The Sabres still say it was no goal.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, the Sabres desperately want to make another trip to the Stanley Cup finals. The problem is that there are no shortcuts.
Heck, babies born this week will have half a set of teeth by the time the season ends next summer. The Sabres are expected to do everything within reason in the next nine months to move one, teensy-weensy step further than they did last year.
Dominik Hasek will need to be healthy by the time the playoffs roll around for the Sabres to contend. He says the groin and hernia problems that sent him to Europe and back last season are behind him, but those things have a way of reappearing.
And The Dominator is no kid. He'll be 35 when he starts his next postseason.
Coach Lindy Ruff will have virtually the same lineup he had a year ago, when Miroslav Satan, Michael Peca, Michal Grosek, Curtis Brown and Jason Woolley, among others, had career years. Buffalo is deep at almost every position and should be in good shape long after Hasek retires at the end of the season.
Of course, the Sabres still need to sign their free agents. Assuming the contracts are completed, say, before Christmas, the Sabres should have enough time to bring their roster together and make a trade or two near the deadline in March. The Sabres made no major moves in the offseason but are loaded with good, young talent on defense that could open the way for a trade.
Here's what the Sabres will have barring any season-long holdouts:
The depth chart: Michael Peca, Curtis Brown, Wayne Primeau, Brian Holzinger, Domenic Pittis.
It all starts with Peca, whose 27 goals and 56 points last year legitimized him as an offensive threat after he built a reputation as a defensive star. He was banged up in the playoffs, but only after teams realized they needed to put their checking line on him. He's one of the better two-way players in the NHL and perhaps the most feared open-ice hitter.
Brown was a rising star and one of the top young centers last season before slumping late. He came on strong in the playoffs and should help take some pressure off Peca. He's no longer a secret around the league and should draw plenty of attention.
Bet on either Primeau or Holzinger to be in a different uniform before the end of the season. Primeau rode the bench for most of the season but played better in the postseason and has been productive throughout training camp. Holzinger struggled last year without superskilled linemates. One of them will be unhappy playing on the fourth line.
The Sabres need to decide which one has a brighter future and send the other packing. Pittis, a star in the AHL, would gladly play on the fourth line in the NHL. Stu Barnes and Erik Rasmussen are also capable in the middle.
The depth chart: Dixon Ward, Stu Barnes, Michal Grosek, Geoff Sanderson, Paul Kruse.
Five is a crowd. Ward had his best overall season and was rewarded with a $1.2 million contract in arbitration. He'll be playing for another big contract this season. He complements Peca on both ends and has found a home in Buffalo after it appeared his career might be in jeopardy four years ago. He had 20 goals last year and is capable of more.
Barnes went from slumper to sniper after coming from Pittsburgh in the Matthew Barnaby trade. He had 30 goals two seasons ago and 20 last year. He will be counted on to help take pressure off Satan this year. He'll get enough ice time to approach 30 goals. How many he scores will be up to him.
Grosek is, um, Grosek. It's a nice way of saying the Sabres have no idea what the guy will do next. When he uses his body, he's rock solid. When he uses his head, he's dangerous. When he doesn't use his body, he's useless. When he doesn't use his head, he's dangerous for all the wrong reasons. Twenty goals and 50 points last season show he's capable offensively. Being penalized seemingly every other shift in the playoffs shows he's capable of going off the deep end.
Will the real Geoff Sanderson please stand up? He's LOADED with skills but has underachieved for two straight seasons. He had a dozen goals last season and should have had two dozen. He had spurts in the playoffs when he fought to the net, found ways to use his speed and was the best player on the ice. The Sabres made a deal with Atlanta to keep him for another season, so they obviously expect more production.
Last season, Kruse received the least amount of playing time in his career. Everybody knows he's tough. Ruff will have a difficult time finding room for him again this season but, like Rob Ray, he'll do anything to help the team win.
The depth chart: Miroslav Satan, Vaclav Varada, Erik Rasmussen, Rob Ray, Maxim Afinogenov, David Moravec.
Satan is the Sabres' one true sniper. His 40 goals last season were the most for a Sabre since Pat LaFontaine had the same number in 1996. He plays well with Brown, has great hands and is extremely sneaky around the net. It might be tough to score 40 again this season because teams will be keying on him much more and making sure he gets bumped around.
