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Connolly's reunion with Sabres, fans comes Friday

The Toronto Maple Leafs hit town Friday night for their first visit of the season and they will be bringing along an ultra-familiar face in center Tim Connolly, who joined the Sabres in a 2001 trade with the New York Islanders before finally leaving last summer via free agency.

Injuries and inconsistent play wore out Connolly's time here but it's no shock he's doing well in Toronto when healthy. He's been out twice already there but has six goals and nine assists in 18 games. What kind of reaction does Connolly expect here? He has a pretty good idea.

"It should be pretty interesting," Connolly told reporters Wednesday in Toronto.  "They tend to boo their players when they come back."

Lindy Ruff reminded the media today that Connolly's injury in Game Six of the playoff series against Philadelphia -- when he took a hit from behind into the boards from Flyers captain Mike Richards -- really helped tipped the scale in the series toward the Flyers because it crippled the Buffalo special teams. The Sabres said it will be strange to see their longtime teammate in the sweater of perhaps their biggest rival.

"It was weird in preseason to look over there and see him in a Leafs jersey," said winger Thomas Vanek. "When Danny [Briere] left and then Dru [Chris Drury] and you saw a Flyers or Rangers jersey, that's definitely weird. But when you see someone in a Leafs jersey, that makes it even more awkward." 

Here's part of Connolly's meeting with reporters Wednesday in Toronto.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Biron filling role with Rangers

Rangers coach John Tortorella doesn't want to call Marty Biron his backup goaltender but the facts are the facts. Henrik Lundqvist is the king in New York and the 34-year-old Biron, the longtime former Sabre, will be making just his seventh appearance and sixth start of the season tonight against the Sabres in First Niagara Center.

"He's played really well and he's going to play some games," Tortorella said today. "The greatest thing about Marty is he's such a great teammate. He keeps the room loose and he's a veteran guy who understands his role, which is very important. And he's won games. Look at his record since he's been with us. ... Everything about him has been good for this organization. His personality, being a teammate and how he's played on the ice."

Biron is 4-1 with this year with a 1.94 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. And against the Sabres since leaving in 2007, he's 8-3-1, 2.82, .917 with two shutouts. 

Biron's career began way back on Dec. 26, 1995 in Pittsburgh as an 18-year-old with the Sabres. He's fourth on the team's all-time win list with 134, fourth in games (300) and third in shutouts (18).

Biron was his usual chatty, happy-go-lucky self today when he met with the media. 

Click below to hear Biron talk about life with the Rangers, playing a depleted Buffalo team, the new visiting locker room, even going to dinner last night at Chef's. That's what it's like with him. From topic to topic.


Martin Biron

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Grier calls it a career

Mike Grier made his retirement from the NHL official today as the NHLPA sent out a release announcing the end of the career of the 14-year veteran. 

Grier played in 1,060 regular season NHL games, recording 162 goals and 221 assists for 383 points. He also played in 101 playoff games, including stints as a member of the Sabres' 2006 Eastern Conference finalists and 2010 Northeast Division champions.

"I was very fortunate to be able to play 14 seasons in the NHL with some great players," said Grier. "The memories and friendships that I have built during my time in the league will last a lifetime. I would like to thank my former teammates, family and fans for helping make my career so memorable for me. It was a great ride, and I am now excited and looking forward to my post-playing future."

The NHLPA announced Grier will be living in Boston, where he was raised and starred collegiately for Boston University. He should be a coach someday. He'd be a good one. A very positive influence in the locker room. I think the Sabres miss him this year.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Hawerchuk played a major role on '93 team that made Jeanneret an icon

It's Hall of Fame Night at First Niagara Center as Rick Jeanneret and Dale Hawerchuk earn their tickets into the Sabres Hall in ceremonies prior to the game against the Winnipeg Jets, the team that drafted Hawerchuk first overall in 1981. 

(The ceremonies start at 7:08 and the game is pushed back to 7:23. Fans should be in their seats by 7 to see the pregame videos and such).

I had a great conversation yesterday with Jeanneret for a story in today's paper and will be speaking to Hawerchuk this evening during a 6:30 media briefing. One thing that didn't make the story was when we chatted about the Sabres' incredible 1992-93 season, the one that saw Pat LaFontaine (53-95-148), Alexander Mogilny (76-51-127) and Hawerchuk (16-80-96) all go wild offensively.

It was the year that featured the "May Day" goal that cemented Jeanneret as an icon and the Sabres then went on to lose four straight one-goal games to Montreal, three in overtime. The Canadiens went on to win the Stanley Cup. Injuries to LaFontaine, Mogilny and Doug Bodger ruined the Sabres' hopes that year, easily forgotten as a close brush with the Cup.

