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Ah, those big Dominik Hasek hits just keep on coming.

Just in case his subtle hints in Buffalo went unnoticed in the hockey community, the world's greatest injured goaltender this week returned to his favorite announcement location, Prague, and told the world through the Czech Republic media that he is indeed reconsidering his retirement and may play another season.

In an interview in the Czech newspaper Sport, Hasek said that while he is not definite about postponing his retirement, he is thinking about it.

"I was looking forward to my last season," Hasek said. "I was planning how fine everything will go.

"I would mind very much to quit after a poor season. Nothing is final. If everything goes well for me, I might continue."

Upon his return to Buffalo, Hasek was a little less certain, not backing away, but pretty much dismissing the issue.

What's going on?

Plenty, if you're the speculative sort.

Hasek always has maintained that he wants to play for the Sabres and no one else. He also has stated, quite emphatically last summer, that he would retire because of the pressure of being Dominik Hasek and because he wanted to get home and raise his children in the Czech Republic. The children were his primary concern in that press conference in Prague. Hasek went to great lengths to explain how he was unhappy that his children were losing their heritage and how they spoke English better than their native language. He waxed about the need to bring them home and how it was more important than money or playing hockey.

Except now he's not happy with the way his career is ending and is considering another season. For what? So that he can go out on top in a blaze of glory and perhaps holding the Stanley Cup?

Does that mean the wife and kids can wait?

While Hasek ponders all this, his statements, apparently made without informing the team's hockey department, create a whole nest of problems back in Buffalo.

What do the Sabres do if Hasek hasn't made up his mind by the end of the season? There's another vicious expansion draft coming and the Sabres have to protect Martin Biron, their goalie of the future who's also playing extremely well in the present. If the Sabres protect Biron -- and they will -- what do they do with Hasek? They can't risk exposing him as well. Putting a two-time MVP and five-time Vezina Trophy winner out on the exposed list and hoping an expansion team won't take him because of his $7.5 million salary is folly.

Hasek would be snapped up in a heartbeat and even if the new team didn't want to pay that salary -- or Hasek refused to play there -- it could trade him to a well-financed team -- say for speculative purposes the New York Rangers -- and the Sabres would have sacrificed their best player ever on the altar of Gary Bettman's 30-team expansion plan.

The Sabres could opt to protect both Hasek and Biron, but that's almost as dangerous. If the current expansion rules apply to this go-round, the Sabres would have to expose more than half their current roster. That would likely mean a top-10 forward and maybe a top-five defenseman would be lost.

The Sabres could opt to trade Hasek, a concept we warned you last season was almost inevitable. But by mudding the retirement waters, Hasek not only complicates the scenario but appears to gain the upper hand.

There are no guarantees that Hasek would accept a trade -- he has a no-trade clause in his contract that can be bought out -- but if he did, the Sabres would at least get something for their all-world goalie.

The Calgary Flames, a team in the same financial straits as the Sabres, worked a similar deal last spring, trading star forward Theo Fleury to the Colorado Avalanche for some prospects. Fleury never did sign a contract with the Avs and later moved to New York as a free agent, but all sides got something from the deal.

The Flames dumped a player they couldn't afford to re-sign and got prospects in return. The Avs got a scoring forward for the playoffs and, though they didn't win the Cup, they did get past Detroit and pushed eventual Cup winner Dallas to a seventh game. Fleury got close to a shot at a Stanley Cup (with Colorado) then signed a big free-agent contract in a major market, New York.

Though Hasek has another season on his contract after this one and the club holds an option for another season after that, Hasek, because of the expansion threat, ends up holding a lot of cards.

If he makes good on his decision to retire, he walks away with an additional $7 million for this season though he likely won't play in as many as 30 games. If the club attempts to trade him he can nix any deal unless it buys out the no-trade agreement. Even if the club buys out the trade agreement, Hasek could still tell interested parties he's going to honor his decision to retire, thereby controlling the places the Sabres might send him.

A likely scenario is that Hasek's agent, Rich Winter, would inform the New York Islanders that Hasek isn't interested in playing for their club, that Hasek is worried that his injured groin is still very suspect and that he intends to retire to the Czech Republic after the season. However he could also tell the Rangers that Hasek feels close to 100 percent, is very confident in his rehabilitation program and -- for the right deal -- could be persuaded to play one or more seasons.

