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Sports Illustrated Ranking: 5
By Michael Farber
Dominik Hasek has turned the Sabres' season into one long
farewell tour with his lollapalooza of an announcement on July 30
in Prague that he is retiring after 1999-2000. In a misguided
attempt to deflect attention from himself -- the goaltender cited
media pressure as one reason he will leave the game -- Hasek has
been guaranteed a year in the spotlight with his valedictory. The
Sabres had better have plenty of roadies with them this season to
help carry the load: Besides the haunting baggage of Brett Hull's
controversial Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 6, they must lug
around the daunting knowledge that the Dominator's last dance
might be their own last chance.
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Sabres captain Michael Peca says he will put one of the most
memorable goals in history out of his short-term memory while
also never forgetting it; like his remarkable game, Peca is
playing it both ways. The ability of coach Lindy Ruff, who signed
a three-year extension last month, to make this slick-skating,
gritty club look neither back to the 1999 finals nor forward to
Hasek's departure will determine whether Buffalo mounts a Cup
challenge or falls from grace like the last three Eastern
finalists (Florida, Philadelphia, Washington), who either failed
to win a playoff series or even reach the postseason the next
spring. "I think we can get some good use out of [Hasek's
impending retirement]," Ruff says. "Five years ago he had to
dominate for us to win. Clearly that's not the case anymore. But
it would be nice to give something back to him."
Hasek, who had surgery in mid-August for a slight hernia near his
groin that plagued him last season, found a get-well present when
he reported to camp: right wing Maxim Afinogenov. The best player
in the last world junior tournament, Afinogenov looks like a
cross between a young Pavel Bure (speed, explosiveness, size) and
Wayne Gretzky (only one side of his sweater is tucked in).
"You're afraid of blowing things out of proportion, but he's a
carbon copy of a young Pavel," says Peca, once a teammate of
Bure's in Vancouver. "The explosive power, the confidence. There
are some teams afraid of rushing kids, but he's very mature about
how he handles things on and off the ice." Afinogenov can help
remedy two Buffalo deficiencies: a power play overly dependent on
point men Alexei Zhitnik and Jason Woolley and a lack of scoring
off the wing.
But if the Sabres are determined to take the next step, general
manager Darcy Regier should look for a big No. 1 center to take
pressure off the overworked Peca, and the time to start looking
is now. After all, Hasek gave more than the customary two weeks
Issue date: October 4, 1999
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The Dominator. When the first guy onto the ice has won five of the last six Vezinas, it lessens the importance of who follows him out.
Coach Lindy Ruff earned a three-year extension (keeping him around through '02-03) by his abilities to get the most out of his players. And he will.
The top four scorers from last season -- Miroslav Satan, Michael Peca, Michal Grosek and Curtis Brown -- all were 25 or younger. Other baby boomers include Erik Rasmussen (22) and Wayne Primeau (23).
Let's just suppose Hasek has some more groin problems. Is 1995 first-round pick Martin Biron ready to step in? And will the team play as well in front of him?|
Payroll issues. Vaclav Varada, Jay McKee, Curtis Brown, Rhett Warrener and Miroslav Satan were unsigned well into camp.
The top five defensive positions are solid, but can veterans James Patrick and Doug Houda hold off kids Cory Sarich and Jean-Luc Grand Pierre for the sixth and seventh spots?
People, Places and Things
GM: Darcy Regier
Coach: Lindy Ruff; 3rd year (73-57-34); 3rd overall
Assistants: Don Lever; Mike Ramsey
Captain: Mike Peca
Last year: 37-28-17 (9th overall)
Playoffs: Def. Ottawa 4-0; def. Boston 4-2; def. Toronto 4-2; lost to Dallas 4-2 in Stanley Cup finals
PP: 21st (13.5%)
PK: 7th (86.2%)
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Sat., Oct. 2: Opening night at Detroit.
Fri., Oct. 8: Home opener vs. Washington.
Wed., Nov. 3: At Dallas for only finals rematch of regular season.
18-25-22-40: Miroslav Satan's goal production in his first four seasons.
"I want to stay in the NHL and I want to learn by watching the best in the world ... We're always talking about being in the shooting lane and reading the play. Dom is reading the play before it's being made, he's beating that pass before it's even going across ... If he gets out of position, he battles to the end to make that save. People are always saying, `How'd he make that save?' and it's because he battles until the very end, he never gives up. He has this great ability of reading the game but it's not because he was born with it, it's because he worked hard at it." -- understudy Martin Biron on Hasek