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Sabres Central

Varada trade, Golisano's bid highlight Sabres week
By Rick Anderson
March 1, 2003

Stars' Manny Malhotra tries to outmuscle Sabres' defenseman Dmitri Kalinin in front of the net as Sabres goalie Martin Biron makes stop on the play.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

There were plenty of twists and turns last week for the Buffalo Sabres. Tom Golisano submitted an informal bid and it was verbally accepted by the NHL. Buffalo also traded Vaclav Varada to the Ottawa Senators for forward Jakub Klepis, who was the Sens top pick last year. The biggest twist of fate was Friday night when the Sabres got the benefit of a "No goal" decision by the video judge that helped them beat none other than the Dallas Stars, the beneficiary of the biggest no-goal decision in the history of the league. That wiped out a tying goal by the Stars and the Sabres were able to capitalize on that by scoring another goal to take a 5-3 win over the Stars.

It has already been four years since that infamous Brett Hull goal that eliminated the Sabres during the Stanley Cup finals in June of 1999. Hull's skate was clearly planted in the crease, yet the on-ice officials allowed the Stars to celebrate the goal and the Stanley Cup victory as a mob poured onto the ice and it was too late to call them all back. The league said that the goal was reviewed, but with all the commotion going on the ice, it is apparent the video judge didn't even glance at the replay.

Now, a little less than four years later, everything has come around full circle. The only bad part about it is that it isn't nearly as critical as the one in 99. In fact, the reversed goal won't have anything to do with the Sabres plight this season as they have already dug a grave deep enough they can't get out of. It may have helped the Stars in their drive to become the best team in the league, but the no-goal this time is almost meaningless compared to Hull's illegal goal. The league did its best to explain why the goal was allowed, even synthesizing a memo that supposedly was issued to all the teams a month before the playoffs, but it fell on the deaf ears of Sabres fans who felt they had been cheated a chance to take the SCF series to seven games.

Friday night, fortunes reversed themselves for the Sabres, but Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who had a personal agenda against NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman after that no-goal fiasco, would have liked the goal reversal to have happened back on that steamy June evening in Buffalo. To Ruff, the "No goal" came four years too late.

''I walked down the bench and that's exactly what I said to Scott Arniel,'' said Ruff about his talk with the Sabres assistant coach. ''All of a sudden, they got video review in the building.''

This time it was Stars winger Claude Lemieux who was involved in a no-goal debate. He had his stick positioned perpendicular to his body and tipped the shot past Sabres goalie Martin Biron with 3:18 remaining in the third period. That goal would have tied the game at 4, but immediately Biron protested the goal and got a sympathetic ear from the ref, who went upstairs for a decision. After much delay, the goal was reversed and the Sabres had revenge, even if it was too little too late.

Another twist of fate in this game was that both the Sabres and Stars had former first round draft picks playing for the other team. Philippe Boucher, who was drafted by Buffalo back in 1992, got a goal against his former team as did former Stars first rounder Jason Botterill, who had just been recalled from the Rochester Americans earlier in the afternoon. Botterill's goal was the final goal of the game and took the wind out of the Stars sails as it assured the win. Botterill was the Amerks top goal-getter this season with 36.

The Sabres took a 2-0 lead on goals by Ales Kotalik and Brian Campbell before the Stars finally lit the lamp. Curtis Brown scored the game-winner when he shot it past Stars goalie Ron Tugnutt from the right faceoff circle with 12:22 remaining in the third period.

Stu Barnes also scored for the Sabres while Boucher, Jere Lehtinen and Derian Hatcher got the Stars tallies.

Botterill could be one of the young guns the Sabres will build their franchise around once the ownership situation gets settled. Botterill, who has proven his worth with the Amerks, is hoping that he can stick around for a long time.

''I just wanted to go out there and -- it's a simple thing -- but have a lot of fun,'' described Botterill. ''In years past, I was so stressed about what the coaches wanted and who I was playing with that I didn't really enjoy the moment.''

"A lot of the players in this locker room don't know me," continued Botterill. "A lot of people in the organization don't know me very well. So for me to come up and contribute to a big win like this, it definitely makes me feel good. Hopefully I can show them now that I belong in the NHL."

