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No early contract for Stafford

MONTREAL -- Sabres right wing Drew Stafford is a restricted free agent, but GM Darcy Regier said signing him before the marketplace opens Wednesday is not a priority despite the fact the 23-year-old could attract an offer sheet. The Sabres were victimized by a bid two years ago when Edmonton signed Thomas Vanek to a $50 million offer, which Buffalo matched.

"It’s something that we balanced out and weighed, and we want to do what’s right for both the player and the organization, and so I think you’re going to see it go beyond July 1," Regier said today after the draft concluded. "I think ownership made a very serious statement in Thomas’ case, and I would hope that would send a signal to the rest of the league that as an organization we’re going to protect the assets we have, we’re going to make decisions that are best for the organization. I think ownership has made that statement loud and clear."

---John Vogl

Draft postmortems: How did Darcy do?

Pronger to Philly and the rights to Bouwmeester to Calgary (leaving those teams in deeper salary cap trouble). No moves yet from the Sabres, other than the fact it looks like Jaroslav Spacek may be gone. This was one quiet draft. Hope Wednesday's free agent day gets us some real news.

As for the draft itself, Darcy Regier & Co. definitely went in a different direction to get bigger and tougher. Enough with the 5-foot-8 guys. Great to see. Have to like the Kassian pick in the first round.

Have to wonder why no centers were chosen. Have to wonder why Jochen Hecht and Henrik Tallinder are still on this roster. Gotta believe they were dangled to try to get into the second round but nothing happened.

Lots of questions, not many answers.

How do you think Regier did in the draft?

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Darcy's draft floor chat

MONTREAL -- Just chatted with Sabres GM Darcy Regier about an hour before the draft starts. He said there's a pool of four to five players the Sabres are looking to pick, and he made one thing clear: The player they select in the first round will wear the Blue and Gold.

"We’re going to get a player that [the fans are] going to be thrilled with, that they are going to see play for the Sabres for a lot of years," Regier said.

Of the five players, the Sabres are fairly certain at least one will be gone before they pick at 13, so they'll need help to get that unnamed prospect.

"And they could all be gone," Regier said. "There’s a better with four of them, a lesser chance with the fifth."

The Sabres moved up from 13 to 12 last year to select Tyler Myers, but Regier doesn't envision a need to do that today.

"This is a different draft," Regier said. "The cutline isn’t as distinct as it was a year ago. We thought there was a pretty significant drop after what amounted to Myers being the last of that group. We felt it was necessary to jump in, and I don’t see that this year. It’s not as distinct. It’s a little murkier."

Also murky is the trade value of the big names being dangled, like Dany Heatley. It's why the significant chatter has yet to yield moves -- at least as of this writing at 6:18 p.m.

"I do think that the market hasn’t been established yet for some of these players," Regier said. "The seller is looking for greater value than I think they’re going to get. Where it goes, I think will take some time. It may go well into July or August for some players, and some teams quite frankly may not be able to get rid of players.

"There’s some big names out there. Whether they get moved or not I think will be the question. It’s different from the standpoint that a lot of players not only have no-trade clauses in their contracts, they have no-move clauses. A player gets a lot of say in where he goes and when he goes."

---John Vogl

It's Draft Day ... do something

Hold me back from the excitement surrounding the NHL's annual gathering of guys who won't play for your team next season. It starts tonight at 7 in Montreal with Round 1 on Versus and the NHL Network, then continues Saturday morning at 10.

As I wrote this morning, Darcy Regier needs to start taking some bold moves and maybe he'll surprise us all and do something. Or maybe it will be more of the same for the Sabres, which is just about nothing. John Vogl is on hand in Montreal, and writes about how prospect Evander Kane knew he was NHL-ready thanks to his battles with future Sabre Tyler Myers.

Vogl also heard from Lindy Ruff for the first time since the end of the season, as Ruff spoke on his appointment as an associate coach for Team Canada's Olympic team and the disappointment of missing the playoffs for a second straight year.

Thoughts on Regier? Thoughts on Ruff's comments? This is the place for them. We'll have full coverage of the draft this evening with Vogl on hand in the Bell Centre and yours truly filling the blog from One News Plaza.

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Rene Robert sounds off

In Sunday's Inside the NHL, Sabres legend Rene Robert tells Bucky Gleason he feels your pain.

Gleason writes:

"The only difference between you and him these days is, well, the former right winger played on one of the famed lines in NHL history and his No. 14 hangs from the rafters at HSBC Arena.

"Well, it's up there for now, anyway.

"To say he's frustrated is an understatement. Robert has grown increasingly angry and disgusted from watching his former team, your favorite team, miss the playoffs in two straight seasons after building a contender. He also wanted fans to know they weren't alone."

