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Sabres Central

No Dice! Sabres refuse to deal Peca and Hasek
By Rick Anderson
June 24, 2001

The Buffalo Sabres didn't want to follow suit set forth by the Ottawa Senators when they dealt highly talented and often controversial Alexei Yashin Saturday during the NHL rookie entry draft in Miami. Darcy Regier, the Sabres GM, elected not to roll the dice and trade the two biggest trade baits available during the drafting festivities in the National Car Rental Center. Regier, always one to be very slow on the draw and patient to a fault, declined on moving both Sabres restricted free agent Michael Peca, and 6-time Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek.

After the Senators traded off Yashin to the Islanders for the No. 2 pick overall, along with acquiring huge Islander defenseman Zdeno Chara and Bill Muckalt, the buzz around the Miami arena was that either Peca or Hasek would be the next to be moved. That did not happen, as the Sabres appear to be willing to let Peca sit one more year on the sidelines and to let Buffalo's option to pick up Hasek's $9 million dollar contract expire on July 1.

The Peca camp is lashing out at the Sabres for their failure to deal the bitter former captain to some place where he can resume his career.

"Darcy's trying to prove he's in charge," said an extremely bitter Peca. "But at some point he's going to have to change his train of thought. It's the same line of thinking that got the Sabres eliminated from the second round of the playoffs with his decision to not trade me and get anything in return. I don't think Dominik wants to come back next year because (they) are not interested in winning."

"I think we're all probably confused by really the lack of response to the offers that were made. No one can seem to understand it," fumed Don Meehan, Peca's agent. "It's nothing more than this organization being mean-spirited toward Michael Peca. It's nothing more than that."

One of the biggest rumors had Peca going to Florida along with their No. 1 pick for Rob Niedermayer and the Panthers' No. 4 pick.

"I walked on the floor (of the Arena) and one of my counterparts congratulated me on the deal with Florida," said an amazed Regier. "We were not involved in that."

Meehan countered the cool collectiveness of Regier by saying, "If you knew what the offers were (for Peca) you would be shocked. It is beyond comprehension and rationale. These people are being petty, vindictive and mean-spirited."

"I think at some point they'll understand that the implications and accusations regarding vindictiveness are just totally unfounded," Regier retorted.

Peca feels he is being made an example of by the Sabres organization.

"I don't know what I did during the five years I played for them to be treated this way," Peca related. "I think they knew I expected to get traded , but they were intent on making me sit again to punish me even more."

Regier, came back like a polished lawyer saying, "It's a fine line between goal achieving and tension relieving. It's not always easy to hold. There's a lot of pressure at times that you feel you need to get something done or make a move. But it's got to feel right. If it doesn't feel right at the time, you gotta ride it out a little longer."

One of the biggest other rumors for Peca involved the Phoenix Coyotes, who dangled their two first-round draft picks next year's draft. Again no dice as far as Regier was concerned. Another hot item was Peca going to the Isles for Tim Connolly. Once again, Regier refused to budge.

"We talked to Buffalo," said Phoenix GM Cliff Fletcher. "They think they have an asset that is in substantial demand. So they're just going about their business."

Other possible Peca scenarios were him going to Atlanta for the No. 1 overall pick, Valeri Bure (who ended up going to Florida to join his brother Pavel) coming to Buffalo from Calgary, and a three-way exchange with the Red Wings that involved Chris Osgood to the Flames and Derek Morris shuffling off to Buffalo.

Hasek still is the other trump card in Regier's hand. Will he play the greatest goalie ever to man the pipes for the Sabres? A possible deal with the St. Louis Blues appears closer after Saturday as the Blues dealt their top netminder, Roman Turek to Calgary in exchange for goaltender Fred Brathwaite. Brathwaite is definitely not the answer for the Blues if they want to get farther into the playoffs next season. Hasek would fit that huge hole in the crease.

