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14 BUFFALO Sabres
Daniel G. Habib
October 08, 2001
During a training-camp bonding junket to Charleston, S.C., 26 Sabres spent a day on the 1,600-acre grounds of the oceanfront Wild Dunes Resort doing a series of team-building exercises such as passing each other through a spiderweb of bungee cords. The day's signature activity had players climbing a five-foot stepladder and falling backward to the beach, where teammates were waiting to save them. "You fall," said the drill organizer, "and you have to have faith that your teammates will catch you."
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October 08, 2001

14 Buffalo Sabres

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Insider

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

FORWARDS

19

Lack of size down middle could hurt over long haul

DEFENSE

9

McKee-Warrener tandem is one of league's best

GOALTENDING

14

Biron, fine in short stints, gets chance to be No. 1

SPECIAL TEAMS

12

Need someone to work slot area on power play

MANAGEMENT

15

G.M. Regierand coach Ruff are on the same page

During a training-camp bonding junket to Charleston, S.C., 26 Sabres spent a day on the 1,600-acre grounds of the oceanfront Wild Dunes Resort doing a series of team-building exercises such as passing each other through a spiderweb of bungee cords. The day's signature activity had players climbing a five-foot stepladder and falling backward to the beach, where teammates were waiting to save them. "You fall," said the drill organizer, "and you have to have faith that your teammates will catch you."

In past years the Sabres needed only one player to save them: six-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Dominik Hasek. When financially-strapped Buffalo dealt Hasek and his $9 million contract to the Red Wings for forward Slava Kozlov in July, that burden fell to blueliners Jay McKee, Rhett Warrener and the rest of a no-name defense that allowed the NHL's fewest goals last year. "We've always asked every player to make a defensive commitment," says coach Lindy Ruff. "I don't see that changing."

What will change is the body between the pipes. Highly regarded 24-year-old Martin Biron will fill Hasek's cavernous skates. During a 39-game stint in 1999-2000, while Hasek was out with a groin injury, Biron performed ably (19-18-2 with a 2.42 goals-against average).

More suspect is the offense, which lost forwards Dave Andreychuk, Donald Audette and Steve Heinze to free agency and Doug Gilmour to retirement; those four combined for 34 goals and 57 assists for the Sabres last year. Replacement firepower has to come from Kozlov and Tim Connolly (obtained from the Islanders in the Michael Peca deal), who will center the top line between Stu Barnes and Miroslav Satan.

Last May, Buffalo was 1:18 from the Eastern Conference finals when Mario Lemieux pushed the tying goal past Hasek in Game 6 of the conference semis, a series the Sabres lost in seven games. To improve on that 11th-hour collapse, Buffalo's blue-collar replacement cast must overachieve. "For years a lot of good players have played in Dominik's shadow," says Ruff. "I think you'll see them poke their heads out."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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