Sabres poll: The blame game

In last week's poll, we asked you to predict who would take the fall for what could become the Sabres' second straight non-playoff season. While the players rated highly, Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier also took their hits. In Sunday's Inside the NHL column, Bucky Gleason examines the role of ownership in the current situation.

Some of you wanted to pin blame on Tom Golisano or Larry Quinn in last week's poll but they're naturally not getting fired. But given a new question, is most of your ire still directed in the same spot or does it move higher up the Sabres' food chain?

Enough already

Is the hysteria over? Can we all move along with the hockey season now?

Seems like a good thing the Sabres were out of town yesterday so they could focus on their solid performance in Pittsburgh rather than deal with the inevitable foolishness the talking heads might have put them through in response to the upcoming story about a potential sale. I think I may have laughed the loudest at Channel 4, which aired this ridiculous and irresponsible Web poll during its newscast: "If the Sabres are sold, will they move out of Buffalo?"

HELLO? What's in the water in the newsroom on Elmwood Avenue? Even the author of the story, former colleague Jim Kelley, reminds us today that his piece "did not say the team is in danger of moving." Think the NHL is going to allow a team in Buffalo -- one of its three or four strongest US markets in terms of support AND television ratings -- to move somewhere and keep franchises in places like South Florida, Phoenix, Atlanta and Nashville? Please. What city did the league choose to put its outdoor game in last year?

Show some basic understanding of the sport. This isn't the NFL. If I'm on the sports staff at Ch. 4, I'm in the news director's office today asking, "Knock-knock, anyone home?"

Frankly, this story coming out is much ado about nothing. Everyone needs to go back and read John Vogl's post from Monday, print it out, put it on a sticky note and read it again the next time some Web site, niche publication or broadcast outlet has some "hot inside rumors" from anonymous sources about Tom Golisano's dealings.

End of rant.

---Mike Harrington

Golisano expects playoffs; Regier gets extension

Golis_2Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano just wrapped up a half-hour press conference, right, that was easily his widest-ranging affair in several years. It started as an announcement of a two-year contract extension for GM Darcy Regier and included political talk about Responsible New York pushed by radio news reporters (and of little use to your intrepid sports bloggers).

But these things stood out about Golisano's talk -- he's come around to the idea of longterm contracts, he needed to be convinced by Larry Quinn and Darcy Regier to be aggressive with Ryan Miller's deal to prevent another Sabre from walking away in free agency and he expects the team to make the playoffs this season.

Said Golisano: "If we don't make the playoffs this year, we'd be really disappointed. In fact, I'd probably chew this microphone."

Golisano, by the way, was adamant that the team is not for sale, speculation heightened by the fact he was absent a lot last season and has taken on minority partners in Larry Quinn and Dan DiPofi.

"There are no plans [to sell], no offers," Golisano said. "There's nothing."

---Mike Harrington

(Photo: Mark Mulville-Buffalo News)

Golisano will speak Saturday

Interesting note put out by the Sabres late Friday afternoon about a media gathering following Saturday's "Puck Drop" festivities:

"Team announcement by managing partner Larry Quinn, followed by a press conference with Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano to discuss the 2008-09 NHL hockey season."

Hmmm. Team announcement? And Golisano speaks? That will be interesting. Other than his rights-holders "interviews" last year with MSG and WGR Radio, Golisano has not spoken to the media in this kind of setting since the 2006-07 season (he was part of the press conference to announce the Ice Bowl last September in Ralph Wilson Stadium and did one interview later in the season with the Associated Press).

So is this all something or nothing? And on the heels of a terrific summer off the ice, what inquiries might you have for Golisano heading into the season?

---Mike Harrington

Quinn takes an ownership mantle

Quinn_2Larry Quinn is perhaps one of the most polarizing people in all of Buffalo, sports or not. Maybe you're rubbed the wrong way by him but the bottom line is this: There's no HSBC Arena without him and there's no Erie Canal Harbor without him. Those are two huge lines he'll always have on his bio.

Now Quinn and COO Dan DiPofi have become minority owners of the Sabres. Could mean nothing but a few more bucks in their pockets. Could mean something as big as more politically-involved Tom Golisano continuing to lessen his influence on the hockey team and ship more and more of it to Quinn/DiPofi.

Given the Sabres' relatively stable offseason, Quinn was certainly upbeat when I talked to him Wednesday afternoon. You can read the bulk of his comments in Thursday's paper. I was struck, however, by the point he made about how all the playoff hockey the Sabres endured the first two seasons after the lockout took their toll last year.

You started to hear the same things about the Bills in the 1995-97 range after their golden era wore out. The Sabres, however, seem primed for a quick reload as they're locking up core players to longterm contracts.

