7:10 PM CST, March 3, 2014
While the St. Louis Blues were remolding themselves in the Kings' image and hoping elite goaltender Ryan Miller will help them conquer their playoff nemeses, the Buffalo Sabres were making more news than they have since they were the victims of Brett Hull's infamous toe-in-the-crease goal for Dallas in the 1999 Stanley Cup final.
Hours after the Sabres got a jump on Wednesday's noon PST trading deadline by sending free-agent-to-be Miller and effectively abrasive forward Steve Ott to St. Louis for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier and two draft picks, the Sabres' president of hockey operations, Pat LaFontaine, resigned after three months on the job. His tenure was brief but he had put the Sabres on a successful track by hiring Ted Nolan as the interim coach and Tim Murray as the general manager. More than that, he helped the Sabres re-establish their pride and had talked about bringing national and international events to Buffalo before his unexpected departure.
Speculation is that LaFontaine wanted to re-sign Miller but Murray was intent on trading the standout goalie, and Murray's victory made LaFontaine's position untenable. LaFontaine will return to the NHL as a vice president of development and community affairs, the league's gain and the Sabres' loss.
There's some question now over Nolan's future, even though Murray had said the Sabres want to keep him. Asked Sunday if he wanted to stay, Nolan — who seemed stunned by LaFontaine's departure — told reporters he wanted "to put my personal situation behind right now and really concentrate on these 22 guys here." To which Murray replied, "I'm not going to beg anybody to come and work here."
Not a promising response. The Sabres and their passionate fans deserve a brighter future that will finally put the toe-in-the-crease call to rest, and for good.
Blueprint for Blues
Can't beat 'em? Copy 'em.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong's acquisition of Miller and Ott strongly suggests he's modeling his team after the Kings, who eliminated the Blues from the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
The Blues hope Miller will play the role of Jonathan Quick, who got into their heads in a four-game sweep in 2012 and in a six-game loss last spring after they had won the first two games. "We weren't looking for a goaltender. We were looking for Ryan Miller," Armstrong said. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Miller "makes us a little bit better." That little bit — plus the sandpaper-annoying Ott — could make the Blues a formidable playoff opponent this spring.
Like the Kings, the Blues have a good balance on defense and are a physically punishing team. Ott and team captain David Backes will leave bruises in their wake every game.
Miller won his Blues debut Sunday night, as his teammates rallied for four goals in a 4-2 victory at Phoenix. Armstrong paid a hefty price he hopes will pay off in wins in April, May and June. Besides Halak, Stewart and Carrier, he gave up a first-round draft pick in 2015 and a conditional third-round pick in 2016 that will become a first-round pick this year if the Blues reach the Western Conference finals or if Miller re-signs with St. Louis before the entry draft. Armstrong will consider it a good investment if this deal helps his team out-King the Kings and go deep into the playoffs.
Vancouver center Ryan Kesler reportedly wants out and any contender would be happy to take him. But the Canucks, beginning a major overhaul, are said to want a promising player currently on an NHL roster, a prospect, and other considerations. The Pittsburgh Penguins reportedly were making a big pitch. Vancouver might be again gauging interest in goalie Roberto Luongo, whose big contract might be less of an impediment as the salary cap rises.
The New York Rangers and winger Ryan Callahan are still negotiating but how he's worth $6 million a year for six years is a mystery. If they can't agree, the Rangers might trade him. . . . Colorado might trade Paul Stastny, who can become an unrestricted free agent. . . . The Minnesota Wild needs goaltending help, but is the answer 41-year-old Martin Brodeur, who has a no-trade clause? Or might the Sabres flip Halak? . . . The Boston Bruins need an experienced defenseman. Ottawa's Chris Phillips might fit that need, but the Senators have discussed an extension with him. . . . The Kings looked at wingers but won't overpay for a rental player, even though Buffalo's Matt Moulson — Quick's brother-in-law — seems a logical target. . . . The Ducks aren't expected to trade goalie Jonas Hiller, who's headed for unrestricted free agency, but Viktor Fasth could be available.
The Detroit Red Wings on Thursday will retire the No. 5 jersey worn by seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. He will join some distinguished company: Terry Sawchuk, Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Sid Abel and Steve Yzerman.
The NHL said more than 375,000 people attended its six outdoor games this season, including 54,194 at Vancouver's BC Place on Sunday for the Heritage Classic. That's why the league scheduled six games, even at the risk of ruining the novelty.
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