There was no bigger scapegoat among the Buffalo Sabres' defense corps last year than Henrik Tallinder. When the team's second straight nonplayoff season ended, it was reasonable to think the veteran who battled injuries and inconsistency was done here.
At a couple of points during the season, Tallinder even intimated a trade might be in everybody's best interests. It's believed the Sabres tried to make a deal but couldn't pull it off. So Tallinder is back in training camp, having taken over the title of longest-tenured Sabre from the departed Maxim Afinogenov and hoping to hold off challenges from younger players for regular ice time.
After sitting out the first two preseason games, Tallinder got his first chance Monday in Washington and responded with a solid 19 minutes in Buffalo's 2-1 victory.
"It felt good," he said Tuesday in HSBC Arena. "You want to get into it but I just had to wait a couple games. I felt good skatingwise. You never know the lineup till that day. No one knows so I don't worry about [missing the first two games]. They want to see certain guys."
Coach Lindy Ruff has said many of his players would suit up for at least four of the six preseason games, so it figures Tallinder might play again when the Sabres host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 tonight in the arena (Radio 550 AM).
Tallinder is making $3.25 million this year in the final year of his contract, and that's probably what prevented a trade. Among Buffalo defensemen, only Craig Rivet ($3.5 million) makes more.
"It's the draft and the trade deadline where most of the trades happen," Tallinder said. "I was looking at it but I wasn't surprised either, really. I'm not surprised. It's hard to trade. I can't focus on what's happened or what's going to happen. I have to worry about my play and how I'm going to approach the season."
Tallinder was a minus player (-2) last year for the first time since his rookie season and even landed in Ruff's doghouse as a healthy scratch for the first time since 2003-04.
Reminded of last season's chatter and asked again Tuesday if he was happy to still be in Buffalo, Tallinder said he definitely wants to right last year's wrongs.
"No one wants to go through where we were last season again, both for myself or the team," he said. "We want to be better. This is my job. I love it here. I want to perform better. That's what it's all about for me."
Tallinder missed 13 games last year, 12 due to a shoulder injury. A shoulder problem cost him 11 in 2007-08, arm and ankle problems cost him 35 in 2006-07 and his run of injuries began with the broken arm he suffered in Game Three of the 2006 Eastern Conference finals against Carolina.
"I've felt really good skating. The conditioning is there and that's really important for me," he said. "I want to see myself stay healthy. I have to have more consistency but I want to be more aggressive."
"I thought he was very good," Ruff said of Tallinder's play Monday. "The injuries are where everything went wrong with Henrik. He's in great shape, one of the fittest guys on the team coming into camp. For a year, he's been able to train and his upper body strength is a lot stronger."
The Sabres have major choices to make on defense in the next week. Rivet, Steve Montador, Toni Lydman, Andrej Sekera and Chris Butler appear set on defense. That leaves two spots for Tallinder, Mike Weber, Tyler Myers and Nathan Paetsch. The contract works in Tallinder's favor whereas Myers could go back to junior and Weber could go to Portland.
The 6-foot-8 Myers is one of the main stories in camp. There are three more games to evaluate him.
"I'm really impressed with him," Tallinder said. "He's a big, tall guy who can skate. He's got really good poise. I'm tall (6-foot-3) and you have to really work on your skating when you're young and he has for being that tall. His poise with the puck is great. For his age, it's really awesome."
The Sabres' annual red carpet walk begins at 5 tonight on the arena plaza. . . . Adam Mair (hip surgery) has returned to practice in a limited role. . . . There were no surprises as the Sabres trimmed their roster to 33 Tuesday. Among 14 players going to Portland are forward Tyler Ennis and defensemen T.J. Brennan and Dennis Persson. Top prospects Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy remain in camp.