"It was 10 years for them to graduate out of the first round so the [May Day victory] was a big deal," Jeanneret said. "They went on to Montreal ... and it didn't work on in the end but that was a pretty good run though."

And, of course, on Jeanneret's night, talking about the '92-93 season gives us another reason to give you this flashback and an NHL.com retrospective that was produced last year.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Hecht remains out for the weekend

Jochen Hecht will not play in the Sabres' three games this weekend, coach Lindy Ruff announced after Thursday's double session in First Niagara Center. Ruff said Hecht, who needed stitches in the lip after a collision with Shaone Morrisonn early in camp, is being held out but should skate next week. Hecht, remember, could not get back on the ice during the playoffs due to what was later learned to be concussion symptoms.

"A little bit of it is us being precuationary here," Ruff said.

The coach set his goaltender rotation for the home-and-home against Toronto, with Ryan Miller going Friday in Air Canada Centre and Jhonas Enroth going Saturday night at home. 

Update on our previous note on Tim Connolly: The Leafs have confirmed the former Sabre missed Thursday's practice for personal reasons. He will play Friday against his old team but will not travel to Buffalo for Saturday's game.

The Sabres announced that the Rochester Americans will open their training camp Monday afternoon in Blue Cross Arena, so the club should be paring its roster significantly in the next couple of days. There are still 52 players in camp.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Around the boards: Connolly, Conacher, Carolina

---Tim Connolly didn't practice today in Toronto for what his teammates are telling reporters were personal reasons (TSN says it's family-related).  No word yet on his status for the Sabres/Leafs games the next two nights. 

---Big night for former Canisius star Cory Conacher, who got a goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning against St. Louis Wednesday. Conacher even played on a line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.  The undrafted free agent is pushing hard for a roster spot and impressing coach Guy Boucher, as this St. Pete Times story says. Conacher is expected to play again Friday against the Florida Panthers.

Also on the local college front, former Niagara star Matt Caruana was returned by the Leafs to the Toronto Marlies, where he scored six goals in 33 games last season.

---The Carolina Hurricanes have signed GM Jim Rutherford to a four-year extension.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Jeanneret, Hawerchuk to enter Sabres Hall

Longtime broadcaster Rick Jeanneret and center Dale Hawerchuk will be inducted as the 36th and 37th members of the Sabres Hall of Fame during a ceremony before the team’s game against the Winnipeg Jets on November 8, the team announced today.

Jeanneret, of course, has been a radio-TV voice of the team since 1971, its second season in the NHL and remains wildly popular in the 40th season his career. He will be taking on a reduced schedule of games this year to cut down on his travel but is scheduled to call all games home and away during the playoffs.

Jeanneret will be joining the late Ted Darling, the team's longtime play-by-play man, and former analyst Jim Lorentz in the hall among team broadcasters.

Getting inducted on the night the Sabres host Winnipeg for the first time since the 1995-96 season will certainly have extra meaning for Hawerchuk, who was a No. 1 overall pick of the Jets in 1981 and played nine seasons for them until being traded to Buffalo at the 1990 Entry Draft.

Hawerchuk led the Sabres in scoring three times (1990-91, 1991-92 and 1993-94), and paced the team in goals, assists and points (35-51-86) in 1993-94. He played for St. Louis and Philadelphia and retired after 16 seasons in the NHL with 518 goals, 891 assists and 1,409 points, 10th on the career NHL points list at the time of his retirement. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 2001.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

McKee to be named Amerks aide

The Rochester Amerks will be holding a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Blue Cross Arena to announce that former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee and Chadd Cassidy, a former assistant with the U.S. National Developmental Team, will be named the team's assistants to new head coach Ron Rolston.

McKee, who turns 34 on Sept. 8, is one of the most beloved defensemen in Sabres history and most recently served as a volunteer assistant coach at Niagara University. He played 802 NHL games, closing his career with Pittsburgh in 2009-10. McKee played 24 games over parts of three seasons with the Amerks, and played with the Sabres from 1995-2006.

He served as a key member of the blueline on the 1999 Stanley Cup finalists and a stalwart on the 2006 Eastern Conference finalists, although he's probably most remembered for the most famous staph infection in Buffalo history, the leg problem that caused him to miss Game Seven at Carolina. Any Sabres loyalist will tell you they would have won that game and the Stanley Cup that season had McKee been able to play.

