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Marty's Back in Town

Taking full advantage of the Bills' bye week, I hustled by HSBC Arena late this morning to interview Marty Biron, the effusive former Sabres goalie. Let me tell you, it was a lot more satisfying than listening to Dick Jauron's soporific weekly media address at One Bills Drive.

Biron was as engaging as ever, perhaps even more so. He shut out the Sabres on Saturday night. He was given a standing ovation when he relieved Dwayne Roloson here last month. His wife, Anne Marie, is due with their fourth child. Biron found out just last night that the baby will be a girl, his third.

Biron seemed happy to see me. But he informed the young Islanders reporter, Katie Strang, that I was the only reporter he ever had a fight with. I have no specific recollection of any fight. I'm sure it was a mild disagreement, which would qualify as a fight by Marty's standards. He told me the spat occurred during an especially bad stretch by the Sabres, when I asked him, "Are you trying to get Lindy fired?"

So naturally, when the real questioning began, I asked Biron, "You're 7-2-1 against the Sabres since leaving. Are you trying to get Lindy fired?"

Biron was asked if he'd ever had a standing ovation before the one he got in HSBC Arena last month when he relieved Dwayne Roloson in net. His said the only other time was in his first preseason game with the Sabres. 

""But it was more for Dominik Hasek coming out," Biron said. "He made about 12 saves on his behind, with his skates up in the air. I skated on the ice and everybody cheered. I took it for me, but it was more for Dominik coming out. That was the only other time that ever happened.''


Step-Up Time

Losing Thomas Vanek for three weeks is hardly what the Sabres needed right now. They've been playing very well since Jan. 1, but they'll sorely miss Vanek's goal-scoring and his commanding presence on the ice. They're making a push toward the upper reaches of the playoffs, but if no one steps up during Vanek's absence, they could find themselves on the playoff bubble a month from now.

Jason Pominville certainly needs to score. Pominville has been a solid two-way player, but he hasn't scored a goal in 16 games. He has only one even-strength goal since Nov. 19 (not counting an empty-netter). The Sabres expected a lot more when they signed him to a contract extension for a shade over $5 million a year before the season. The pressure in on. I'll deal with the subject in more depth in tomorrow's column in the News.

Pominville isn't the only one. Daniel Paille has one goal in 18 games. Assuming he gets more playing time, he needs to produce. The same goes for Clarke MacArthur, who has one goal in 16 games. And is it too much to ask for Ales Kotalik to show the same scoring touch in regulation play as he does in shootouts? All right, so it probably is too much to ask. But Kotalik has one goal in 11 games. He's a sniper. He has to do better than that.

So who do you think has the most heat on him with Vanek out?

Elite Goalie?

Heading into tonight's game against Tampa Bay at HSBC Arena, goalie Ryan Miller had a 2.56 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.  There were 18 goalies in the NHL who had played at least 10 games and had a lower GAA. Among goalies with 10 games, 19 had a higher save percentage.

The Sabres signed Miller to a five-year, $31.25 million extension during the offseason, but  he's been essentially the same player he was a year ago. Average. This is enough to make me commission another Most Overrated Sabre poll. As you might recall, Miller won it a year ago. Tell me, do you think Miller is an elite goalie, worthy of that huge contract?

More on Miller in tomorrow's column. 

Still waiting for Tom

I'm still waiting for Tom Golisano to return my phone call about Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. If he ever does, I'll be sure to ask the evasive Sabres owner why he would waste $5 million of his money on a mean-spirited political campaign that will tarnish his image in the Buffalo community.

Hey, I know I'm supposed to stay away from politics, but Golisano is the one who tried to buy influence in the New York legislature through his Responsible Government committee. He comes off looking petty and small, which is pretty much the way he has looked to me over the past year or so.

Golisano, of course, hasn't bothered to answer any phone calls from News reporters. That means your high-visibility NHL owner hasn't felt compelled to comment with the daily newspaper on the demise of the hockey team or his foray into local politics. I guess we're just an extension of the evil liberal media elite in this country. And to think, Golisano is posing as a Democrat!

Go ahead, crush me for having the nerve to criticize the man who saved Buffalo's hockey team. But really, shouldn't Sabres fans find it a bit unseemly for the team's owner to be behaving this way? From what I could gather, Golisano bungled a chance to re-sign Chris Drury because he was too busy with other dealings. Do you want your owner involved in gutter politics? Shouldn't he be above this?

Back from Vacation

I just got back from 10 days of vacation. I hope someone missed me. Judging from the feedback on the Sabres' blog, most of you are content to rant and rave over in the hockey universe. I can't say I'm impressed with the Sabres' moves so far. They basically brought in a veteran defenseman, Craig Rivet. That's an upgrade -- an upgrade over the team that finished the season. I still don't see any reason to believe they'll be a serious Cup contender next season.

