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JILTED O'REILLY UNLIKELY COMPONENT IN COACHING COMBINATION

Don't count on seeing Terry O'Reilly in the Buffalo Sabres' coaching lineup next season.

Though neither side has completely closed the door on the possibility the former Boston Bruins coach of almost a decade ago could join Lindy Ruff's coaching staff, sources in Boston claim that O'Reilly likely would say no if asked.

Sources in Buffalo maintain they're still talking, but the betting here is he's not likely to be asked.

"Terry's interviewed in Buffalo four times and under four different scenarios," the Boston source said. "I think he's about ready to tell them where to put it."

O'Reilly was in Southern Ontario last weekend and had discussions with Sabre personnel regarding the possibility of becoming an associate coach. It's unclear whether Ruff was involved in those negotiations, but even if he was, it would be a mistake to bring O'Reilly onboard now.

O'Reilly is a good man and a pretty good hockey man despite the fact he's been out of the game throughout the 1990s. He would certainly bring a different perspective to the Lindy Ruff-Mike Ramsey team. However, there are only so many times you can lead someone around by the nose, and it would be difficult for O'Reilly to adjust to being an assistant to two inexperienced coaches when he was being wooed as the main man by Quinn all the way back to February.

To bring him in now would be a blueprint for disaster, not because the common perception would be that the team president is running the hockey department but because O'Reilly would know he had a sympathetic ear in the president's office and the first time Ruff missteps, either side could use it.

The most important thing the Sabres can do in the wake of the John Muckler-Larry Quinn-Ted Nolan debacle is allow the hockey department to bring in a third man who has no ties to anyone except the person who hired him. It would even be OK if he didn't have blond hair and start his last name with R. Whomever that man is, his ability to have a say inside the organization should start and stop at the hockey department.

That said, look for Bob Berry to be the No. 1 candidate. Berry has a world of hockey knowledge on his resume and no serious ties to anyone in the Sabres' front office. He's been a head coach, an assistant coach, a scout and an assistant general manager. He knows talent, has teaching ability, understands game theory and has seen just about everything that can go right and wrong inside a locker room.

Sources say Bob Murdoch, who recently has been coaching in Europe, is also a candidate, but a distant second to Berry in terms of overall depth and experience. Besides, Berry is looking for a job. He was recently fired as assistant general manager in St. Louis by new boss Larry Pleau.

Sources said it wasn't that Pleau necessarily disliked Berry, it's just that he took the route the Sabres need to follow. He didn't want to be second guessed on his decisions by a man who had the ear of the team president and other influential decision-makers.

Peterson drawing notice

Had Ramsey not taken the first assistant job with Ruff, sources say it would have gone to Brent Peterson. Peterson, in addition to being a friend of Ruff during his playing days here, is regarded as an up-and-comer in the coaching fraternity. He won coach of the year honors with Portland in the Western Junior Hockey League last season and recently interviewed for the top job (and later the No. 1 assistant job) in Pittsburgh. He was also approached regarding an assistant's job in Tampa Bay.

Peterson made his mark in the NHL as a defensive forward, but he's established a much broader base in junior hockey, where he's turned out well-rounded players and quality teams.

Sabres VP resigns

Sabres vice president Kerry Atkinson, originally a member of Larry Quinn's inner circle, has resigned his position.

Reached by phone, Atkinson declined comment, but sources say there was a falling out between him and Quinn on several matters, not the least of which was the impact the firing of Ted Nolan had on ticket sales and especially season-ticket renewals.

The ticket problem is said to be a minor one by some members of the Sabres' front office, but others maintain the cancellation requests could hit triple figures.

No matter what the number, the Sabres are pulling out all the stops in an attempt to stem the cancellations. They even had Ruff calling a few disgruntled buyers on the day he was hired.

The Messier Stakes

For all the talk about the supposed $18 million (U.S.) contract offered Mark Messier by the Vancouver Canucks, two things stand out. One, who's seen it? Two, if it's on the table, why hasn't Messier signed it?

One of the obvious reasons is Messier still wants to make his mark on a deal with New York or Philadelphia.

It happened last season when Wayne Gretzky was "all set" to sign with the Canucks, but at the last minute jumped to the Rangers, reportedly for less money.

And why would Messier do the same? For one thing, Messier can make more in endorsement money in New York than the Canucks could ever hope to pay him in salary. He would also travel far less and he could reasonably expect to compete for a Stanley Cup with either the Rangers or the Flyers.

There's little doubt the Canucks are serious about Messier, but it's still unlikely he'll sign there. According to several New York sources, the Rangers have already sweetened their offer since Vancouver brought its to the table. The Washington Capitals are also said to have entered the picture.

One place Messier won't be going is back to Edmonton. Despite rumors from the Messier camp and in Edmonton that the former Oiler has been offered a big pact and the opportunity of a lifetime job after finishing off his career in the place where it started, no one with any hockey sense believes the offer is real.

The Oilers are a team about to be sold and no interim management is going to commit the franchise to a budget-busting deal for a 36-year-old former hero who wouldn't fit in on what the Oilers (or for that matter the Canucks) are trying to accomplish.

Edmonton is a team committed to youth and a very strict budget. Players like Messier needn't apply.

Sabres face waiver trouble

No telling where the Sabres will end up in their arbitration cases with Dixon Ward, Derek Plante and Darryl Shannon, but their bigger problem is what to do about their goaltending and the waiver draft. It's a given the Sabres will want to protect Dominik Hasek and it's likely (or at least it was likely when Ted Nolan was coach) that they would want to keep Steve Shields as the backup.

The problem is no team can protect more than two veteran goaltenders and if the Sabres expose Andre Trefilov and no one takes him, they would have to carry all three on their NHL roster next season. That's a problem for Buffalo, because Trefilov is scheduled to make about $700,000. Shields is going to want the same amount (or more) that Trefilov is getting, especially if Trefilov isn't playing or even dressing.

Muckler weighing his options

Sources say John Muckler is still talking to the Toronto Maple Leafs about the general manager's job there, but that he hasn't shown all that much interest.

We keep hearing Muckler's got an in with Tampa Bay -- we also hear Tampa employees are interviewing everywhere -- and that he would take the GM's job there if it becomes available. That likely won't happen until at least next season. The team is likely to be sold between now and then (which is why employees are trying to line up something) and if the right people buy it, Muckler is their man.

Toronto president Ken Dryden is promising a general manager will be in place by the end of this month. Mike Keenan's name is floating around, so is chief European scout Anders Hedberg, but the job could well go to interim general manager Bill Watters.

Top clinic returns

What is annually the best coaching clinic in Western New York will take place August 9-10 at Canisius College. Guest speakers this year include Craig Ramsay, the former Buffalo Sabre now an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators, former Sabre Jim Lorentz, junior hockey coach E.J. Maguire and perhaps Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Barry Smith.

The fee for coaches and interested parties is $95 for the two days. Contact Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh at 888-2957.

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