''He got himself in that area they said he's been best at - right on top of the crease, " Ruff talked about Botterill. "I thought he deserved to be out there''

Grueling road trip

The Sabres had just returned from a 3 games in 4 nights road trip that saw them split the games, with a win, loss and a tie against Tampa Bay, Florida and Washington. Before this week is done, the Sabres would have played five games in a week. That is a schedule that is grueling to say the least.

Sunday, the Sabres were in Tampa Bay and came out of there with a 4-1 win. Maxim Afinogenov got his first goal of the season while Alexei Zhitnik, Miroslav Satan and Varada finished the scoring. Biron made 30 saves and was stellar in the nets, preserving the win.

"It was one of those games where you build on momentum,'' described Biron.

Former Sabre great and current captain of the Lightning, Dave Andreychuk was impressed with the goalie's performance.

"Marty made some big saves,'' Andreychuk said. "He was in position. He's a goaltender when he's in position he's going to make the save. We have to move on from here. We can't look behind us. We have to look forward to our next game and get the points there.''

One of the most talked about plays came in the second stanza when Varada tangled with Lightning goalie John Grahame, when the goalie went back to field the puck behind the net. Varada and Grahame got chippy and the two started throwing punches, with all the players on the got into the act, with even Biron skating down the ice to get into the melee.

"He hit me in the corner when I was moving the puck,'' Grahame said. "I just kind of faked like I was going to hit him with my stick. He kind of just looked at me funny.''

The win continued the Sabres dominance over the Lightning. They are now unbeaten in eight games (6-0-2).

Sabres tie Panthers

Next on the Sabres trip were the Florida Panthers, who they tied 2-2 in warm Miami. Afinogenov and Satan got the Sabres goals while Olli Jokinen and Jaroslav Bednar tallied for the Panthers.

Bednar scored with around 2 minutes left in the game to ruin the Sabres chance to win two straight in the sunny state. The odd twist was that it was Bednar's first goal since December 20, when he scored against the Sabres in Buffalo.

"The goalie went down and I went to the forehand,'' said Bednar. "It's been a while since I scored.''

The Sabres finished their 3-game road trip in Washington where the Caps beat the Sabres 3-2. Washington took a 3-0 lead on goals by Brendan Witt, Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra. The Sabres staged a mini-comeback but couldn't tie the game up as Curtis Brown and Dmitri Kalinin got the Sabres close.

"We weren't in the game at the beginning and it took us a while to get going,'' admitted Ruff. "We pinched down both walls and played reckless hockey, which ended up creating a lot of chances and gave them a lot of problems in the third period.''

"We make it interesting,'' said Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig, who made 35 saves for the Caps. "We go from playing the best defensive period we had all year in the second to running around and losing coverage. I don't know what we were thinking in the third period.''

Sabres trade Varada

After missing 17 games with a sprained right knee ligament, Varada came back and scored two goals in 3 games. He made his presence known in the fight he got into with John Grahame. Varada played all his 376 NHL games with the Sabres and he got right into the lineup and made a big impact with the Senators when they beat the Stars 3-2 on Thursday.

It was former Sabres GM and coach John Muckler who swung the deal for the Senators. He said he had been negotiating for Varada for six weeks. It was Muckler who got Varada in a Sabres uniform when he traded Doug Bodger to the Sharks. Muckler wanted to add the grit and needed an agitator for the playoffs.

"I'm excited," admitted Varada. "Ottawa's the best team in the league. I'm looking forward to playing in the playoffs. I know I have a good challenge ahead of me. I'm just going to try to be myself out there and help the team win."

In return, the Sabres got the Sens first round pick from last year's draft. Klepis, who is only 18 years old, is playing with the Czech Republic this season. Last year, he played for Portland of the WHL, and scored 14 goals along with 50 assists. Klepis also was tagged for 111 minutes in penalties, so he is a tough kid at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds.

"He's a good-sized kid, strong, goes to the net," said Sabres GM Darcy Regier. "He's got very good vision and is a very good playmaker. This a player who can play a number of positions, and he's still developing. Realistically he's a few years away. But in talking to our staff he has a good chance to be a top two-line player."

Muckler talked about the first rounder he let go and the pest player he picked up.