"Dom is, in all likelihood, playing one more year," hypothesized Regier. "It's always possible he can change his mind, certainly. It would add to his value (if Hasek agreed to a 2-year deal). He just won a sixth Vezina and he could play for a number of years. But my real sense is he has a fixed number in his mind and it sounds like one year. Teams are looking down the road and saying, ‘Why don't we try the free agency route first? If that doesn't work out, we can always be in position to acquire through trades.' "

With Martin Biron chomping at the bit to finally become the Sabres starter in goal, the Sabres seem to be more willing to let the 6-time Vezina winner go. Whether it will be through a trade or by just not signing him to his $9 million option remains to be seen.

As for the draft itself, the Sabres went after forwards with their first four picks. In fact, the first three choices were all centers. Their No. 1 pick came out of Hasek's homeland, the Czech Republic. Jiri Novotny, who was the center for Budejovice in the Czech Jr. and Sr. Leagues, was the number 22 pick overall and the Sabres wasted no time in choosing the big 6'-2" 194 pound 18 year old.

In the second round, Buffalo had three choices. They used them to select two more centers, Derek Roy and Chris Thorburn and ended their drafting going with right wing Jason Pominville. All three played in the Canadian junior leagues this past season. With the draft continuing on Sunday, Buffalo only has two more choices on tap, a fifth round selection (No. 140) along with the final choice being late in the eighth round.

The Sabres, who lost 7 draft choices on June 1 when their failed to sign them by the 3 PM signing deadline, now have to move forward and try to sign their new selections. With the financial straights the Sabres ownership appears to be in, that may be a difficult task, considering they also have a lot of veteran free agents to sign this season.

Regier was upbeat about the first four choices.

"I think we focused in on forwards and even more on center ice," Regier said. "It's an important position, and we needed to add that depth. We've gone a long ways in addressing that position. We added a variation of skill and grit and toughness. You're hopeful you can make them National Hockey League players. Chances are, some of them will play."

Novotny will turn 18 this August and is a diamond in the rough at best. Rated as the 11th-best European skater by NHL Central Scouting, Novotny has not shown too much consistency the past few years.

"He may not have played well technically in some games," defended Sabres director of player personnel Don Luce," but he never stopped working, and you can't teach that. He can mature. He's going to grow some more. He's going to up his skill level. You take all that into consideration, and we like this pick."

Novotny, who may or may not be joining the most celebrated hockey player from his native Czech Republic, was glad to be picked by the Sabres.

"I feel very honored to be drafted by Buffalo in the first round," Novotny said. "This is something that's fantastic. I'm very glad the pressure is gone because it was such excitement for me. But I know this is just the beginning of my journey. I need to work on myself and prove I'm a great player. The pressure is gone for a moment, but it's going to be much more pressure in the future."

Talking about the rap on him for his inconsistent play, Novotny responded, "When somebody is criticizing me, I'm trying to show them the best and maybe prove to them they're wrong. I hope (Sabres) fans are going to see me there soon. I'm very keen on playing there. I want to help the team and maybe someday win the Stanley Cup."

Roy, who scored 42 goals to go along with 39 assists for Kitchener this past season, was rated as the 25th-best North American player. The one rap against him is his size of 5-8, 187 pounds.

"Every (pre-draft) interview I went to in Toronto was, "What about your size? What about your size?' " Roy commented. "The size doesn't bother me, and if you let it get to you it will make you play bad. I just go out and play my game and that's using skill and being aggressive. I just try to go out, minute after minute, and play my game."

Regier, who pointed to other outstanding smallish forwards in the Sabres history (Danny Gare and Donald Audette) said, "Our scouts feel very confident about his skill level and believe that he will more than make up for that perceived disadvantage."

Roy is an excellent skater, with speed and nifty agility, projected as a Theo Fleury type.

Chris Thorburn, going at 6-2 190 pounds, adds a physical presence and is also deemed a powerful skater with good speed. He shoots right and was rated at 26 in North America. He scored 22 goals and had 32 assists in 66 games for North Bay.

"I have a lot of improvement to do," admitted Thorburn. "There's a different kind of pressure bestowed upon me. There's always going to be a Sabre watching me, and I have to impress him at all times. It's going to be through my work ethic that I'm going to make it."

The Sabres last choice on Saturday was Jason Pominville, who was the 55th choice in the draft. At 5-11, 174pounds, he is average height and scored 46 goals to go along with 67 assists for Shawinigan.


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