"I just think we're really hungry and positive and rested," Quinn said. "You have to remember that in a lot of ways we were the first really great team after the lockout. We essentially were a test case for the CBA and how other teams looked to raid our players. You're seeing that now with Pittsburgh and Ottawa. Nobody was happy with what happened last year but it was no big catastrophe either. We had guys in new roles, people hurt, some games we should have won and didn't, and a group that was really pretty emotionally tired by the end."

---Mike Harrington

(Photo: Harry Scull/Buffalo News)

Welcome to draft week

The Sabres officially kicked off draft week Monday in HSBC Arena with GM Darcy Regier and amateur scouting director Kevin Devine staying pretty generic about the team's thoughts on the NHL draft Friday night and Saturday in Ottawa.

The Sabres have a chance to get three pretty decent players with the 13th, 26th and 44th picks (No. 26 is San Jose's in the Brian Campbell trade). Recent choices at No. 13 include Toronto's Jiri Tlusty (2006), Buffalo's own Drew Stafford (2004), Los Angeles' Dustin Brown (2003) and Washington's Alexander Semin (2002).

In addition to 13-26-44, the Sabres are also choosing at No. 74 in the third round, 104 (4th round), 134 (5) and  164 (6). San Jose has Buffalo's seventh-rounder in the Campbell deal. Here's the first-round order:

     1. Tampa Bay
     2. Los Angeles
     3. Atlanta
     4.  St. Louis
     5.  NY Islanders
     6.  Columbus
     7.  Toronto
     8.  Phoenix
    9.  Nashville (from Florida)
    10. Vancouver
     11. Chicago
     12. Anaheim (from Edmonton)
     13. Buffalo
     14. Carolina
     15. Nashville
     16. Boston
     17. Calgary
     18. Ottawa
     19. Columbus (from Colorado)
     20. NY Rangers
     21. New Jersey
     22. Edmonton (from Anaheim)
     23. Washington
     24. Minnesota
     25. Montreal
     26. Buffalo (from San Jose)
     27. Philadelphia
     28. Los Angeles (from Dallas)
     29. Atlanta (from Pittsburgh)
     30. Detroit

---Mike Harrington

 

Looking on the bright side

The Sabres admitted the obvious today: They made a few mistakes. They needed more experience. The goalie played too much.

But they also were quick to point out their bright spots. They got Jason Pominville cheap (three years, $3.1 million). Derek Roy's 81 points were a bargain for $3 million this year. They aren't Toronto, which is stuck with older players it can't trade. They said, from a business standpoint, they did the right thing with Teppo Numminen.

Did they really have a good year? They went from first overall to 18th. Did they make the right moves recently that will allow them quickly go from 18th back toward first, or were they just trying to deflect attention from the recent failings?

---John Vogl

Finally, a real Golisano interview

In the interest of full disclosure, Tom Golisano has stopped returning calls from Buffalo News sports writers. He doesn't call me, Bucky Gleason, Jerry Sullivan ... nor anyone who has left messages at his private number numerous times since last summer. He has never gotten over a column in which Golisano, Larry Quinn and Darcy Regier were referred to as the Three Stooges. It was hardly a harsh insult -- and as Sully admitted, hardly an original one -- but it appears it hurt him deeply.

It's more of a disservice to you than an inconvenience to us. Since all of us have been around the Sabres on a daily basis longer than the owner, we know what's going on whether he calls or not thanks to our hockey knowledge, sources and friends. We have the insider information you want and deserve.

Where it hurts you is the public doesn't get direct answers from the owner. That sort of stopped once he learned of a recent column going into The News. Since then, he has held a chat on a game broadcast, went on the team's flagship radio station and called an Associated Press reporter (who also had been ignored for months despite repeated calls -- as if finally returning his call would be taken as a shot at us).

But the important issues remained unanswered, primarily because he faced questions such as this: "Tom, what are you doing away from the rink? How you staying active?"

That changed Saturday. Elliotte Friedman, the talented CBC hockey reporter, sat down with the owner for an in-depth chat. It was great to see Elliotte ask the real questions. Now some of the answers could use additional analysis.

On the issue of whether the team could have signed Daniel Briere and Chris Drury before they became free agents, Golisano told CBC: "I don't know if anybody in the know really agrees with that. There was no contract negotiations of any extent where somebody was going to put their name on the line. Yeah, there was some conversation. But there was nothing significant."

Well, I am in the know. I know the Drury camp thought it had reached a significant deal. Drury was ready to put his name on the line -- and so were we. It's why the story of Drury and his failed contract was written by me, Tim Graham and Bucky, a triple byline that showed we did our homework.