Cassidy served under Rolston the last five years with the U.S developmental squad.  he also spent four years as head coach at the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid and time as an assistant at Cortland State (his alma mater) and Potsdam State.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Drury retires after 12 NHL seasons

Sabres hockey SPORTS RANGERS AT SABRES Chris Drury has called it a career after 12 seasons in the NHL.

The NHL Players Association announced the veteran forward's retirement today. Drury played 892 games with four different teams -- the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers. He won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001.

Drury played three seasons for the Sabres. He and fellow co-captain Daniel Briere led Buffalo to the Eastern Conference finals in 2007, then both departed as free agents in July of that year.

Drury reportedly is suffering from a degenerative condition in his left knee that would have caused him to sit out the entire 2011-12 season. The Rangers bought out the final year of his contract in the spring, making him a free agent.

Drury won the Hobey Baker Award with Boston University, and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. He is the only player to earn both honors.

---Greg Connors

 

Around the boards: Enroth, other contract chatter

EnrothYou take a few days vacation and of course the Sabres do a lot while you're gone. Here's some thoughts to unclutter my mind:

---No question the Sabres wanted Jhonas Enroth (left) to return as their backup goaltender. There were some Internet reports he was looking at the KHL, which would have been utterly foolish for him to do, and an even more foolish tweet from his brother, Mattias, that tried to pressure the Sabres. (Seriously? For an RFA goalie with little leverage who did a great job but won only nine games? If I'm Enroth I tell my brother in no uncertain terms to can it.)

So yesterday's announcement of a two-year deal is yet another solid summer signing for this club, which has overpaid some free agents (who doesn't these days?) but is clearly way better than it was when it finished the season in the playoffs against the Flyers. (Enroth's deal is for $1.35 million total at a cap hit of $675K per)

Now the Sabres can head into the season knowing they have a solid tandem in net, something they really haven't had since Marty Biron left. And it's thus paramount for Lindy Ruff to keep Ryan Miller's workload light. My goal would be 60 games in the regular season for Miller with Enroth getting 22. That's a low total for Miller based on previous seasons but he's not 24 anymore either. He just turned 31 on Sunday! And the plan here is to be playing hockey deep into May and maybe June, right? 

Enroth can play. We know that. Ruff has to play him. One other Enroth note: Mattias tweeted yesterday that he and Jhonas celebrated the deal with ice cream. Ooooooooooook. 

---A four-year, $11-million-plus deal for Andrej Sekera? Really? The numbers, especially offensively, were pointing Sekera's way in arbitration but this one is all about potential. Are the Sabres getting the guy who can be maddening to the point where Ruff needs to scratch him or the guy who was a monster for that one small stretch last season or for Slovakia in the Olympics? It's a risk worth taking if it pans out. But the money ups the ante. Sekera isn't a kid learning on the job anymore with that kind of contract.

---Speaking of money upping the ante, I'm baffled by all the people suddenly raging that Tim Connolly was picked on in the media during his time here. How many of you heard the boos in HSBC Arena, at times late in the year every time he touched the puck? He was a $4.5 million player who suddenly became a penalty killer and didn't score a goal for 29 straight playoff games. What exactly are people supposed to write? How many Paul Hamilton between-periods interviews on WGR correctly said Connolly was pretty much useless but also pointed out he might have been the hottest guy going in the NHL until his 2006 concussion?

Then there are those who say some of the criticism of Connolly got too personal. There are both sides to that argument. But the lightning rod was a recent Toronto Sun column that described Connolly as "Soft. Sullen. Difficult. Loner. Spoiled brat. Silver spoon kid. Entitled. Not a team player."

Repeating: That was written in the TORONTO SUN. And both readers and other media outlets are leaving out the next line too: "And one more thing: Supremely skilled." Pretty important omission.

Last point on Connolly: Criticism of a player is not because there's a lack of cooperation with the media. The only time I asked to speak to Connolly in the last four years where he failed to show up was on this year's locker cleanout day. He was generally never at his locker after games and practices and generally always willing to come to it for interviews when asked to by the team's PR staff. He should have been there anyway but it's not like he refused either. There's no connection. Plenty of players who are great with the media get criticized harshly too.

---What is this team going to do about its salary cap issues? The Sabres have yet to sign Marc-Andre Gragnani and are already about $3.5 million over the cap. They don't have to get down to it until the season opener and it's widely assumed the roughly $5 million of Ales Kotalik and Shaone Morrisonn will be stashed in Rochester. But that's still only going to leave a few hundred thousand dollars of space to start the season.

