Sabres Cap Trade Day with 5-1 Win Over Habs as Lalime Stars

Roy StevensonContributor IMarch 5, 2009

When the NHL trading deadline is over, each team in the league has played their cards and laid down their hands.  There's no more need to posture, no more bluffing.  Each team by their actions makes it clear whether they are in or out, buyer or sellers, in the race for the Stanley Cup.

For teams like the Buffalo Sabres, for whom the making the playoffs will take a lot of work and actually winning the Stanley Cup would have to be the result of a million different bounces of the puck going exactly the right way, this day can be especially trying.

Even if winning the Stanley Cup this year might be wishful thinking for the Sabres, they definitely have a shot at the playoffs, especially if the the trading deadline supplied some reinforcements.

If you make the playoffs, you never know what might happen.  And in terms of team profitability, the playoffs are key.  The players don't get paid any more for playoff games, and the revenue from those extra games makes the difference between losing money or making a profit for a team like Buffalo.  

Not to mention that a good playoff run energizes the fan base and generates season ticket sales for the next season.

So there was a lot of pressure on Sabre's GM Darcy Regier today.  One of his best players, albeit also one of his most often injured players, Tim Connolly, either had to be signed or traded, or else he would probably walk away in July leaving the Sabres with nothing.

Most felt the Sabres would deal Connolly, fearful to invest big dollars into a gifted player that had only taken the ice for one out of every three games for the last three seasons.

But the Sabres first move of the day was to declare that they are 'in' the game for the play-offs this year by signing  Connolly for two-years at four and a half million per.  

Some might say giving Connolly a 50% raise after his last three years is crazy.  Others will say that Connolly is one big check away from being sidelined permanently.

All true.  But there is no denying that Connolly, when healthy, is one of the most gifted playmakers in the league. And there is also no denying that any player in the league is just one big check away from being sidelined by injury.  

Regier stated later in the day that when they looked at all the available free agents, Connolly was the best value so signing him was the clear choice.  

Considering that Olli Jokinen, arguably the other most talented center available makes $5,250,000 per year and, while more durable than Connolly, has a lower point-per-game average, Regier's position is understandable.

Regier's next move was to shore up the Sabre's goaltending.  The Sabres' Ryan Miller is our indefinitely, and while back-up Patrick Lalime has played well, there are no goalies in the Buffalo system with NHL experience behind him.  So Regier traded a fourth round pick to Phoenix for Michael Tellqvist.  

While not Patrick Roy, Tellqvist has a winning record in playing more than 100 NHL games. He offers insurance just in case Miller is out longer than hoped for or Lalime can't handle the full load.

To bolster the Sabres five-on-five play, Regier then traded a second-round pick to Toronto for centerman Dominic Moore.   Moore, with 47 points, is a mid-level scorer with grit and strong character, as evidenced by the assistant captain's "A" he wore on his Leaf's jersey.  

Moore will be a UFA in July and may just be a rental for the Sabres, but for a team like Buffalo that has been struggling to score in even-strength situations and also plays a little soft, Moore should be a good addition for the play-off run.

Adding Moore meant somebody else had to go, so Regier finished his day's work by trading the under-performing Ales Kotalik to Edmonton to get back the second round pick he gave up in acquiring Moore.

Kotalik's big shot will be missed on the power play, and the Sabres will also be weaker in shoot-outs, but Kotalik never seemed to want to use his big 230 pound frame to its full potential.  

Kotalik certainly has more talent than guys like Paul Gaustad and Pat Kaleta, but his refusal to get his uniform dirty in the corners and in front of the net made him a liability that his shot and backhand deke move could not offset.

At the end of the day, when all the trading was done, Darcy Regier had made a bold statement to his team that he believed in them enough to commit dollars to one of their better players and provide some reinforcements in the form of Moore and Tellqvist.

It wouldn't take long to see how the Sabres would react to this message and change in team chemistry as they took the ice against the Montreal Canadiens at 7:30 pm at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo.

For the first 13 minutes, it looked like the Sabres had not heard the message as they were totally dominated by the Canadiens.  Buffalo gave up three consecutive penalties in the first 13 minutes and only stellar play by the Sabres' Lalime in goal kept Buffalo in the game as the Canadiens outshot Buffalo 16-3.

But then Montreal took a delay-of-game penalty and 18 seconds later Derek Roy scored to give the Sabres the lead in spite of being totally outplayed.

When Roy scored again within three minutes of the second period, the Sabres began to believe.  Kaleta's shoulder forced Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek to cough up the puck in center ice, and Jaro Spacek jumped on it.  After a nice move at the blue line, Spacek walked on on Montreal goalie Carey Price and blistered a slapper into the net for a 3-0 lead.

In the third period, Gaustad put the game away, first scoring a nice deflection off Craig Rivet's point shot on a power-play and then out-racing Mathieu Schneider to a loose puck to break in alone on Price for a short-hander and a 5-0 lead.

All that remained was to see if Lalime could earn a well-deserved shut-out but unfortunately he gave up a loose rebound that resulted in a Montreal goal with just a minute left.

The Sabres won, and they need every win.  But equally important, they need the energy that comes from believing that you have a chance and the moves the Darcy Regier made today appears to have recharged the Sabres' batteries.

One game does not a season make, but Max Afinogenov came back to the ice after a long absence and played one of his best games of the year.  There's no denying that Max brings speed to the ice but that all too often he goes nowhere. 

Tonight, at least, he used his speed in both directions and made several nice defensive plays.

Don't make your playoff reservations just yet but every Sabre fan has to be excited that this year's team has a better chance today than they did yesterday. 


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