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SABRES READY TO GO ONE STEP FURTHER
Steve's Corner, the newest feature to Sabres Central
Thursday, September 23, 1999

Well, another promising season is upon us. Again, Sabres fans across Western New York, Southern Ontario, and the rest of the world are highly optimistic about the upcoming season. After falling just short of winning the Stanley Cup, the Sabres have not changed much.

This offseason, the Sabres have made some forgettable, and insignificant moves. The Sabres brought in players like Chris Taylor, Doug Houda, and the latest move, Dennis Vial. My bet is that all three will be playing in Rochester when the Sabres regular season starts on Oct. 2nd against the Red Wings. But, one move that didn't seem like much at the time, could surprise many people. The Sabres brought in highly touted prospect Maxim Afinogenov.

Maxim is not tall. But, he is a mirror image of Pavel Bure skating, and makes Sanderson look like a snail. He's feisty, and is not afraid of hitting. His stickhandling is top notch, and people have even said that he can see the ice like Wayne Gretzky. A wonderful prospect indeed. So, what's keeping this guy from the lineup? There's a few things. First of all, Maxim is a rookie, and was just brought to North America. Because of that, Afinogenov may need to spend some time in the AHL.

A Take a look at the Sabres roster. Peca, Brown, Ward, Holzinger, etc., have all gone through the minors. Why? The organization tries to sharpen players skills, more than other teams. Another reason is his defensive play leaves something to be desired. He seems to care less about anything but producing offense. But, Afinogenov may be forced into the lineup because of our restricted free agents.

The Sabres still have a handful of free agents, most notably Miro Satan. I highly doubt that we'll see him opening night. The two sides are far apart on a dollar figure, and both sides have a history of being stingy. I, however, disagree with most, and am taking the side of management. Miroslav Satan has had one, count them, one 40 goal season. Not only that, where was he when we needed offense in the Cup finals? If he had produced offensively during the finals, we wouldn't even have had a controversial goal by Brett Hull, who, by the way, is a step-fourth cousin of a friend of mine.

Miro looks like he'll be a proficient scorer in the future, but so did Alexander Mogilny. Remember "Alexander The Great?" He scored 76 goals in a season, and everybody jumps on his bandwagon. Now look at him. He's highly overpaid at approx. $3.5 million. Vancouver can't give the guy away. The upper management had better not overpay this guy, or it could lead to a domino effect for the rest of the free agents.

How close are the rest of the free agents to signing? Well, Vaclav Varada should have a contract done in the next few days. Stu Barnes, who scored the game winner in the Sabres 3-1 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, has been reported close to signing for a few weeks now. Curtis Brown has said that he's optimistic, though my sources are telling me that he's not very close to signing.

Then we have Jay McKee, and Rhett Warrener, who were arguably the Sabres best defense tandem in the playoffs. McKee isn't really close, and Warrener isn't either. Even if Warrener does have a contract, there is a huge question about his ankle, which was injured in game 5 of the Cup finals. If those two defensemen aren't signed by the start of the season, who's going to take their place? Well, assuming that Alexei Zhitnik, Richard Smehlik, Jason Woolley, and James Patrick will all play, two spots are still open in the lineup. Your main candidates are Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Cory Sarich, Jason Holland, Mike Hurlbut, and Brian Campbell. You'd think that Grand-Pierre and Sarich are in good position to take the spots. But, Sarich has not played very well. Grand-Pierre has played well, but nothing spectacular. On the other hand, Brian Campbell seems to be ahead of schedule as far as his development. Jason Holland is a solid defenseman, and would easily be playing if he was still on Long Island, quite possibly even a top 4 spot. Mike Hurlbut has been up and down with the Sabres in the past, and knows the system. Anything can happen, and each of them has an argument why they should be in there.

So, are the Sabres in trouble if they don't get their free agents signed soon? Not even close. Too often I've heard fans calling Rigas "cheap," among other words. I don't look at this as being cheap. I look at it as trying to save money for future purchases. Don't forget, this team still has the single most dominating player this decade in Dominik Hasek. We all know what this guy can do.

Let's examine how the Sabres will fare in October without Satan. The Sabres play 12 games, and only half of them were playoff teams last season. Games in the first month include Washington, Atlanta, Nashville, Tampa Bay, and Montreal. We shouldn't need Miroslav Satan to defeat those teams. Without Satan, I don't see why we shouldn't post at least a .500 record in the first month without him. Let's face it, we don't need to be a top seed. We can get in the playoffs with a low seed, and still advance, like was shown the last couple seasons.

Sabres fans have every reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season. We came inches away from already winning the Stanley Cup. Do we a big name free agent to come in here in order for us to win the Cup? That's up to management to decide. Maybe we don't, but it sure would be nice to get somebody in here as insurance such as a Keith Primeau or a Doug Weight.

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