Meanwhile, Brian Campbell signed for more than $7 million a year. Say what you will about Campbell (it seems fashionable to emphasize players' shortcomings after they're gone). But I believe the Sabres could have had him for $4.6 million a year, or something in that range, if they had bothered to make a counter-offer last summer to Campbell's 5-year, $25 million offer. I have to think a deal in the 5-year, $23 million range could have gotten it done. Those who defend Sabres management might believe the Campbell camp never intended to sign, despite the overture. I'm more inclined to believe the Sabres didn't want to pay close to market value, same as with Drury.

Fact is, Campbell wound up with a long-term deal at a total cost that was well over twice what he might have signed for to stay in Buffalo. Go ahead and argue that Rivet (or Spacek) are better value at their salaries than Campbell would be in the $4.6 million range. The market says he's way more valuable, and even if Chicago overpaid, it's hard to dispute the reality of the marketplace. Campbell is an elite offensive defenseman, and he was getting better in his own end. I can't see how anyone could contend the defense is better than it was six months ago.

As for Max Afinogenov: The fact that he's still here tells me management isn't as concerned about the team's competitive edge than it claims in public. Sometimes, you need to move a guy to prove you mean business. And I don't mean the bottom-line business that seems to prevail at HSBC Arena.

Should Darcy Go After Darcy?

There's been a lot of talk this week about the Sabres pursuing Darcy Tucker, whose contract was bought out by the Maple Leafs early this week. The Sabres could use a veteran with a nasty edge, as I discussed in Thursday's column in the News. Tucker fits the bill, though it's debatable how much he has left in the tank at age 33. When Ron Wilson took over as Toronto's new coach, he said Tucker was "worn down". But it seems every Stanley Cup winner has one or two veteran forwards who are tough to play against.

Sean Avery is another interesting possibility, though he comes with a lot of baggage. He's high maintenance and something of a self-promoter. But Avery is a rare combination of skill and agitation, and he's only 28. When he's on his game, he can drive the opposition to distraction. He might not be a good fit in Buffalo, but he's worth considering. Management has admitted the team needs to get tougher and bigger. They addressed it in the draft, but what about now? Some fans seem to think the Sabres will automatically revert to Cup-contending form, but they need to shake up the roster to some degree and let the players know last season simply wasn't good enough.

What do you think? Should Darcy Regier go after Tucker or Avery? Is there any chance Max Afinogenov will remain a Sabre? What other free agents should they pursue when the market opens next week? Brooks Orpik seems to be the flavor of the month among defensemen. Is he the answer, or are people overreacting to one playoff run?

Tiger Rips Pucks

If anyone in Sabres Nation was looking for a reason to root against Tiger Woods in next week's U.S. Open, how about this: On Monday, during a new conference in Oakland Hills, Mich., Woods was asked who he was rooting for in the Stanley Cup final. Woods laughed and said, "I don't really care. It's all about the Dodgers. I don't think anyone really watches hockey anymore."

Well, Game 5 had a 10.2 TV rating here in Buffalo, so someone was watching. You'd think a guy with Tiger's media savvy could have at least said something diplomatic and not looked down his nose at a great sport.

Woods, incidentally, played a practice round on Wednesday at Torrey Pines, site of the Open. It was his first round since his knee surgery, two days after the Masters. Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott -- the top three ranked players in the world -- will play together in the first two rounds. Something tells me I might be spending some time following that mob scene next week in San Diego.

It was Strep

Just a quick note to the smug know-it-alls who ripped me for referring to the strep infection in Jay McKee's knee in my last hockey blog. It was strep, not staph, as you guys gleefully noted. It was a rare infection, but there you go. We actually do check the facts sometimes.

Flashback to '06?

It looks like the Flyers' Braydon Coburn will miss tonight's elimination game against the Penguins because his left eye is still swollen. Philly is also without its other top defenseman, Kimmo Timmonen, who is out with a blood clot in his ankle. Do you think Daniel Briere and Martin Biron are having flashbacks to the 2006 conference finals, when the Sabres lost four defensemen to injury?

Just wait. If the Flyers manage to win at home tonight, it's only a matter of time before one of their defensemen goes out with a rare strep infection in his leg.

Danny-Drury showdown?

If the Bruins win Game 7 against the Canadiens tonight and the Flyers finish off the Capitals, it'll be the Flyers and Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. That means Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, the departed Sabres, would meet. One of them would be guaranteed a third straight trip to the conference finals. And maybe -- well, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Anyway, are you rooting for the ex-Sabres in the playoffs? Or do you root against the guys who walked away in free agency?

Also, do you miss not having Buffalo in the playoffs? I've had fans tell me it's a relief to have the Sabres not involved this year. I miss it. I might be a bit harsh on management at times, but I love the buzz of the Cup playoffs. I'll go into more detail on the subject in tomorrow's News.

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