Golisano also said it was "hard to believe" the players would accept less money earlier than they got later. It's not that hard to believe, and Brian Campbell alluded to it. Anything can happen in hockey. One bad shift can end a career. Hockey contracts are guaranteed. If you can get a long-term deal worth tens of millions, you take it and play with a free mind knowing you and your family are set for life.

The owner also said the Sabres were and are "as close to the cap as we can be." They deserve credit for last season, when they spent to the limit. They made their run and spent every dollar they could. They are not close this year. Several estimates in recent weeks, including this one, show they are in the bottom third of the NHL in terms of cap numbers and have significant room to add salaries.

As Mike Harrington said, one comment from Golisano could become his "tools to finish the job" misstep (or legacy-enhancer). The owner told Elliotte the Sabres are willing to sign and keep their A-1 players, including Ryan Miller next year. "The proof will be in the pudding," Golisano said.

Keep that quote in your mind.

---John Vogl

More from Darcy

Darcy Regier just met the media again. Some quick hits that really stuck out to me:

1). On this year's goals without Brian Campbell: "We expect to be good while we build. ... We still expect to make the playoffs."

2). On the offer to Campbell in relation to other contracts being signed around the league: "Three years is not enough."

Ya think? Regier obviously knew this a long time ago. Seems like he wanted to make sure the boys in the owner's box really believe him when July comes and it's time to talk to Ryan Miller.

3). On Miller's contract: "We will address it. We will find a solution [on a long-term deal]."

Let's see if Regier can live up to these words. Would be nice if Golisano & Co. would let him do his job the right way.

---Mike Harrington

Shrink the goalies

More news from the GM meetings in Florida. They unanimously decided to shrink the size of goalie equipment.

"What was impressive today was that it was unanimous, that every manager, no matter what their thought process was before, that it's finally got to the point where it has to get addressed," said New Jersey leader Lou Lamoriello.

Any changes would have to be approved by the NHLPA, and the guess here is the vote will be somewhere around 540-60 --- the 60 being the number of goalies in the NHL.

---John Vogl

Strange partners

Remember when you were in school and the teacher would make you do a group project with a kid you just absolutely hated? I'm willing to bet Darcy Regier felt the same way this week at the NHL GM meetings in Naples, Fla.

Here's a pretty interesting TSN story about all the non-trade things the GMs split into groups to talk about (by the way, I love the idea of one-minute penalties in OT and making players ineligible for a shootout if they finish OT in the penalty box). Look who was in Regier's group: Edmonton's Kevin Lowe, whom Regier has not spoken to since last summer's Thomas Vanek shenanigans!

Would have loved to have seen the tension around that table.

---Mike Harrington

Briere, Biron set for return

VORHEES, N.J. -- Daniel Briere had every opportunity to bash the Sabres on Thursday but instead took the high road after practice at Flyers Skate Zone. The only thing he wanted to discuss was how many good memories he had in three-plus years in Buffalo.

Good for him. He's a class act.

It will be interesting to see how fans react to him tonight with the Flyers in town. The
guy led the Sabres in playoff scoring the last two years. He led them in scoring during the regular season last year. If anything, he deserves a standing O.

Yeah, I know, he's on the other team. Don't blame him for that one.

Fans get tired of me defending Briere, but it doesn't change the facts. Briere wanted to stick around and was basically blown off. His agent has said many times that Briere would have stayed if the Sabres offered him a five-year deal worth $25 million. So he wasn't even looking for a raise.

It was pretty tough to ignore the Flyers when they showed up with an eight-year deal for $52 million when his own team offered him nothing until three days before free agency opened. It amazes me how many people still believe his departure was all about the money. It was about the money only after it became clear the Sabres weren't interested.

My guess is Martin Biron will get a warmer welcome tonight. Marty is one of my all-time favorite athletes to cover, mainly because you can ask him one question and get 14 answers. Quick quiz: How many postseason games has Biron played in his NHL career?

Time is up. It's zero.

--- Bucky Gleason

On the waiting list

The Buffalo Sabres are forming a Blue & Gold Club, which for a nonrefundable $100 deposit per seat, gets you on their season-ticket waiting list. For the second straight season, the Sabres  have capped season-ticket sales at 14,800 in an arena that holds 18,690. There will be fewer than 4,000 tickets available per game.

But not necessarily for walk-up purchase on the day of the game.

If you join the B&G Club by Sept. 7, that $100 deposit also entitles you to buy individual game tickets before they go on sale to the general public Sept. 15. That privilege also will extend to playoff games, if any tickets are available.

Daniel J. DiPofi, the Sabres’ chief operating officer, told The News: “I think we’ll be sold out of all individual tickets before the season starts.”

So do you want to take a chance and grab game tickets on Sept. 15 or pay the $100 deposit and get  to purchase them on Sept. 13, which is the tentative plan?

---Steve Jones, Sports Editor


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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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