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No looking back for McKee

You see his team flailing at the bottom, the injuries piling up and conclude justice has been served. Jay McKee understands. He knows fans are snickering over his misfortunes after taking the money and running to St. Louis while the Buffalo Sabres soar to the top of the Eastern Conference.

It has been a frustrating year for the veteran defenseman. He suffered a sprained knee during training camp and missed the first six games. He returned for 75 seconds before breaking his pinky, sidelining him for 16 more. The Blues are last in the Western Conference. Coach Mike Kitchen was fired last week.

What, no natural disasters?

Obviously, it's not what McKee signed up for when he agreed to a four-year deal worth $16 million as an unrestricted free agent. He acknowledged the move has been difficult. But if you're looking for regrets or hard feelings, you best search elsewhere. McKee has been watching the Sabres from afar and insists he's happy for his former teammates.

"I don't live life with regrets," McKee said by telephone last week. "Of course, I'm not going to lie and say I'm not envious of what the guys have in Buffalo. Every player wants to win. I'm really proud and happy for the guys in Buffalo. I wouldn't want anything less for them."

McKee, who is keeping a home here for the foreseeable future, can tell them himself when Buffalo visits St. Louis next Saturday in their only meeting of the season.

It's easy to say McKee's departure from Buffalo was about the money, but it's only partially true. He felt he had no choice. He wouldn't discuss details of what the Sabres offered him, but he said it was less than half of what he signed for with the Blues. Money isn't everything, but when the difference is that significant, it's a no-brainer.

"A lot of people would have thought I was crazy if I didn't make the decision to leave," he said. "I completely understand when fans get upset and don't understand. Whether I stayed in Buffalo or came here, it was more money than I ever thought I would make in my life. I feel incredibly fortunate. But decisions are made. I'm sticking behind mine."

Money was one aspect, but he also expected the Blues to be much better. St. Louis brought back Doug Weight, signed free agent Bill Guerin and kept winger Keith Tkachuk. All three ex-U.S. Olympians were dominant players during their careers and figured to give the Blues some much-needed scoring punch.

It hasn't happened. The underachieving Blues entered the weekend with a league-low 68 goals this season. Guerin led St. Louis with 12 goals, but Tkachuk and Weight had combined for only nine in the first 30 games. McKee also has had problems adjusting. He was minus-9 in eight games going into the weekend.

"It hasn't been an easy transition with the way things went, that's for sure," he said. "It's not the way I wanted to start things, but I've got to get it behind me quickly and help turn this team around."

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Tampa seeking trades

Tampa Bay's recent struggles can mean only one thing: trade rumors. The difference is that GM Jay Feaster isn't backing away from them. He's been working the phones in a desperate effort to find someone, anyone, who can add life to a team that was 1-6-1 in eight games going into the weekend.

"I know there are guys who don't want to leave this organization," he said. "But I have to listen to the team. I'm really at a point where I think that's what they're telling me."

All season, there's been talk that he might deal one of his superstars. For now, it doesn't appear Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis or Brad Richards are going anywhere. Feaster was looking for something less drastic.

The latest name in circulation was Vinny Prospal, the three-time 20-goal scorer who had three goals in his first 32 games. In return, Feaster was looking to bulk up his blue line.

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Mr. Excitable

Predators fans are getting a kick out of 20-year-old rookie winger Alexander Radulov, who had 10 goals in his first 18 games. It's not just the scoring that is drawing attention, but his celebrations.

Radulov, third among rookies in goals, can be found throwing himself into the glass, skating away from his teammates, pumping his fist and dancing all the way back to the bench. Veteran Steve Sullivan has told him to tone it down, but the kid can't help himself. And that's fine with coach Barry Trotz.

"I think the old school of thinking is just that -- old," Trotz said. "It's the new NHL, baby. We have an exciting product, and he's an exciting player. If it wasn't genuine, I'd have a problem with it. But he just loves to score."

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Who kept JR?

I'm not sure what's more perplexing, the Coyotes signing Jeremy Roenick in the first place or keeping him after his latest stunt. JR went AWOL in Vancouver after he was scratched for a game with -- wink, wink -- back spasms. He took the edge off by sucking beers, eating dinner and watching the game in a Vancouver restaurant.

You might say his coach, Wayne Gretzky, wasn't too thrilled. The two had a meeting that included Coyotes CEO Jeff Shumway, GM Mike Barnett and Roenick's agent, Neil Abbott. Roenick thought he was a goner and contemplated retirement before the meeting.

All sides now say it's a dead issue, but JR might not survive the season. He had one goal, six points and was minus-9 in his first 28 games. He's a third-line player at best, hasn't produced since 2003-04 and makes $1.2 million. Waive him.

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Forsberg won't heel

The Flyers were hoping for a final solution to Peter Forsberg's skate problems, which have been persistent all season. It could wind up deciding his future with the franchise or possibly force him to retire.

Remember in the playoffs when Forsberg wasn't quite himself, leading people to wonder if he was having groin problems? It was actually his foot, which required surgery. He since has been unable to find a comfortable skate.

Forsberg was in Montreal last week waiting for a custom-made boot from Bauer that will keep his heel in place under game conditions. The Flyers, who entered the weekend 0-6-3 without him, hoped he would play Saturday night. Forsberg has said many times he will not negotiate a new contract until the situation is resolved.

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Around the boards

*Hall of Fame defenseman-turned-broadcaster Denis Potvin was back with the Panthers after his wife suffered a serious back injury when she was thrown off a horse. Valerie Potvin regained feeling below her waist, which was lost immediately after the accident. She's expected to be in a body cast for four months.

*The Ducks' 12-1-2 record on the road gave them the highest point total through 15 road games in NHL history. The Sabres were third after going 12-3.

*Wild GM Doug Risebrough suggested they switch goalies if backup Nicklas Backstrom ever winds up in a shootout. Backstrom has allowed seven goals on 10 shots in shootouts in his career while Manny Fernandez has allowed seven on 25 shots.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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