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Gilbert Perreault's link to the Buffalo Sabres appears to be at an end.

The greatest scorer in franchise history this week told The News that he will not accept an invitation to see his No. 11 raised to the roof of the new Marine Midland Arena this week.

The Sabres have scheduled a banner-raising ceremony for Thursday prior to a home game with the Montreal Canadiens. Banners commemorating several division championships and one honoring the French Connection -- Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert -- lowered when Memorial Auditorium was closed, will be hoisted.

Perreault said he was invited, but that he has family obligations and would not be able to attend.

But Perreault also hinted that he did not feel welcome in Buffalo any longer. He also said it was unlikely he would ever be here again.

"I've been away 10 years," he said. "I came once before and that was for the Knoxes (Seymour and Northrup's induction into the Sabres Hall of Fame). I respected those men. I enjoyed playing for them and I was happy to come back for that. But the other things, I don't feel comfortable with.

"I can't come to everything they're doing. If I were to do that, they would have kept me in organization or something. Right now after 10 years, it's done, let's face it. I don't think after 10 years I figure in their plans.

Perreault said he will be taking his youngest son, Shawn, to Montreal for acting lessons that day. He says he's enjoying his life in Quebec, that he has a variety of business interests there.

Sources close to Perreault and the Sabres say there was a deal on the table this past offseason that would have brought Perreault back in a public relations capacity, but that it was never consummated.

"I'm not part of the Sabres anymore," he said without a trace of bitterness. "I had a good career. I played fair. (It was) up to them to do something and they didn't do it. Now all these things are coming up and they call and call.

"Why? Why should I do that? Just for respect? I paid my respects and now I've moved on. I moved back to Quebec. What ever (might have) happened seems to be dead."

Houda sent packing

Doug Houda, once touted as a good down-low player who will help the Sabres on defense and in the toughness department, has been bought out of his contract. The unannounced deal was done earlier this week.

According to several sources, Houda got two-thirds of the total of the last year of his contract and is free to try and catch on with another team. Houda had been playing in Rochester for much of the past two seasons.

Last stand for Mario

Further evidence that Mario Lemieux is playing his last season:

The reigning Hart Trophy (MVP) and Lester Patrick (Players MVP) said this week that nothing has changed in the NHL regarding hooking, holding and all the obstruction fouls the league supposedly cracked down on last season.

Lemieux also lashed out about the apparent lack of protection for superstars in the game. It was an ironic statement in that it came just hours before his teammate, Francois Leroux, dropped Sabres center Pat LaFontaine with a well-placed shoulder/elbow to the head Thursday night.

Lemieux is on the last year of his record $42 million contract and is slated to make $11 million this season. He is set for life and at 31 has indicated he has no intention of subjecting his frail body to any more hits than he has to take to collect his last windfall.

Murray feels heat in Philly

You think Ted Nolan is the only coach with problems? Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bob Clarke isn't enamored with the play of his team and recently followed it around on a Western road swing. Insiders say Clarke is unhappy, even when he takes into consideration that Eric Lindros is out injured, and is taking a look at the contributions of head coach Terry Murray.

Murray came in on a short lease this season after the Flyers were upset by Florida in the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring. Murray has had several kicks at the can with Washington and Philadelphia, but his teams have never seized the moment and made a big run in the playoffs.

There's talk that if Clarke does opt to make a change he'll call on old friend and Hall of Fame teammate Bill Barber to take over.

Barber is currently coaching the team's AHL affiliate that also plays in Philadelphia.

Coyotes pushed into pact

Sources say the Phoenix Coyotes finally came to terms with holdout free-agent center Jeremy Roenick because the Washington Capitals were preparing to make an offer. The five-draft choices (the free-agent compensation price) was intimidating to a lot of teams, but sources say the Capitals, desperate for a scoring star, were prepared to take the plunge.

Washington has a load of young players in its lineup and young prospects in its system and could run the risk of losing five first-round picks. The Capitals feel they are just a sniper away from making a run at the Stanley Cup, but they need to do it now while the team is on an upward spiral.

Washington is also breaking ground on a new downtown arena and wants a team that is a true gate attraction in order to fill it.

When Phoenix got wind of the Washington plan it immediately ponied up with the cash to give Roenick a $4 million-per-season deal. That's the new benchmark for top players in the NHL. Chicago, perhaps feeling that Washington would look at holdout center Alexei Zhamnov, came up with $15 million for him over five years.

Cut is rotten for Broten

When you get whacked in New Jersey, you get the Jimmy Hoffa treatment.

Neal Broten got a 7:30 a.m. wake-up call from Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, telling him he had been put on waivers. By the time the rest of the team arrived at Continental Airlines Arena for practice, all traces of Broten were gone, the photo above his locker and the nameplate were removed.

Lamoriello said the move was made for "only hockey reasons." He cited the need to create ice time for Petr Sykora, Sergei Brylin and perhaps Denis Pederson. But the move wasn't made for on-ice production.

"I feel in my mind he did not show the enthusiasm or excitement that needed to be shown," Lamoriello said. Head coach Jacques Lemaire also said he was concerned that Broten, very popular among his teammates, would slip back into the negative frame of mind that bothered him last season. Broten walked out on a scheduled practice before the All-Star Game last season and was suspended for a game. After being acquired from Dallas during the 1994-95 season, Broten never moved his family to New Jersey and had said he wouldn't mind a change of scenery.

Around the boards

A Coyotes' employee at the Jeremy Roenick press conference was secretly complaining about the Montreal Canadiens having so many difficult names to pronounce. "I bet Montreal never had a guy named Smith playing for them," he griped. Actually they did. Bobby Smith, the Coyotes, executive vice president was a star in Montreal. . . . Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock, who took over as Stars' coach Jan. 8, says he's cleaned out his closet three times since then. "Three complete wardrobe changes," said Hitchcock, who's down to 220 pounds after being over 400 at one time. . . . Hockey Night in Canada commentator (and Western New York resident) Harry Neale on opening nights around the league: "Whatever happened to opening nights where the band played two songs and they dropped the first puck. Now, you've got big trades (Brendan Shanahan in Detroit), laser shows, theme songs and monkeys jumping off the score clock." Wait until Neale sees the snorting goat heads in the Marine Midland Arena. . . . Vagabond Glenn Anderson of Edmonton, New York, St. Louis, Vancouver, Edmonton (again) and ports overseas is skating with the New York Rangers when they're at home. Anderson was going to play in the British Premier League this winter, but his deal fell through. He's two goals from 500 and hoping to catch on with an NHL team. . . . Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Stevens Tuesday scored his first goal of the season and first since last Feb. 24 but couldn't finish the game. He was elbowed by the Flyers' Daniel Lacroix and suffered an eight-stitch cut and a sprained neck. Lacroix was suspended. The Kings want to see how Stevens handles the injury. His career slid after he took a puck in the face with Pittsburgh. . . . A rumor has Rick Tocchet moving from Boston to Philadelphia for former Sabre Dale Hawerchuk, but only if the Flyers pick up most of Hawerchuk's tab.

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