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WARD DEFLECTS TRADE TALK, TAKES BLAME

Dixon Ward said angry words over his decreased playing time were the result of frustration "clouding my brain."

The Sabres winger had asked to be traded over the weekend, but on Tuesday night said he blamed only himself for his troubles.

"When it comes down to it, my lack of production is nobody's fault but mine," Ward said after Buffalo's 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers. "The only one who's going to get myself out of it is me. By the same token, I know I have the ability. It's up to me to stand up, be a man, and play the way I can."

Ward, who went from first-line winger last year to a four-time healthy scratch this season, has three goals and three assists in 27 games after he scored shorthanded Tuesday night. He killed penalties and shuffled between lines, playing mostly with Brian Holzinger and Rob Ray.

"From this day forward, it's about what Dixon Ward can do to be the best player he can be," he said. "Anything else was clouding my brain. That's absolutely what happened."

Ward's agent, Jeff Solomon, had spoken with Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier by telephone Tuesday in hopes of resolving the situation.

"The first option is to find a solution," Regier said. "That's where the effort should be spent -- on finding a solution to get him playing the way he can play. We'll go from there."

Coach Lindy Ruff saw Ward's woes as part of the frustration felt by the whole team recently.

"The problem is we have some frustrated players," Ruff said. "That stems from scoring one or two goals a game. We don't have a lot of guys who are having fun playing the game. The tough thing is to belly up to the bar and say, 'I have to turn this around for myself.' "

"One day is not like having an epiphany," Ward said. "I have to work on it day by day."

Regier still had not spoken with Dominik Hasek after the goalie hinted he might postpone his scheduled retirement and play another year. The remarks were made in Prague.

Hasek returned from the Czech Republic on Tuesday. He said over the weekend that there was still a possibility he could return next year rather than retire because he missed so much of the season with a torn groin muscle. He's out indefinitely.

"Dominik has never come to us as an organization and said he's changed his mind," Regier said. "Number two, I don't think he's going to up to this point. Number three, if he did, the value to the organization is greater than if he retires. Outside that, everything is hypothetical."

The Sabres skipped the morning skate, opting for a long bus ride and a walk through Central Park for exercise and to clear their heads.

"I don't know if it was intended to be a speech, but Lindy gave one of the best speeches I've heard from a coach in my whole career," Sabres captain Michael Peca said. "Our lives are really special, and sometimes, you lose sight of that. We take things for granted. You think you could be washing floors or something. You listen to Lindy, and it was like, 'Let's go out and work and do something to be proud of ourselves.' "

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