Hasek is still at the top of his game and could easily better the terms of his current Sabres contract should a bidding war between New York and Philadelphia break out. He'll turn 35 next month, but with a good team should remain at or near the top of his game for several seasons.

By letting it be known that he's wavering on his plans, Hasek sends a signal to certain teams that the family can wait just a little while longer. He still might want to play and, if he does, it makes for a difficult situation for the Sabres. They have a signed contract, but considerably less bargaining power than Hasek.

Coyotes need a goalie

That 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues confirms the Phoenix Coyotes' worst fears: At any given moment their goaltending will fail completely.

At midweek, the Coyotes still led the Pacific Division with 41 points, but they've started falling off the pace in the Western Conference.

Most of this can be laid at the feet of Bob Essensa, who inherited the No. 1 role after Nikolai Khabibulin went for a holdout (and never returned) and Sean Burke (acquired in a trade) broke his finger. Essensa hasn't been a No. 1 since his days with the Winnipeg Jets and even then it was a marginal call.

The Coyotes are rumored to be heavily in the market for a No. 1 goalie. Funny, but the Buffalo Sabres just might have one coming off the shelf soon and what do the Sabres need? Well, how about a first-line forward along the lines of Keith Tkachuk, the player a past administration passed on to get to Brad May.

Rumors persist that the Coyotes would move Tkachuk at the deadline because of long-term salary problems.

Of course, no one knows if Hasek would accept a trade to the Coyotes or retire so it's all highly speculative.

The Joe a senior citizen

Doesn't seem all that long ago that the Olympia in Detroit was one of the oldest arenas in the league. It was replaced by Joe Louis Arena, but that was 20 years ago and now "the Joe" is the fourth oldest arena in the league and will move to third when the Stars vacate the Reunion Arena in Dallas next season.

"I remember coming into Detroit (on opposing teams)," forward Brendan Shanahan said. "It was always a place with a lot of atmosphere. The fans were right on top of you. You felt it as a visiting team. As a home team, we're comfortable here. We have some good memories here and so do the fans."

Maybe the ones with extra-hold bladders, for the Joe isn't up to date. The amazing thing about it is that the Red Wings keep winning and keep putting a quality product on the ice without crying for a new building so that they can "be competitive."

At midweek, the Red Wings had a 15-3-1 record at home, the best of any team in the NHL.

An aside here: Shanahan's agent, Rick Curran, and GM Ken Holland met earlier this month, reaching no agreement but they'll continue talks. Detroit has offered Shanahan, an unrestricted free agent July 1, a three-year contract worth $15 million. Curran did not make a counteroffer, but sources tell The News that Curran will be looking at New York Rangers forward Theo Fleury's contract as a comparable deal.

"We talked," Holland said. "We're not close on a deal. We plan on continuing to talk."

Stick it to 'em

Who says there's no honor in the National Hockey League anymore?

Trailing by two goals midway through the third period in a recent game with Anaheim, Colorado coaches asked the officials to measure Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne's stick. It was found to be illegal. Sixty-six seconds later, Colorado asked for goaltender Dominic Roussel's stick to be checked, too. It was also illegal. Colorado capitalized on the two-man advantage created by the illegal sticks, with Sandis Ozolinsh's goal. But Selanne later blew a slap shot past Patrick Roy, presumably with a legal stick, to ice the 4-2 Ducks victory.

"What a sweet one that was," Selanne said. "Those guys couldn't do anything else, so they tried checking our sticks."

Anaheim coach Craig Hartsburg, whose team was outshooting the Avalanche, 28-13, at the time of the first illegal stick measurement, added: "They had nothing up to then. Nothing. But I can't blame the coaches for doing what they can to try to win."

Hartsburg then tried to shift blame by going after the Avs in their own building. "We're going to ask the league to investigate this building," Hartsburg said. "There is no door to our stick room and it's right next to their dressing room door. Maybe we cheated with the illegal sticks, but maybe they cheated in the way they checked our sticks. Let other teams that come in here beware."

Now that's the true spirit of hockey. We cheated, but you had no right to sneak a look.


Former Sabres coach and general manager John Muckler threw his old club a bone after they beat the New York Rangers on Tuesday.

