Thirty years in the making and seemingly 20 minutes in the planning stage, the Buffalo Sabres' recent 30th-anniversary bash did not go well.
In fact, the Jan. 14 event smacked of poor planning, worse execution and disappointment for a number of people.
Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau was one who expressed some disappointment and even surprise regarding his reported involvement in the affair. Beliveau, the legendary Canadiens captain who was on the ice when the Sabres played their first NHL game in Memorial Auditorium, said in a telephone interview that he was never asked to participate in the much-touted re-creation of the first Sabres faceoff.
The Sabres had promised a series of events for Jan. 14, including the faceoff re-creation with both Beliveau and former Sabres captain Floyd Smith. In a news release distributed just days before the event, the team noted there would also be a pregame introduction of players who accomplished a series of Sabres firsts, including first players on the ice, first goal and the like.
None of that happened. Instead, fans were treated to an impromptu introduction of some former Sabres captains, some of whom had to scramble to come up with their old-style sweaters, along with some fireworks and Gilbert Perreault giving an on-ice horsy-back ride to former linemate Richard Martin.
Beliveau said he would be disappointed if any fans were upset because of the perception that he did not fulfill an obligation, but he said it wasn't his fault. He said he was informed by a member of the Canadiens' public relations staff that the Sabres had an interest in having him attend, but he was never actually invited.
He said a Canadiens staffer told him about the event "about a week to 10 days" before it was to take place, but was later told by the same person that his presence was no longer needed and that "the Sabres had called the whole thing off."
"No one except Donald (Beauchamp, the Canadiens' director of public relations) ever contacted me about it," Beliveau said. "Had someone (from the Sabres) called me I would have come. They were playing the Canadiens and I could have just hopped on the team plane and been home the same night, but no one ever asked me."
Surprisingly, Beliveau said his recollection of being told by Beauchamp that the event had been canceled came well before the Sabres' Jan. 11 press release announcing his presence.
Smith, a full-time Western New York resident and a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs, was invited but was on a scouting trip in Montreal and unable to attend.
Another ex-Sabre, Jim Schoenfeld, said he was in Western New York but unaware that there was a ceremony honoring ex-captains. A former captain, coach and one of five players memorialized in coins commemorating the franchise's best, Schoenfeld said he was unaware of the magnitude of the event.
"Someone from the (Sabres alumni association) had called and said some of the guys would be getting together at the game that night, but I had no idea it was a big deal," Schoenfeld said. "I was in town on business and I had made other plans, but I had no idea there was a parade of captains or anything like that. I wasn't aware that it was any big presentation."
Schoenfeld said he would have taken part had he been advised of the ceremonial aspects of the event.
A Sabres spokesman said several events had to be scrapped after travel plans and certain other circumstances made it difficult to have Smith and Beliveau available. The spokesman also said he was unaware of Schoenfeld's situation.
Normally, this would not be a big deal. Lining up ex-hockey greats can be a tricky and sometimes expensive business, especially during a hockey season, but it's not as if the Sabres didn't know well in advance that their 30th anniversary was upon them.
Say what you will about past Sabre administrations and their successes on the ice, but they did know how to pay homage to the team's tradition. During the time the Knox family had an active role in the day-to-day operations of the franchise, nearly every on-ice ceremony went off as promised and with a genuine respect for the game, the personalities involved and the fans.
That sense of history and understanding has yet to be recaptured.
The team's poor planning and execution carried over through the weekend. The current players were obligated to attend a charitable fund raiser Saturday night in Marine Midland Arena, delaying their trip to the West Coast by more than half a day. The lost time was noticeable in the second game of the recent four-game, eight-day road swing when the team seemed to lose its legs in a loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
Several players were known to be grumbling about the timing of the charity event, as it fell between back-to-back games with division rivals Boston and Montreal (Jan. 13 and 14) and an eight-day road trip, including back-to-back games with Anaheim and Los Angeles.
Not only was there barely enough time to recover from the Boston and Montreal games, but the players had to give up a good portion of potential rest time to put in the appearance at the indoor golf tournament and then take an all-night flight to California.
Charity events are a part of the business, but secondary events should always take a back seat to doing what's best for the team's success.
The rumor mill turns
Lindy Ruff's recent outburst regarding the need for a trade has had its expected ripple effect throughout the league. Rumors of several deals involving the Sabres are making the circuit.
Among the more noteworthy: Reports out of Vancouver have the Canucks sending left winger Todd Bertuzzi to the Sabres for a package that might include defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, right wing Vaclav Varada or center Wayne Primeau. Another rumor has the Sabres interested in Chicago defenseman Sylvain Cote.