Varada is as rugged as Europeans come. Last year, he fell into a funk after thinking he needed to score more to help the team. What he does best is work the corners and annoy opponents. He can help Peca and Ward put up bigger numbers by sustaining his dirty work for the whole season. He, too, would be rewarded for the effort.
Rasmussen will break out this season and become a formidable player if -- IF -- he plays the way he did in the postseason. He's a punishing hitter and he can score 15-20 goals, but he needs to avoid the disease of every young player -- inconsistency.
Take time to appreciate Ray because this will probably be his last season. He has given nine-plus years to the organization, and he remains the Sabres' top enforcer and leader in the dressing room. He led the league in penalty minutes last season and still has a role, but good heavens, there's only so much a man can take.
Afinogenov has the talent to become a star in this league. He'll start the season in Rochester, but if he starts dominating in the AHL and learns to play better defense, it won't be long before he's with the Sabres.
Moravec's story is simple: He's either with the Sabres or he's back in the Czech Republic. Most likely the latter when Satan signs.
The depth chart: Alexei Zhitnik, Richard Smehlik, Jay McKee, Rhett Warrener, Jason Woolley, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, James Patrick, Cory Sarich, Brian Campbell, Jason Holland.
The Sabres are stocked with defensemen who can play in the NHL, which means one of these guys could be unloaded before the trade deadline.
Zhitnik remains the most skilled player at the position. He's solid offensively and will still find himself paired with Smehlik against the top scoring lines on most nights, although their defensive responsibilities could change slightly this season.
McKee and Warrener were joined at the brain after Warrener was kidnapped from Florida for Mike Wilson. They played against the top players in the Eastern Conference and found themselves on the ice when the Sabres were two men short. Both are tough and play smart but conservative styles.
Woolley will quarterback the power play again this season after posting career highs with 10 goals and 33 assists last season. He and Zhitnik co-led the team in playoff scoring with 15 points. He's still not thrilled with an arbitration ruling that landed him a $950,000 contract, which seemed well under his market value. Woolley will find out that money is a great motivator.
Grand-Pierre and Patrick will likely split time. The Sabres want to get Grand-Pierre in the lineup as much as possible during the regular season and lean on Patrick's experience when needed. Grand-Pierre should not get too comfortable. Sarich will see more time in the NHL, and Ruff has been happy with Campbell. Look for Sarich to play less than 20 games this season, the way Grand-Pierre played 16 last year.
The depth chart: Dominik Hasek, Dwayne Roloson, Marty Biron.
Hasek, of course, is the main figure now and will be for the remainder of the season. He's the best goalie in the NHL, and one of the best ever. He said this is his last shot, so expect him to leave nothing behind when the season ends. He has five Vezina Trophies, two Hart Trophies and one gold medal. You know what's missing.
Roloson played in 18 games last season. If Ruff could replay last season, Rolie the Goalie would have played more. Remember, Lindy, the real season starts in April. Hasek's groin problems last season, which started in February, might have been avoided if Roloson played more often.
Chances are Roloson won't see as many games because Biron is just about ready. He was the best goalie in the AHL last season and stands as the goalie of the future. Biron needs to gain more experience in the NHL and prove he's prepared to play at this level. Expect him to play a ton in Rochester early in the season and be promoted for spot duty after the All-Star break.
Ruff enters his third season knowing the only way he can improve on last season is to win the Stanley Cup. He already owns the franchise record for playoff victories with 24. He will lean on Hasek, but the Sabres proved last season they can win some games without The Dominator.
Ruff must avoid being jinxed by his third season, which is when players often stop listening to the coach. The Sabres will need a more consistent power play while they groom their young defensemen, leaving Don Lever and Mike Ramsey with a heavy workload. This also will be Ramsey's last season.
The Sabres have not finished in the top half of the conference under Ruff, but they reached the conference finals both years. Opposing teams will be gunning for them. Look for the Sabres to finish second behind Toronto in the Northeast Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. Reaching the Stanley Cup finals two straight years is awfully tough. New Jersey will prove it by beating Buffalo in the Eastern Conference finals.
1999 - 2000 Buffalo Sabres Schedule on page S-16.