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REGIER LOOKING TO MAKE UP LOST GROUND

Now that Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has a coach, he gets to work on all sorts of other tasks as the Sabres prepare for training camp in September.

Regier climaxed his first six weeks on the job Monday when he named Lindy Ruff as the team's head coach.

The process of not rehiring Ted Nolan and hiring Ruff filled most of Regier's time in that span.

With Ruff on board, the general manager's job description broadens to cover a number of tasks -- and he knows he has some catching up to do.

"I'm a little bit behind, quite honestly," Regier said. "I don't think the organization is behind. Among Don Luce (director of player personnel), Larry Carriere (assistant to the general manager) and Kevin Billet (senior vice-president), those three guys have been doing a lot of the work. That's what we've been doing today (Tuesday) -- catching up and talking about some other issues."

Some of Regier's jobs require immediate attention, while others are less urgent. All need to be handled by early September.

Coaching Staff: Mike Ramsey, a former Sabre defenseman and captain, is a top candidate for one of the assistant coaching spots, while the other one is said to be open.

"Lindy is focusing on that. I'll get involved on the end of it," Regier said. "I know Lindy wants to get that done as soon as possible."

Contract Signings: Several Sabres are Group II free agents. That means they are free to accept offers from other teams, but the Sabres have the right to match those contracts.

If Buffalo doesn't match an offer, it would receive compensation from other teams. That compensation is so stiff that few players actually change teams.

"We have (Bob) Boughner, (Darryl) Shannon, (Dixon) Ward, (Michal) Grosek, (Derek) Plante, (Michael) Peca, (Alexei) Zhitnik and (Miroslav) Satan," Regier said. "Three of the guys have filed for arbitration: Dixon Ward, Derek Plante and Darryl Shannon. That's more a case of them protecting their rights; you still continue to negotiate. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll get there."

Since Group II free agents have so little bargaining room and probably won't go anywhere, Regier and the Sabres at least know approximately what their roster will look like in September.

"What you don't know is the timing of it," he said. "Something that's become more popular from the agents' side is the withholding of services."

Last fall, Matthew Barnaby and Jason Dawe missed all of training camp because they had not signed contracts.

Unrestricted Free Agents: While most of the stars in this category are signed with other teams already, the Sabres may add a player or two for depth purposes. For example, Garry Galley's loss as a free agent means that Buffalo has only six veteran defensemen. The Sabres might be interested in adding a seventh veteran if they weren't sure one of their young prospects would be ready to play in the NHL at the start of the season.

"We've had conversations with agents of other free agents," Regier said. "That process is more of a case of fitting a player to a team."

The unrestricted free-agent market certainly has an effect on what happens to Buffalo's restricted free agents. For example, when the New York Rangers sign defensive forward Mike Keane to a contract worth $2 million per year, you can bet that Peca -- the Selke Trophy winner as the league's top defensive forward -- is paying attention.

"You have the whole league watching. You have the whole players association watching," Regier said. "The players' side would like to see things fall into a particular order, although it never happens perfectly.

"The unrestricted free-agent arena has become limited to the rich and famous, and that's one of the new realities. Even this year, agents are telling me, "I can't believe the money we're getting in the unrestricted free-agent market."

Rochester Americans: The Sabres are obligated to appoint a head coach of the Amerks. Regier said that spot will be addressed as soon as the assistants in Buffalo are named.

He added that he plans to talk to Don Lever -- an assistant coach with Buffalo last season and a former head coach in Rochester -- about Lever's situation.

If Lever does not end up with the Amerks, Buffalo could go in a number of directions.

One name that certainly will come up if Lever doesn't head down the Thruway is Rick Vaive, who has been coaching the South Carolina team of the East Coast Hockey League.

Some players in the Sabres' organization have spent time with Vaive in South Carolina, such as Steve Shields.

Staff: According to Regier, he probably won't be making many big changes within the hockey department in the weeks ahead.

"It's possible, but it might be just shifting people or adding them," he said.

"I don't see any deletions so to speak. There are some needs, and that's what we're starting to get into now."

Training Camp: The first few days of camp will be held in Hamilton, Ont.

The team will announce late this week or early next week where it plans to hold the rest of its workouts.

Expansion: The next wave of teams entering the NHL starts next summer, when Nashville joins the league.

Buffalo will lose only one player in next summer's expansion draft, but plans have to be started now.

First- and second-year pros have been exempt from such drafts in the past, so that might influence when to sign players to pro contracts.

"You have to have a certain number of available players. We'll have to hear what constitutes an experienced player, so that you're covered," Regier said.

The expansion draft already may have influenced the Sabres' decision-making this summer, when Buffalo took goalie Mika Noronen in the first round. Shields, who backed up Dominik Hasek in goal in the second half of last season and in the playoffs, might be attractive if left unprotected in next summer's draft. Buffalo added some depth at the position by taking Noronen.

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