I figure the Sabres have to be looking at wanting a cushion of $3-4 million, not perhaps $600,000. There has to be a deal coming. Has to. And maybe one bigger than we think. Here's one thought: Brad Boyes better not be house-hunting. Month-to-month lease, dude.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Photo: Getty Images

Report: Lalime to retire

Sabres backup goalie Patrick Lalime is set to retire, according to a report on the Canadian all-sports website RDS.

Lalime basically relinquished the backup job to Jhonas Enroth in the second half of last season, finishing the year 0-5-0 in seven appearances. Still, he was a key figure in the locker room, and had a close relationship with starter Ryan Miller.

Lalime, 37, played 444 games for five teams over 12 NHL seasons, posting a 200-174-48 record with a career 2.58 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.

"It's never easy to make the decision to move on," Lalime told the website. "I enjoyed each of my seasons and I feel privileged to be able to realize my dream of playing in the NHL."

Lalime will serve as an analyst for RDS, a French-language network. He will work 15 Ottawa Senators games, one of his former teams, and contribute to other shows.

"It's a challenge I look forward to meeting," he said. "I remain associated with the hockey world and I'm really pleased that RDS gives me the chance to share my knowledge with the fans."

Lalime spent three seasons in Buffalo, appearing in 47 games with the Sabres.

His expected departure won't change anything for the Sabres' plans regarding their backup goalie. Enroth is a restricted free agent and General Manager Darcy Regier said Tuesday the two sides are having productive talks and remain optimistic a new deal can be reached by the end of the week.

Among other items Regier touched on Tuesday:

- Winger Jason Pominville is healing well after surgery to repair a sliced tendon suffered when he was cut by a skate blade in the team's playoff series with Philadelphia. Pominville will be ready by training camp, Regier said.

- Coach Lindy Ruff is out of town this week, but is expected to continue interviews for a new assistant coach next week when he returns. Regier is also interviewing head coach candidates for AHL Rochester, and hopes to make a decision within two weeks.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Connolly heading to the Leafs

Well, this should be interesting. Outlets across Canada are reporting that the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to sign free agent center Tim Connolly to a two-year deal for $9.5 million -- or $250,000 more per year than the reviled two-year, $9-million extension he got from the Sabres in 2009 at the trade deadline.

If Danny Briere and Chris Drury got booed in their returns to HSBC Arena, imagine the reaction to Connolly, a player most fans had tired of, wearing a Leafs sweater.

Acquired in 2001 as part of the deal with the Islanders for Michael Peca, Connolly was the Sabres' senior member last season. He had 13 goals, 29 assists and a minus-10 rating last season -- then extended his goalless streak in the playoffs to 29 games with two assists before getting knocked out of Game Six with a separated sternum on a hit from behind by Flyers captain Mike Richards.

Of course, the Leafs probably don't care about that lack of production. They haven't made the playoffs since the lockout and will be hard-pressed to do it next season.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

News from all over on Stamkos, Kariya-Kaleta, Drury, Marchant and more

The news is flying fast and furious in the last hour or so around the NHL:

---The New York Rangers have announced they have bought out the contract of Chris Drury. He's got a degenerative knee condition so I say the Sabres should look elsewhere but it will be interesting to see how tempted they are to put Drury in the Mike Grier-Rob Niedermayer role -- if Drury is even healthy enough to do it. This New York Post story includes a statement from Drury thanking the team and New York fans.

---Concussions have forced Blues center Paul Kariya to retire and he issued some blasts on his way out the door at the NHL's headshot policy. "[Sidney] Crosby is a perfect example," said Kariya. "You have the best player in the game playing on a the same team as a guy (Matt Cooke) who is ending guys’ careers with those kinds of hits."

Kariya's biggest blast was saved for Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta, whose blindside elbow on Dec. 27, 2009 was the final blow to Kariya's career. (Take a look at the clip below)

 “The first concussion I had, on a brutal, blindside hit, the guy got a two-game suspension. That was in 1996," Kariya said. "The last one, from Kaleta, was exactly the same play, and he doesn’t get anything. If you start at 10-game suspensions and go to 20, that sends a message to the players. But if you start fining the owners and suspending the coach, then it’s out of the game."

---Williamsville native Todd Marchant has announced his retirement from the Ducks. Marchant, who won a Stanley Cup in 2007 and brought it home to the then-Amherst Pepsi Center, will stay on as the team's director of player development.

---Also: Semyon Varlamov is choosing to play in the KHL rather than return to the Capitals; The Lightning re-signs Dwayne Roloson for one year, $3 million; the Islanders say they won't reach a deal with Christian Erhoff and the Canadians traded the rights to defenseman James Wisniewski to the Blue Jackets. 

