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Captain situation unsettled Ruff hasn't decided if rotation will return

There hasn't been much suspense with the Buffalo Sabres' roster during the preseason. After tonight's exhibition finale in Detroit (5 p.m., MSG, Radio 550 AM), there might only be one more cut to make prior to Friday's opener against Montreal.

What figures to be a much more interesting decision by coach Lindy Ruff is who will be named captain of this team. And will that player get the "C" for only a month on a rotation basis like last year or will someone get the call for whole season?

"My initial thoughts would be to rotate it again," Ruff said after Saturday's practice in HSBC Arena. "We've discussed it as a staff but still haven't come to a conclusion. I think the guys liked it. Each month when I awarded the captaincy, guys gave a little speech and it was something they looked forward to.

"I really think you need leadership everywhere and that gives you an opportunity to spread it out."

The general tone in the locker room is that the players are willing to live with whatever system Ruff goes with. But there's also some sentiment to see Ruff make a definitive choice, too.

"I have no clue what they're going to do but I think we should have one captain," said defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who served in the role last January. "I like it better. Now last year was a good opportunity for everybody to wear the 'C.' It's something that maybe never happens in your career.

"But I think we have good guys here, guys who can wear that 'C' for the whole season. Now we have guys who are on long-term contracts, too. That's another good thing."

There have been 22 captains in the Sabres' 38-year history. Seven of them were part of the monthly rotations Ruff used last year and in 2003-04.

The NHL establishment isn't big on the rotation game. When the Sabres did it in 2003-04, it was also a season where young players were learning to step into new roles. Last year, Jochen Hecht was captain in October and February, Toni Lydman wore the "C" in November, Brian Campbell had it in December and then passed it on to Spacek. Jason Pominville had it in March and the couple games in April.

"I'll just do my job," a smiling Pominville said when asked if he'd like to keep his "C" for good and just pick up where he left off. "If it was my decision, I would probably name one or two and go that way. But we may still do the rotation and we'll have to see what they decide.

"We all feel comfortable with each other. I know I can help the team by being a leader by example. Whether I have a letter on my jersey or not, it's not going to change what I've done or what I will do."

Thus far in the preseason, Ruff has had a different captain every night. He's used Hecht, Tim Connolly, Teppo Numminen, Pominville, Derek Roy and Craig Rivet.

"It's up to Lindy but consistency is always good from my side of things," said goaltender Ryan Miller. "It's his decision. If he feels he wants to keep people involved, that's good. Guys were really honored last year when they were named. They took it seriously. Everybody has their own role on the team. You don't have to have a 'C' or an 'A.' "

Miller is certainly considered one of the Sabres' main leaders but goalies aren't normally part of the process when captains are named. That changed last week when Vancouver bucked tradition and named netminder Roberto Luongo its captain -- the first time that's been done in the NHL since 1948.

Would Miller want a piece of that action?

"No. I wish him luck," Miller said. "There's a lot of attention from fans and media already. There's a lot of pressure being a goalie, different ways to be a leader. You don't have to be identified by the team.

"As a goalie, you're kind of a de facto leader anyway. There's a lot of things you have to answer to that other guys don't. You have to go about your business and do your job. I have to answer questions anyway, talk to guys, hold myself accountable and hold them accountable. It's like I am one in a lot of ways anyway."

Rivet, the veteran blue-liner acquired over the summer from San Jose, has also served as an alternate captain twice in the preseason. It's safe to assume he'll be wearing letters at some point during the season, if not from the beginning.

"Everybody has their own system to get players involved and [the rotation] is what it seems they've done here," Rivet said. "They didn't want to isolate one guy. It's a team that has some younger players that have leadership qualities. Giving these guys a chance to be in a role of captain or assistant gives them a little more added responsibility but not the total focus.

"I think it's nice when you have a young guy that has these qualities. There are a number of guys on this team that have them. Just because you're young doesn't mean you can't lead. Leadership comes in all different aspects."

Spacek had the marquee moments for a Buffalo captain last year when he took over just in time for the Winter Classic and then fired up his teammates with an inspirational talk following the morning skate in Dallas later in January. The Sabres won that night to snap a 1-7-5 stretch and the victory was the first in an 8-0-2 turnaround that got them back into the playoff hunt.

Spacek, however, is heading into the final year of his contract and said he figures that would preclude him from being named a captain.

"But if I want to say something, I'll say something," he said. "I don't have to wear a letter on my jersey. I like Jochen Hecht. I think he did a good job. I think 'Pommer' [Pominville] would be a very good choice, too."

Said Hecht: "It doesn't matter who's wearing a letter. Anybody who has an opinion can say it. Some guys worked for it and deserved it and it's a way a coach can show you he really appreciates what you've done."

Pominville agreed that opinions can come from all corners of the dressing room and said it's good that there's multiple candidates.

"I don't think there's anybody in the locker room who wouldn't accept it," Pominville said. "It was a huge honor for me but that's not what I'm worried about now. We have one game to get ready and a week of practice left. We can let the coaches decide all this. Our focus has to be the start to our season and not any other issues."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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