I know I have a year left and they can probably deal me for prospects, young guys, whatever else is out there. Yeah, I've thought about it. If it looks like it's a long rebuild, then it probably makes sense for both parties to move on."
Vanek wants a quick, trade-based rebuild as opposed to a build through the draft. But the latter scenario appears more likely.
"I don't know what the plan is," Vanek said. "If they're turning it over to the younger guys, it's a turnover. Or are they going to build around us again? It's all speculation at this point because you guys don't know and I don't know what's going to happen."
Miller broke no new ground today over what he's said in the last couple of days.
"I’m convinced more and more as I play longer and longer it’s more about the attitude and the kind of team you build," Miller said. "It’s not always about a bunch of skill pieces. You have to define the way you play. And we can find a way to play here, if we can define it and do it every night, we’ll have just as good a chance as anybody."
That said, Miller knows he may not be part of any new plan about how the Sabres may play.
"Around this stage of a contract, you have to be realistic," Miller said. "In the last year of your deal, if you’re not part of the plan, you become an asset that’s tradable. So I’m just trying to stay open to coming back and trying to stay excited about playing hockey games in the NHL if it’s not going to work out."
One player that was not in the building today was winger Ville Leino, who suffered from a collapsed lung late in the season and has not spoken about that injury -- or about his status as a potential candidate for an amnesty buyout under the new CBA.
Regier will undoubtedly be asked about Leino Monday afternoon, when the GM and team president Ted Black will hold an end-of-season meeting with the media. The Sabres declined to have such a meeting last season and were openly laughed at for that decision when the Professional Hockey Writers Association met at the draft last June in Pittsburgh. Owner Terry Pegula is not expected to attend.
Click below to hear audio today from Vanek, Miller and Tyler Myers and stayed tuned to the Sabres Edge for video from today's proceedings.