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Role players earn ovations for Sabres

The Sabres demonstrated in their home-and-home engagements with Montreal last week that they have so much speed, endurance and firepower, to say nothing of luck, that they can be outplayed and still come away with three points.

Remember all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about Buffalo's lack of superstars as the NHL resumed play after its lost season? Now it seems like a lot of wasted energy.

Once hockey, under its new, common-sense rules, began to take shape and the plumbers and shoemakers went back to their old trades and left the game to those with sufficient skills to rescue it, the Sabres revealed themselves as a team with few three-star guys but a lot of two-stars and worthy role players.

How else could they have survived their plague of injuries to important players such as Daniel Briere, J.P. Dumont and Dmitri Kalinin, and Tim Connolly, Jochen Hecht and Adam Mair? Having a roster full of interchangeable parts has been vital, with goaltending the biggest reason.

The Sabre nearest to superstar status is rookie goalie Ryan Miller, the man most responsible for keeping his team nose-to-nose all during those two games with Montreal. Miller is the keystone to the Sabres' future. For 13 games or more, while Miller was inactive with a thumb injury, Marty Biron was the team's three-star player, keeping them in contention with the NHL's elite.

Starting Monday, the NHL will take its 16-day break for the Olympic Games. On one hand it would have been nice to see more Sabres chosen to play for their national teams, but from a selfish standpoint the midseason rest and recovery should be more important for Buffalo. Briere and Hecht should be back, and Mair, possibly the most underrated player on a team loaded with underrateds, could be back with them.

Starting with the March 1 game against Atlanta here upon resumption of league play, the Sabres will have 26 games left in this too-long and wearing regular season before the object of the whole thing, the Stanley Cup playoffs, begin. The 26 games will be equally divided between HSBC Arena and the road.

During the Olympic break, General Manager Darcy Regier will be able to ponder whether he needs to trade Biron in order to acquire a player or players to expand Buffalo's chances to win its first Cup. The Sabres' excellent play for the past five months removed desperation as a reason for a trade.

Regier will be able to make a clear assessment of whether any trade offers would be fruitful enough to part with a proven goaltender. He'll also be able to bring himself up to date on the Sabres' prospects in Rochester and junior hockey.

The GM is in a far better position than he was five months ago. He has an organization full of the speed, skill and youth necessary to contend in the new world of hockey. He also has a valuable asset in Biron, and if that asset stays on his roster until next season, so be it.

Larry Felser, former News sports columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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