AND HERE'S ANOTHER NECK-BUSTER: I was in Rochester at Pegulapalooza II so I'm just catching up to it. The Philadelphia Daily News is laying out a scenario where the Flyers bust out an offer of 13 or 14 years and $100 million for Tampa Bay restricted free agent Steven Stamkos. Holy cow. So can they keep Danny Briere too or does he have to go to a team that needs a center in, say, the 716 area code?

Wow. And we're still about 44 hours from Friday at noon. Stay tuned.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

'May Day' gets its day in NHL ad campaign

There's a new "History Will Be Made" ad debuting tomorrow on NHL.com and the NHL Network as we get set to head into the playoffs. And it's a time-tested classic in these parts. Check it out here, courtesy of the league's entertainment department.

Video: Rick Martin memorial service

Martin
(James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Family, friends and former teammates of Rick Martin remembered and honored him during a public memorial service today in HSBC Arena.

Watch clips of the various speakers below, and keep checking back as more videos will be uploaded throughout the day.

Ian McPherson, friend and golfing buddy

Rick Jeanneret

John Vogl, Mike Harrington and Bob DiCesare recap the event

Jumbotron segment with players, coaches, coworkers and friends

Gilbert Perreault

Rene Robert

Brother Robert Martin

Son Corey Martin

Danny Gare

Video: Rick Martin's memorial service

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Rick Martin: Fan appreciation

Timing for Martin service announced

Rick Martin's retired No. 7 banner was lowered from the roof of HSBC Arena during Sabres practice today and hung from the bottom of the HD board after the team left the ice in preparation for Thursday's memorial service.  

The Sabres have announced the following details for the event:

---It will begin at 11 a.m. and be streamed at Sabres.com.

---Doors will open at 10. The service is expected to last until approximately noon.

---Seating will be general admission  on the press box side of the building and a stage will be positioned in front of the player benches.

---There will be free parking in the Sabres' surface lots on Perry Street.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Hasek happy to get return trip to Buffalo

Dominik Hasek just completed a session with the media prior to appearing on the Sabres' new MSG pregame show and dropping the puck for a ceremonial faceoff.

Hasek, now 46, said he was happy with his season for Moscow Spartak in the KHL and said he will in fact try to play one more year in Russia. There was no real earth-shattering news from the interview, other than the media hearing that rapid-fire, often-imitated voice.

Hasek was in good spirits talking about driving again on the 33 yesterday, his first meeting with Terry Pegula earlier tonight, about Ryan Miller, and about getting named the No. 1 Sabre of all-time in our poll of the franchise's all-time players in October. Hear the audio of the session below.


Dominik Hasek

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Ruff on goalies: 'I'd like to see Ryan carry the ball'

When the Sabres hit the ice tonight against Atlanta in HSBC Arena, it will mark the end of their three-day breaks for the regular season. No more than two days off the rest of the way for the final 12 games. Tonight, in fact, starts the first of five remaining sets of back-to-back games. That's 10 of the last 12. Yikes.

So with a back-to-back tonight and tomorrow here against Nashville, followed by Tuesday's game in Montreal, are we looking at another Jhonas Enroth start? Not necessarily. When I asked Lindy Ruff about that after today's optional skate in the arena, he seemed to indicate it's no gimme Enroth plays tomorrow.

"It will be based on what the workload looks like for Ryan," Ruff said. "I'd like to see Ryan carry the ball. I think he's capable after having three days off of carrying the ball but that isn't etched in stone. We'll take a look at the workload and where he's at."

The Sabres need every point and Enroth was a little shaky in Sunday's win over Ottawa after having a week off. Maybe Miller plays the next three and Enroth goes in one of next week's back-to-backs here next week against Florida or New Jersey. It bears watching. 

There don't appear to be any lineup changes in the offing for the Sabres or Thrashers tonight. Miller (29-21-7, 2.67, .914) and Ondrej Pavelec (20-19-9, 2.68, 9.16) will be in goal in a matchup of pretty similar numbers other than the W-L records. Chris Butler looks to be the defense scratch for Buffalo.

Some key reminders: The new MSG pregame show starts tonight at 6:30 and Dominik Hasek will be a guest. No. 39, in town with Willie O'Ree for his Hasek's Heroes program, will then be part of a ceremonial pregame faceoff. Bet that brings the house down.

Also, a guest anthem singer just for tonight: Sarah Darling, who works under the Black River Entertainment label started by Terry and Kim Pegula in Nashville.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | [email protected]

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | [email protected]


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | [email protected]

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