The Buffalo Sabres are headed into the final weeks of the season without one of their leading scorers and with a player who had demanded to be traded.
General manager Darcy Regier said this could be a good thing.
"We think so," Regier said. "Time will tell as to how it works out, but we definitely added some grit."
The "grit" comes in the form of left wing Paul Kruse, a 6-foot, 202-pound "tough guy" who's expected to fill a void in the muscle department left when the Sabres traded winger Brad May to Vancouver for Geoff Sanderson earlier this season.
The "time will tell" part of the equation comes in the form of defenseman Jason Holland, a 6-2, 193-pound prospect many believe could become a fourth or fifth defenseman on any NHL team's depth chart. In getting Holland, the Sabres replace the defensive prospect they surrendered last year when they traded Craig Millar (along with forward Barrie Moore) to Edmonton for Miroslav Satan.
Kruse joined the Sabres immediately and played against Calgary Tuesday night. Holland was assigned to Buffalo's American Hockey League team in Rochester. With all NHL rosters frozen at the deadline, it's unlikely Sabres fans will see Holland this season unless injuries or emergency conditions come into play.
That transaction, however, had no effect on Matthew Barnaby. It was expected the veteran winger would be traded before Tuesday's 3 p.m. deadline. Barnaby last week had demanded a trade and the Sabres gave every indication they would accommodate him, including sitting him out of two games. With Barnaby still here, Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff have to address the problem of having a player who had demanded a trade but didn't get his wish.
"Both Lindy and I talked to Matthew and we don't feel that will be a problem," Regier said of the emotional and sometimes controversial winger. "He said he felt that whatever was there before can be put behind him."
Regier acknowledged he attempted to accommodate Barnaby's request "right up to the deadline." He declined to mention which teams he spoke to, or the particulars of the deal, but there had been speculation that a deal involving Barnaby and the Calgary Flames was in the discussion stages, possibly involving center Andrew Cassels.
The Sabres also had discussions with the Edmonton Oilers about several young prospects, including Boyd Devereaux, Edmonton's first pick and the sixth player taken overall in the 1996 entry draft; Mike Watt, their third pick in 1994, and Matthieu Descoteaux, their second pick in 1996. Devereaux and Watt are left wingers. Descoteaux is a defenseman.
Regier said he was not uncomfortable retaining Barnaby.
"He's still a player in that room and I don't think that's a problem," Regier said.
Finding offense to supplement the loss of Dawe might be.
Dawe was the Sabres' third-leading scorer (two points behind Donald Audette) with 19 goals and 17 assists for 36 points in 68 games. Those are hardly prolific numbers and Dawe, inconsistent throughout his career, had virtually dropped off the scoring charts in recent weeks.
He scored 13 of his 19 goals in the first 21 games and just six in his last 47 games. In recent weeks Dawe had been used largely as a defensive forward as the burden of scoring seemed to shift to Satan and the fast-skating but thus far ineffective Sanderson.
It's unlikely Kruse can take up any of that slack. Kruse, who turns 28 today, has appeared in 62 games with the Islanders this season, scoring six goals and one assist. He's prized more for his toughness, and his 138 penalty minutes ranked him third on the Islanders.
"I'm very excited," Kruse said. "Things were going downhill quickly there. It wasn't a lot of fun for me. I would have been happy to go anyway, but I'm really happy it was Buffalo."
Regier said he expected other forwards, notably Sanderson, Audette and Satan, to take up some of that scoring slack.
He also is expecting a greater contribution from Vaclav Varada, who'll be getting more ice time with Dawe gone. Varada has one goal in 15 games with the Sabres this season.
"We had to get bigger and grittier," Ruff said. "We had too many of the same types of forwards competing for ice time. We couldn't get a guy on a roll. Dawe was struggling for three months. This way we can go to the same guys and maybe show a little faith in them."
Dawe said after the trade was announced that it was a "shock," but admitted he "sort of had an idea that something might happen."
It was actually more than an idea. Sources told The News that, like Barnaby, Dawe had asked to be traded. The request came as recently as a week ago last Saturday when the Sabres were involved in a pivotal home-and-home series with Pittsburgh.
Regier at that time refused to confirm or deny the report and Dawe said "no" when asked by reporters if he had indeed asked for a trade. Interestingly, that was the same night Barnaby went public with his trade demands.
Meanwhile, Barnaby admitted to some surprise at still being a Sabre.
"Things happen for a reason." he said. "It's all behind me now. I don't want to talk about trades. There are 14 games left and then the playoffs and that's what I have to worry about."
Does that mean he expects to be a contributing member of the Sabres through the season and into the playoffs?
"There's no doubt," he said. "I'm a professional athlete. I have to separate business from my personal thoughts. The guys (other players) are happy I'm still here. And I'm happy there's no more speculation."
Barnaby said fans might have a different view, but he can't control that.
"I don't know how they'll react. Some will be happy, some will be upset. I can't control that. I can only control how I play hockey."
Holland had hoped to be playing hockey in the NHL this season, but lost out in a training-camp battle with former Sabres tough guy Doug Houda.
Just 21 years old, Holland was the Islanders' second-round pick, the 38th player taken overall, in the 1994 entry draft. He has played in 50 games this season with the Kentucky Thoroughblades, compiling 10 goals, 16 assists and 26 points with 29 penalty minutes. He appeared in eight games with the Islanders this season, logging four penalty minutes.
Holland was named to the AHL's All-Rookie team in his first season in Kentucky. He also played on Canada's World Junior team in 1996 and was a first-team All-Star in the Western Hockey League after his last year of junior competition.
Holland was rated fifth but also panned in the recent Hockey News Future Watch section. He was described as "introverted, quiet, shy, unassuming almost to the point of it being a negative." However, others say the prospect had become disillusioned with his treatment by general manager and now coach Mike Milbury and that he was looking to get to another organization and jump start his career.
News sports reporter Budd Bailey contributed to this story.