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Sabres Central

Sabres "turn the page" on the Dominator
By Rick Anderson
July 1, 2001

He has the spine of a slinky. Or so goes the commercial that feature Dominik Hasek making a save that seemingly no other human could make. Hasek's nine-year career came to a close at midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning as the Sabres dealt the best goalie in Sabres history to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Vyacheslav Kozlov, a left winger, along with Detroit's first round draft choice next year. Also included in the deal was "future consideration." Whether team that applies to seems to be lost in the equation.

Hasek has made his last backwards
sprawling save for the Sabres
[Sabres Photo]

"He really wanted a fresh start," said Sabres GM Darcy Regier. "I think he (said) I'm going to play one more year, I've had a great run here in Buffalo.' We're very grateful for what he's done for this organization. I think a great deal of our success you can attribute to Dominik Hasek."

Kozlov, 5'10", 185 pounds, in eight seasons with the Wings, had his worst year with them, as he scored only 20 goals for 38 points last season. He did have four goals during the series with the LA Kings, but that wasn't enough to prevent Detroit from falling victim in the first round. It is hoped that the 29-year old left winger can return to the form from previous years, when he scored 34 and 36 goals midway through the 90s.

Hasek leaves a legacy in Buffalo that no goalie will likely ever achieve in the future. He leaves with a ton of silverware that included 6 Vezina Trophies and two Hart Trophies to go along with the Jennings Trophies that have his name inscribed on them. Hasek also tended the nets when the Czech Republic won the Olympic gold medal during the last Winter Olympics. One of the reasons that Hasek didn't retire after this season was his burning desire to defend that championship next winter. The "Dominator" wants to play one more year and use the upcoming one as a tuneup for those very Olympics.

Some consider Hasek the greatest goalie ever to play. Others point to the fact that he never won the Stanley Cup and compare him to Patrick Roy, who has won the Cup 4 times. Hasek doesn't fare well in such a comparison. Roy has proven to be the money goalie that Sabres always hoped Hasek would turn out to be.

With the Hasek era coming to a close, the focus now goes to Martin Biron, who has been with the club since 1996. Biron has been waiting for this day to come for a couple years now. When Hasek severely injured his groin at the beginning of the season two years ago, Biron came through in great fashion, posting 5 shutouts to lead the league half way through that season. In fact, Biron was a sure shot for Rookie of the Year and then Hasek determined he was fit to play and Biron had to vacate the crease once again for the living legend. Now with Hasek finally out of the way, Biron gets his first legitimate shot at proving that he belongs in the league as a starting goalie. Buffalo also has Mika Noronen, who has stonewalled the American Hockey League the past two seasons in Rochester. Between the two of them, the Sabres have solid goaltending.

Hasek's contract ran out as of midnight Saturday. The Sabres had the option to pick up his contract for another $9 million, but that amount could not be justified, especially considering that Hasek's play has been deteriorating the past couple seasons. With Detroit, Hasek may find new life and a much better scoring team in front of him. He also will have to find a way to get along with Scotty Bowman. Hasek played an instrumental part in getting former Sabres coach and 1997 NHL Coach of the Year Ted Nolan. Hasek could not get along with Nolan and said that he didn't want Nolan to return the next year. Goodbye Nolan, hello Lindy Ruff. Ruff and Hasek got along well, but under the realm of Bowman, Hasek will have to abide by the Bowman's house rules.

Hasek always said that he wanted to retire a Buffalo Sabre. Now that wish will never be fulfilled, unless he comes back after this season and the Sabres offer him a one-day contract similar to what the Buffalo Bills did this year for Thurman Thomas. Thomas, who played for the Miami Dolphins last season, came back to Buffalo this winter and retired officially as a Buffalo Bill. A similar scenario is not out of the question after Hasek finally decides to retire for good. Sabres owner John Rigas was always one of Hasek's biggest fans, and gave Hasek a huge contract the last time around. Unlike the contract disputes with Donald Audette and recently Michael Peca, Rigas was more than willing to open up his wallet for Hasek, whom he considered the cornerstone of the franchise.

Hasek's last game as a Sabres was a disappointing one to say the least. The Sabres were only 1:18 away from advancing to the Eastern Finals when a fluke bounce fell in front of Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux's feet and he scored to tie the game. The Sabres proceeded to lose that game in overtime and then in the 7th game of the series, the Penguins scored yet another overtime goal against Hasek. This was a goal he clearly should have stopped. Darius Kasparaitis, as unlikely a Penguin hero as could be, scored from around the left faceoff circle. Hasek reached for the shot, but could not nail it down as it hit the back of the net and sent the Sabres packing for yet another season.

Darcy Regier, the Sabres GM, said today that the Sabres were willing to shell out the $9 million if Hasek wanted to come back. However, Hasek had indicated that he wanted a fresh start even before the playoffs began.

Regier said it was a "turning of the page, another chapter that involves arguably one of the best, if not the best, the greatest player in the history of the Buffalo Sabres. I think he was truly looking for a fresh start. I think there's things that maybe played in similar to Ray Bourque's situation. I think we did what has ended up to be very good for Dominik and I believe very good for the Buffalo Sabres."

The Dominator has passed the torch on to Biron. Now it's up to the kid with the peach fuzz to put up or shut up. Marty is more than up to the challenge. It is his job to lose now and after having waited so long to finally be No. 1, it is highly doubtful that Biron will allow this huge opportunity to slip away.

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