A deal for Cote doesn't appear imminent since his contract expires after this season and he likely could be available for next to nothing or even exposed in the expansion draft. Bertuzzi, however, is a first-class prospect, a former first-round draft pick.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Bertuzzi can play right or left wing and sees plenty of ice time on the power play. He started off poorly this season, but has been hot in recent games (11 points in his last 11 games through Thursday) and now has 24 points in 44 games.
Vancouver is awash in rumors and general manager Brian Burke is scrambling to diminish speculation that has veteran Mark Messier returning to the New York Rangers. Burke said he hasn't talked to anyone regarding Messier and that the 39-year-old veteran is not on the market. However, numerous sources around the league insist the Canucks are shopping Messier in hopes of being able to avoid picking up the last two years of his contract. Messier is a $6 million-per-year player and has a clause in his pact that if he completes the contract he gets a small percentage of the team.
The Dallas Stars recently had their rookie dinner and the tab came to an astounding $22,000. Wine alone -- $468 bottles of Caymus red were a frequent selection -- came in at $12,000, while steaks ran anywhere from $38 to $70 and the grilled lobster was $53. The entire affair was preceded by eight chilled seafood appetizers at $100 apiece.
"The bill wasn't too bad," said Brad Lukowich, one of six rookies who had to front the tab in a Vancouver restaurant. "The Canadian dollar saved us."
There were six rookies on the Dallas roster at the time of the dinner. Still, the final bill was so high that the group had to borrow from some of the veterans to meet the final tab as their credit cards couldn't cover the full cost.
Canadian taxpayers balk
Sweetheart leases, tax breaks and even taxpayer-paid buildings have long been the norm for cities hoping to hold on to their sports franchises in the United States, but the NHL's plan to officially have teams on welfare has fallen apart.
It took just days for the announced federal tax break plan to go belly up in Canada, the victim -- rightly so -- of a severe public backlash.
The initial plan did not sit well with the majority of Canadian citizens, but federal officials thought they could get it by on the issues of patriotism and hockey.
Not so, said the public. Canada loves hockey, but the idea of using tax dollars to subsidize millionaire players and owners was too difficult to digest, especially when measured against the need for schools, hospitals, roads and aid for people who really need help.
Even some of the NHL players had a difficult time accepting the idea of a handout. Rob Ray of the Sabres pointed out on his radio show that his family owns a small farm implement business that they started from scratch and built without any help from the government.
"It doesn't seem right," Ray said. "I know there are problems with some Canadian-based teams because of the weak dollar and all, but it just doesn't seem right."
Crawford, Weekes feud
Round Two of the blood feud between Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford and recently traded goalie Kevin Weekes appears to go to Weekes.
A story appeared in the Vancouver Sun noting that Crawford believed Weekes faked a knee injury earlier this season. The belief led to a shouting match and, eventually, Weekes was traded.
Vancouver maintained that an MRI showed no problem with the knee, but now the Islanders are confirming that Weekes does indeed have a slight tear in a ligament in his knee and will undergo arthroscopic surgery at the end of the season.
No word yet on whether the Islanders will seek to modify the deal.
Ducks in a row
The Mighty Ducks have been a part of history a bit too often for their liking lately. On New Year's Eve at Dallas, Brett Hull scored twice in the third period against the Ducks. The goals were the 600th and 601st of his career, making him just the 12th player in history to reach the 600-goal plateau.
A week later in Detroit, Steve Yzerman scored twice against the Ducks. Those goals were the 610th and 611th of his career, moving him past Brett's father, Bobby Hull, into eighth place all-time.
Last week in Phoenix, Rick Tocchet scored once against the Ducks. It was the 900th point of his career.
The Ducks have had a lot of problems in their back end of late, a point well noted by Paul Kariya after the Sabres won, 5-0, there.
"Our team is just too loosey-goosey," he said. "We don't have the desire to be a good team right now."
St. Louis defenseman Chris Pronger. Not only did he have four points in three games this week, but he played great "D" and pounded the stuffing out of Pittsburgh forward Matthew Barnaby.
New York Rangers forward Petr Nedved. The spark behind a surge that saw the Rangers win six of seven games, Nedved is the key to the newly formed Czech-mate line. Nedved had eight points in six games, including four goals.
Miroslav Satan. In a seven-game stretch Satan had 14 points and still can't get a player of the week nod. Maybe the NHL really does hold a grudge against the Sabres.
Edmonton forward Alexander Selivanov. He was the hottest player in the league earlier this season, but until scoring in a midweek 7-0 rout of Calgary he had not produced a goal in 21 games and had gone pointless in his last six.
Steve Kariya, Vancouver. This rookie forward was also a hot ticket earlier in the season, but an eight-game stretch with no points has the Canucks thinking demotion.
Steve Shields, San Jose. The former Sabre seems to have lost his edge now that Mike Vernon has been traded to Florida. Shields went 1-3-1 over a recent five-game stretch with a 3.55 goals-against average and an .867 save percentage.