It's Darcy Regier's job as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres to avoid making decisions based on emotion. If he believes the Sabres are better off with Marty Biron as their backup goaltender, if only the grandest of trade offers will spur him to action, then that's the position Regier must maintain whether Biron, the world's nicest guy, likes it or not.
It's Lindy Ruff's job as coach of the Sabres to accept what Regier deals him and find a way to win games, which commonly includes nurturing a functional harmony within the ranks. Benching Thomas Vanek in the playoffs creates no waves if Vanek's game is in tatters, which it was. But pushing players to the periphery is apt to start the boat a rocking if there's a perception within the locker room that elements of fairness have been skirted.
All of which means Ruff has a ticklish situation on his hands. Biron's long been the dressing room remedy to the monotony of practice and preparation. He's an irrepressible chatterbox, an indefatigable spirit who'll take the simplest yarn and knit you a quilt. Spend seven months on the island that is the NHL regular season and it's refreshing to have the company of Robin Williams, if not always, then mostly. And it further endears Biron to his mates that when the drawer is opened and he's plucked out of mothballs, his play tends to exceed acceptable standards.
"For us we have a No. 1 goalie playing every single night," Daniel Briere said Saturday night in Toronto, after Biron beat the Maple Leafs to improve to 9-2-1. "When we go into a game we don't care who's playing. It's not even a question. You've got to give Marty a lot of credit because it's not an easy situation for him. But he's got to be the best team player I've had the chance to play with over the years. He never complains."
Ah, but Biron's bulb is burning dimmer these days, his 100-watt glow reduced to a 60, his ebullience noticeably reduced. He's a free agent after this season, turns 30 in August, and would like to think, not dreamily, either, that he could be a No. 1 in some other place. Yet the season's half over and he's played all of 12 games while residing in the realm of double jeopardy. Not only does he feel less a part of this team, having played 35 games a year ago, but his marketability is suffering as well.
Biron will concede Ryan Miller the rank of general, but he'd like a bump up in rank, say, from private to lieutenant.
"You're a competitor, you want to play," Biron said. "You always want to play more, and I think that Lindy and everybody here knows that."
Ruff's cognizant of the fact because Biron has told him as much, made it clear this season isn't unfolding quite as he envisioned. He went from Nov. 17 to Dec. 21 between starts, then from Dec. 23 to Saturday night, which makes you wonder how he can maintain an edge.
"When you think about it, I hadn't played in 15 starts and I got the Nashville and St. Louis games, so tonight's pretty recent for me right now," Biron said, a response subtly laced with frustration.
Biron knows he has a sympathetic ear in Ruff, knows because the coach has told him as much. Biron has to play more, for his own good, which translates into the good of the team.
"He and I have had long discussions on playing, and I've told him to allow him to be a good teammate I got to play him a little bit more," Ruff said. "That was a recent meeting I had with him. Marty had two games on the road and played very well, and Ryan came home and put four games together and then you think, 'Boy, you got to ride that.' But I'm going to really make a case for getting him more playing time if he's here, when he's here, while he's here."