Sept. 29, 1997 -- Pat LaFontaine certainly ranked as one of the most popular players in the history of the Buffalo Sabres. So it was some degree of sadness that he departed in a trade.
LaFontaine, who is could be argued is as responsible as anyone for the construction of HSBC Arena, was dealt to the Rangers. Jim Kelley of The News had this story about the departure:
It's ironic that Pat LaFontaine's first official duty as an ex-Buffalo Sabre will be to open the next chapter of his career against the team that wrote the first one: the New York Islanders.
"It's my intention to play in that game," the newest New York Ranger said after the deal to make him a Ranger finally came to fruition Monday night. "I feel good, I'm ready to play. I'm prepared to play in that game."
LaFontaine's appearance against the Islanders Friday night in Madison Square Garden would complete an unusual cycle. It was the Rangers who gave LaFontaine, then playing with the Islanders, one of his most serious concussions. And it was his history of concussions that the Sabres say prompted the trade to the Rangers. That, and a $4.8 million dollar contract for each of the next two seasons. The Rangers chose to ignore the Sabres' medical opinions and made what could be a sweetheart of a deal to bring
LaFontaine to New York.
The Rangers give up one second-round draft pick in 1998 and a conditional pick that sources have told The News cannot go beyond the second round in 1999.
Thus, the Sabres get two draft picks and are rid of an obligation for $9.6 million salary over
the next two seasons, but don't even get a warm body in return.
The ramifications of the transaction are huge for all parties. For LaFontaine, who missed nearly all of last season with injuries related to a concussion he suffered Oct. 17, 1996, it's a chance to restart a
career with a franchise willing to take on his salary and medical risks.
For the Rangers, it's a roll of the dice that provides them with either one of the game's most dynamic players or an at-risk player who might be one hard check away from retirement.
For the Sabres, it marks the end of an era of high profile and high-priced players that has seen them send away Alexander Mogilny, Dale Hawerchuk, Garry Galley and now LaFontaine.
--- Budd Bailey