"Klepis will be a good player in this league," Muckler said. "He probably wasn't going to play in Ottawa until two years from now, and we consider ourselves Stanley Cup contenders. We wanted to go for it."

"Varada is exactly what we need. He's an aggressive-type hockey player. He's not a tough guy, not a fighter. But he's what we've been looking for."

Golisano submits new bid

B. Thomas Golisano, who had his first bid rejected by the league, submitted an "informal" bid to buy the Sabres on February 14th and had verbal approval by Bettman the next day. Right now, the state of Golisano's bid is probably where Mark Hamister's one was just before he dropped out because of lack of governmental funding. The league had granted Hamister exclusive bidding rights and now Golisano has those. The final formal bid is a week or so away according to reports.

Tom Golisano was at the Sabres-Stars game on Friday. He held a press conference in the Harbour Club during the third period about his bid to buy the Sabres.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

"We think we're seven to 10 days away from finalizing it," announced Steve Pigeon, a lawyer Golisano has on his team helping with the transaction.

Golisano said a number of factors are being looked over before the final bid is given to the NHL. This includes the player salaries and other people employed by the team along with vendor contracts. The biggest stumbling block is still the money owed Adelphia Cable, which is said to be around $157 million.

"We're not holding it up, I'll tell you that," Golisano said about the negotiations.. "I wish it was going faster."

Friday night, Golisano held court in the Harbour Club during the third period of Sabres game after mingling with the crowd in the first two periods. He revealed that he is willing to take on a lot of partners in this Sabres venture.

"If there were 10 shareholders in the organization, and each had 10 percent, that would be a good situation," revealed Golisano.

Golisano said that he would be the only party involved with negotiations with the league to buy the Sabres. Only after he signs the final deal would he bring others onboard.

"When you're dealing with multiple partners going through negotiations, it's very difficult," Golisano admitted.

The goal of the Golisano team is to complete the deal by season's end, in the first couple weeks of April.

"I wouldn't be surprised that within the next 10 days that we'd have (it done)," prophesied Golisano . "It's very, very positive."

Right now, the only thing holding up the deal are a few loose ends and getting Adelphia to agree with a figure to satisfy their stockholders. That could prove to be the most difficult negotiations of them all.

Sabres Talk

With the trading of Varada, it opens the door to future trades for the Sabres. The Sabres even told Golisano about the trade before dealing Varada. Former Sabres president Larry Quinn, who is the lead man for Golisano in his bid to buy the Sabres, was told about the possible Varada deal to get their approval.

"They told us about it as a courtesy," said Golisano. "I think they asked our opinion."

"I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but we're very interested in any transactions the team is making going forward. We just want to make sure we're in concert with that."

Varada was given a two year, $2.8 million deal in October, but it was considered on the high range of the Sabres payroll in view what he brought to the ice every night. The grit and peskiness were there, but not the scoring numbers. The Sabres felt they had to deal him away to help the bottom line.

"We're talking to teams. The talks have picked up," Regier described. "Where it all goes I don't know. We're still working within the parameters of a budget. Certainly the league is overseeing our situation, but there are some opportunities to do some things."

Regier made it known that no one on the roster is safe from future trades.

"Given where we are, I don't think we're in a situation where we can have untouchables," admitted Regier. "We're prepared to consider trades with respect to any player."

Ruff reflected on Varada's years with the Sabres.

"As a coach, when you throw a Varada over the boards you know what you're getting, and it's a pretty good feeling," Ruff said. "In every situation he's out there, in your last minutes of games, he's the guy who you know along the walls will get the puck out. He's one guy who can change the direction of a game with his physical nature. He's been a warrior for us. Every different playoff series we played in there's something you can point to that made V' very valuable."

Ruff sent Ryan Miller down to Rochester last weekend and Biron has been playing every game since. The stretch of 4 games in 6 nights seemed to catch up with Biron Friday against the Stars.

"Marty had a tough one," admitted Ruff about his game Friday. "But you know what was nice about Marty having a tough one? We were able to support it finally. We won one for him."

Campbell pinched in and it resulted in his first goal in almost a year against the Stars.

"I'm not the type of guy that's going to score a ton of goals," admitted Campbell. "Setting up is more my strength. But definitely I've got to chip in more than I have this year. I've been getting the chances. It just hasn't gone in for me."

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