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Salary cap runneth over, but that's OK

Salary cap? Who's worried about a cap on salaries? Certainly not the big-spending Buffalo Sabres.

Well, they don't have to worry for now, anyway.

The Sabres have officially gone over the NHL's spending limit of $44 million this season. Here's how:

The Sabres started the year with a cap number of $43.905 million, leaving them with $95,000 in spending money. That is gone because of the near-constant need for injury replacements. Rochester call-ups Drew Stafford, Daniel Paille, Michael Funk, Mike Card and Andrej Sekera -- who earn in the range of $2,000 to $3,000 per day -- have combined to play 35 times and have spent numerous days practicing with the Sabres. That ate up the available funds.

However, there are no immediate repercussions for eclipsing the $44 million mark. No one has to be traded or waived in order to get back under the cap. Here's why:

The Sabres have center Tim Connolly on long-term injured reserve with a concussion. When a player is put on long-term IR, his team basically gets a "go over the cap for free" card. So the Sabres can use most of Connolly's salary as "bonus money." They can eclipse the cap by $2.805 million -- a figure determined by subtracting the original $95,000 from Connolly's $2.9 million cap number. (The New Jersey Devils have gone over the cap the past two seasons by placing Alexander Mogilny and his $3.5 million salary on long-term IR.)

The Sabres will not have cap problems for as long as Connolly is unable to play. The salaries of the call-ups will not reach $2.805 million.

The Sabres are thankful Connolly has shown signs of progress this week from his seven-month setback. The team is hopeful he will return this season. It would be an on-ice boost, but it will bring the cap back into play. Here are the two reasons why:

If Connolly is activated, the Sabres have to return to their opening-night roster -- the 20 players who set that original cap number of $43.905 million. Any Rochester player on the roster must be sent down.

The Sabres have spent their available $95,000, so they will be placed at the cap limit and no funds will remain for call-ups. If Connolly were to come back Feb. 1 and Chris Drury got the flu Feb. 3, the Sabres would have to play short-handed that night unless they traded or waived a player to create cap space.

But that's a situation the Sabres don't have to worry about until Connolly is cleared. And they would rather have their fifth-leading scorer from last season and salary cap problems than have him hurting and a couple of million in free cap space.

***

The Sabres received a flurry of good news Wednesday regarding the ailments to Drury, Connolly, Teppo Numminen and Henrik Tallinder.

The flu symptoms that sidelined Drury against New Jersey on Tuesday have diminished, and the co-captain is expected to play tonight against the Florida Panthers.

Numminen, who practiced Wednesday, also is expected back after missing two games because of a broken big toe. The defenseman experienced pain when pushing off or taking quick steps to the side but thinks he can deal with the discomfort.

"There's still pain in it, but I got through the practice," Numminen said, "and we'll just have to see how it's going to react now and how it's going to feel in the morning skate. Hopefully, it doesn't get worse, and we will be fine."

Tallinder was cleared to stickhandle for the first time since breaking his forearm Oct. 26. He can't shoot yet, but anything is better than the nonstop skating drills he's been doing.

"I've been out there for some time without the stick, and it's kind of frustrating," Tallinder said. "But at the same time, it's good to be in shape."

Coach Lindy Ruff said Tallinder could return in 10 to 14 days.

Connolly was in HSBC Arena and has responded well to a new treatment. He visited the team's back and spine doctor and was given an injection that has lessened his concussion symptoms.

***

Stafford, recalled to replace Drury, was sent back to Rochester. . . . Irish tenor Ronan Tynan returns to the arena tonight to sing "God Bless America" prior to the game. He also will sing holiday songs during intermissions.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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