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LAFONTAINE DEAL SET FOR TODAY

Barring a last minute hang-up on insurance matters, Pat LaFontaine will officially become a New York Ranger today.

Sources told The Buffalo News Saturday evening the deal that would send the Buffalo Sabres captain to Broadway was all but complete and would be announced this afternoon.

The source also said the likely compensation has moved away from a player on the Rangers' active roster and would likely be limited to conditional draft choices.

The News reported last week that LaFontaine was destined to become an ex-Sabre. The move to New York has been in the works for days and was nearly complete on Wednesday. However, rosters were frozen that day in preparation for today's waiver draft. Once the draft is completed, teams are again free to deal.

Reached Saturday evening, LaFontaine said he hadn't been informed of any deal, tentative or otherwise. He said he anticipates something will happen shortly.

"I guess it's time to turn the page," he said. "It's sad in a way because I spent six years here and the people of Buffalo have been great to me, but I guess it's time to move on."

The Sabres have not cleared LaFontaine to rejoin the team after a head injury and successive concussion syndrome limited him to only 13 games last season. LaFontaine has, in his defense, presented medical reports from two specialists in neurology to the Sabres. It's known that the Rangers' physician has reviewed that material. Sources also say that LaFontaine recently flew to New York and was examined by doctors there. Their report was then forwarded to the Rangers.

The end of LaFontaine's tenure here will be a sad time for many area hockey fans. The swift-skating center stirred the imagination of fans with his performance on the ice and touched their hearts with his caring and commitment to the community.

In his best year in Buffalo (1992-93) he set a team record for scoring that still stands (148 points) and teamed with winger Alexander Mogilny (76 goals that season) to form one of the most dynamic duos in franchise history.

LaFontaine was active in many charities, including the United Way. He also was a major player for Children's Hospital, helping in fund raising, donating his time and money and becoming a special friend to many sick and terminally ill children.

LaFontaine was one of two big-money players on the Sabres with a $4.8 million salary due him in each of the next two seasons (goaltender Dominik Hasek will make $8 million over the next two seasons). The News reported last week that the Sabres were expecting LaFontaine to retire because of his injury and did not have his full salary in the projected budget for the upcoming season. The Sabres also had planned to trade LaFontaine before he was injured in an attempt to clear his salary line from the budget.

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