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PECA PACKS FOR LONG ISLAND
SABRES' DEAL ENDS STANDOFF

Four hundred and sixty days after playing his last NHL game, Michael Peca has a new team.

The Buffalo Sabres' former captain, who missed the entire 2000-01 season because of a nasty contract dispute, was traded Sunday to the New York Islanders for center Tim Connolly and left wing Taylor Pyatt.

The deal was announced after the conclusion of the 2001 NHL draft, which took place at the National Car Rental Center.

"Obviously, the temporary feeling is I'm relieved it's over," Peca said. "Professionally, I look forward to moving on with my career. Personally, my family is looking forward to moving on with our lives."

Buffalo goaltender Dominik Hasek was not traded despite consistent speculation he could end up with the St. Louis Blues. And he still might.

The six-time Vezina Trophy winner will become an unrestricted free agent next Sunday if the Sabres don't exercise a one-year, $9 million option. They would rather work out a sign-and-trade agreement before the deadline.

But the story for now is the addition of two youngsters with potential and the subtraction of a veteran leader who wishes he had been out of the equation long ago.

Peca and agent Don Meehan are convinced the Sabres could have struck a similar deal with the Islanders at last season's March trading deadline. Connolly had been on the block since then, and Pyatt was said to be available.

"Speaking with the New York people, something could have been done in March," Peca said. "I'm second-guessing why it wasn't done in March.

"I'm sure, like I maintained all along, a message was intended to be sent. They realized they came to a point where we both had to move on. Thankfully, the Islanders were persistent."

The trade came as a pleasant surprise to Peca. He was optimistic he would have a new team by Saturday afternoon, but when nothing happened Meehan became irate, calling the Sabres "petty, vindictive and mean-spirited."

Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier countered by saying the timing wasn't right until Sunday. He claimed most suitors at the trading deadline weren't willing to part with talent, only welcome it.

"The deals at the deadline weren't there because it was more about adding Michael Peca," Regier said. "The teams didn't have the fresh perspective on a new year, and that changes things.

"We had a year's history on offers for Michael Peca. This was as good as it was going to get in our opinion unless we really wanted to press this thing through the rest of the summer, the beginning of the season, insist on him coming back and playing for us."

The Phoenix Coyotes offered both of their first-round picks from next year for Peca, but they backed away from talks when the Sabres mentioned up-and-coming defenseman Ossi Vaananan and winger Shane Doan.

The Vancouver Canucks, Atlanta Thrashers and Calgary Flames also were said to be among the teams in the Peca mix Sunday. Regier noted nearly every NHL team had inquired about Captain Crunch at some point.

Regier and Islanders General Manager Mike Milbury came to a basic agreement in the early morning hours, but they couldn't finalize the deal until about 12 hours later.

The Peca-to-Long Island discussions at times included New York's No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft and winger Brad Isbister. But the Sabres had their sights on Connolly in particular all along.

"We feel very strongly about these kids," Regier said. "We've added two guys who should have very bright futures with this club."

Said Milbury: "Darcy made a great deal for his team. It was probably more than we wanted to give up, but we felt it was something we had to do."

In Connolly and Pyatt the Sabres receive two forwards who were selected among the top eight players in the 1999 draft.

Both make $1.025 million on contracts that expire after next season. Due to their age, however, they will be restricted free agents. Peca was seeking $3.5 million a season.

Connolly is a Syracuse native with strong roots in Western New York. His father was born and raised in Buffalo, and his grandparents and other relatives still live in the area.

Although just 20, Connolly already has two full NHL seasons to his credit. He was fourth on the Islanders in scoring last season with 10 goals and 31 assists while playing every game. As a rookie he had 14 goals and 20 assists.

"We're getting a guy that has a lot of upside," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "What we're talking about here is the type of player who not only can get guys like (Miroslav) Satan or (J.P.) Dumont the puck but make those around him better."

Pyatt will be a teenager for two more months, but he played 78 games for the Islanders last season. The 6-4, 220-pound Thunder Bay, Ont., native recorded four goals and 14 assists.

"He's got real good speed and good size, which is needed in a left winger," Ruff said. "If he had still played junior last year or maybe in the American League, he probably would have had an excellent year.

"His potential's untapped yet. But you have to realize he was a 19-year-old playing with grown men."

Neither Connolly nor Pyatt were available to comment. They will be officially introduced as Sabres this afternoon at a news conference in HSBC Arena.

Peca wasn't sentimental about leaving Buffalo because he really isn't. He has been preparing for life after the Sabres for months, while his family still intends to make Western New York its home.

"I'm going to miss the guys in the locker room. I'm going to miss the coaches and the trainers," Peca said. "Buffalo has been our home for six years and my wife's a local girl. Buffalo's going to remain our home long after the career's over."

Peca added he was happy to be going to the Islanders even though they were, by far, the worst team in the NHL last season with a 21-51-7-3 record.

"There's a lot more pride and satisfaction going in and contributing, turning something around," Peca said.

Peca was the second high-profile acquisition the Islanders made over the weekend. They also acquired center Alexei Yashin from the Ottawa Senators.

Peca said he wouldn't be without a contract for long because the Islanders are aware of his needs and wouldn't have obtained him if they couldn't meet them.

"I don't foresee any problems," Peca said. "I believe I'm going to be in camp come September."

As for Hasek, the clock is ticking. The Peca deal, however, doesn't seem to affect the chances of trading Hasek.

"It doesn't change anything with respect to the direction," Regier said. "We still haven't resolved Dom's situation, and it may play itself right on out to the deadline."

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