"I give a lot of credit to the Buffalo hockey club," Muckler told New York reporters. "If they're not the fastest team in the NHL, they must be the second fastest. They come out storming. We stayed with them in the first period but we didn't stay with them in the second and we never stayed with them in the third. They gobbled up every loose puck."

Don't let that bone hit you in the face Muck. We all know your Rangers are 0-8-4 against the Sabres in the last 12 meetings. Since all the credit can no longer go to Hasek, what better way to explain the winless string than with a subtle reminder to New Yorkers that you were general manger of this Sabres team in its formative years.

Funny, but there was no chest thumping going on when the Sabres stumbled out of the gate this season.

Allen wrenches purse strings

Next time commissioner Bettman gives his "All is Well" speech in the NHL, take note of the New York Islanders. At midweek, the near bankrupt Islanders were 1-7-2 in their last 10 games, they consistently draw crowds of under 10,000 in one of the largest markets in the nation and, according to several published reports, have instituted a stick and skate quota in an attempt to further reduce costs (if players use up their quota they have to pay for any extras).

Though the Islanders have an abundance of young talent, players are looking to bail out. The latest who is said to have asked for a trade is Olli Jokinen, who was shipped East from Los Angeles when the Kings acquired Ziggy Palffy. This comes on the heels of goalie Felix Potvin being set free in a trade last week to Vancouver that he welcomed.

That's what happens when ownership buys a team so that it can pressure a community to free up land for a shopping mall (and of course the obligatory new arena). The once-proud franchise is approaching the point of no return with fans and the hockey community.

Just an aside here, but if Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is panting so badly for an NHL franchise, why doesn't he buy and move this one? Allen is often reported to be "interested" whenever teams threaten to move (Pittsburgh was the latest example and there will be hints about Ottawa soon), but never seems quite interested enough to get the deal done. He passed on numerous expansion "opportunities."

Allen is an avid pro sports team collector and already owns franchises in the NBA and the NFL. Hockey insiders tell us that the NHL is more interested in him than he is in them and that the only way he would pick up an NHL franchise is if the price were too good to resist. Since he's already turned his back on expansion franchises at $80 million a pop, it's obvious Allen doesn't like the economics of the NHL today. He might still pick up a team in the "Everything Under $50 Million" store, but the league would have a hard time explaining that to members of the original 28 and especially to the two new franchises forking over the cash to complete the original 30.

Around the boards

What else do the Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres have in common? Well they both have engaged in 0-0 ties this season. The Stars went zero on zero with the Calgary Flames while the Sabres posted the same results earlier this season with the Ottawa Senators. Good thing that four-on-four is revolutionizing hockey. Otherwise we would all be bored to death. . . . Through midweek, Dallas was 8-2-1 in its last 11 and finally appears to be returning to form. . . . Don't look for former Sabres goalie Grant Fuhr to displace Fred Braithwaite even when Fuhr returns from knee surgery in about three weeks. He opted to have the surgery now because he had already lost the starting position in Calgary. Fuhr's days as an NHL player are pretty much over. . . . For the record, legendary Boston defenseman Ray Bourque will turn 39 on Tuesday. In hockey years, that's older than legendary radio personality Dan Nevearth.

Who's Hot
Maxim Afinogenov: Normally we lay off rookies, but this kid is making heads spin all around the NHL. A genuine rookie of the year threat, Buffalo's first since Tom Barrasso.

Pavel Bure: This guy is smoking. Three games, 10 points for the Florida superstar, including a four-point night vs. Buffalo.

Pat Verbeek: Another free agent the Sabres passed on, the little "ball of hate" had five points in a recent four game stretch for Detroit and is closing in on being a plus-20.

Who's Not
The Bruins: Something's brewing in Boston and it isn't pretty. Could in be players tuning out a coach? Nah, that never happens.

Alexei Zhitnik or Geoff Sanderson: or should it be Geoff Sanderson and Alexei Zhitnik. OK, we're tired of picking on these two and Michael Peca responded with a strong outting in New York. So Don Lever, just what is wrong with the Sabres' power play?

Mikael Renberg: Philadelphia reacquired this guy to reconnect the Legion of Doom. So far the Doomsday idea has been dust. At midwee, this guy had one point in six games.

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