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Sabres Central

IS HASEK BLOCKING BIRON'S CAREER?
By Rick Anderson
September 16, 2000

It was January 28th this year when Sabres' rookie goalie Martin Biron posted his last shutout of the season against the Ottawa Senators. As usual, the Sabres offense had a terrible time scoring goals, but did manage to get one and that was enough as Biron took care of the Senators and stopped all their attempts to penetrate the crease. It was Biron's fifth shutout of the season and he was leading the league in that department at the time. Little did Biron know that his future as the Sabres starting goalie was coming to an abrupt end.

Martin Biron stops shot by the Bruins' Mikko Eloranta and Cory Sarich is there to clear rebound in a game last November.
[AP Photo]

As the Sabres start their preseason schedule this weekend, Biron and Michael Peca are the only holdouts left on the Sabres roster. Everyone knows about Peca and his intentions to hold out as long as necessary to get what he feels is a fair deal from the Sabres. The Biron situation has been extremely quiet. No one knows where the Sabres "goalie of the future" stands. If you asked him, he probably wouldn't know either. Money is probably not the real issue with Marty. What may be preventing him from signing the dotted line is the fact that he doesn't really know where he stands in the Sabres scheme of things.

Last season, when Dominik Hasek was out of the lineup for over half the season with his groin tear, Biron filled in admirably. He posted a 19-18-2 record and had a GAA of 2.42. Not bad numbers considering that it was the first time that he was a starting NHL goalie and played the majority of the games until Hasek returned right after Biron's Jan. 28th shutout of the Senators. A lot of experts expected Biron to split the load when Hasek came back. That was not the case. Biron made a couple starts after that, but Hasek was once again the main man.

To add to Biron's concerns about his future with the Sabres came the shocker that Hasek may not even retire after this season. Before training camp, Hasek said that he was not going to make a decision about retirement until after the season.

"I'll let you know,'' Hasek remarked about if he was retiring after this season. "I don't want to talk about it. After I play the last game with the Buffalo Sabres, I'll let you know. I don't think about retirement. I only think about this season.''

Biron must have felt that he was pushed out of high rise building. From being Hasek's "heir apparent" to now having to ride the Sabres bench for who knows when must have been a real shock to the promising goalie.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said that even if Biron signs soon and gets in playing condition, that he should not expect to start too many games this season. Ruff said that Hasek would play at least 60 games in the upcoming season. That's fine with Hasek.

"I like to play lots of games,'' Hasek said. "What's important is what I'm going to do on the ice, prove that I can play on the same level I played two years ago.''

Hasek seems refreshed and ready for the bulk of the work this year.

"I cannot say for sure, but it seems that anything I did in the summer ... I never had a problem,'' remarked Hasek, who kept in shape this summer by swimming, playing tennis and some squash. "I don't want to say anything until after training camp, but I feel very confident right now. Mentally and physically I feel great, I feel hungry.''

Biron must feel betrayed by the Sabres organization. After putting up 5 shutouts and keeping the ship afloat while Hasek was mending from his groin injury, Biron must feel he's getting the raw end of the deal. How long must he ride the bench before he can get a decent workload? Biron would be the starter for many NHL clubs. Would he be content to sit one, or maybe two more years before he gets his first shot at being a bonafide NHL starting goalie? The thinking here is that Biron may be considering talking trade instead of money.

Money is not the issue with Biron as it is with Peca. The Peca battle with the Sabres management may last into November. Biron may not wait that long. He may demand to be traded before the regular season starts. Who can blame him? Sitting behind the proclaimed "greatest goalie on planet Earth" may be O.K. for one year, but not for what seems like eternity for the 23-year old netminder. Biron even admitted that he learned a lot from Hasek.

"I've been looking at him a lot because he gets the net where I usually am," Biron said about his view of Hasek during practices. "I just am sitting on the board, waiting to get into the net and he just shows me so many things - he battles for every puck. And then I get out there and I have to battle for every puck because then I'm going to look a little stupid if I don't. He just shows everybody how hard you have to work in practice so you can be ready for games. It's just great to see him."

That statement came after Biron's final shutout of the season. Right now, Biron must have a much different opinion of Hasek. Hasek is the major road block in the highway to Biron's future success in the National Hockey League. Right now, Biron may be thinking that the only way around the Hasek blockade is by being traded to another club.

The normally talkative Biron has been mysteriously silent since last season. During the time when Biron was handling the bulk of the Sabres goaltending duties last season, he would talk up a storm during post game interviews. Put a microphone in front of Marty and you can't shut him up. The current silence by Biron is not golden for the Sabres.

Martin Biron is a goalie with a golden future - if he gets a chance to showcase his great talents. With the Sabres, he may not get that chance for a couple years.

Flashback once again to January 28th. At that time, Biron felt that he had to make the most of his time starting in the nets to prove to the Sabres brass that he was the goalie of the future.

"I just want to prove to a lot of people that I can play in this league," Biron said at that time. "I want to be here and learn more and gain experience."

Biron had been using Hasek's locker in the Dominator's absence. When asked if he had to give his locker back, Biron said, "He said that the other day. Jim Pizzutelli (the Sabres' head trainer/massage therapist) was making fun of me because he said No more locker, Marty. You're going back to a small locker.'

"I don't care," Marty laughed. "If it's Dom's locker, I'll give it away."

Marty is not laughing anymore. He may have not only given away his locker, but his future with the Sabres.

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