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It's day of decisions for Sabres Buffalo must cut roster down to 23

After spending what figures to be a pretty restless night, those on the bubble of the Buffalo Sabres' roster will find out their fate today.

The Sabres have to cut to the NHL limit of 23 players by 3 p.m. and they still haven't made the key decisions that have been the focus of their entire training camp: Does Tyler Myers go back to junior? Do Tim Kennedy and Nathan Gerbe go back to Portland?

After practice Tuesday, no one in the locker room had any idea what was going to happen.

"You try not to think about it too much," said Kennedy, the South Buffalo native desperate for a chance to start the season with his hometown team. "It's always on your mind but if you think about it all the time, you'll just go insane."

"If I'm fortunate enough to start on the roster, I'll be very excited and do the best I can to show I belong all year," said Myers, the 6-foot-8 phenom who must either stay in the NHL or return to Kelowna of the Western Hockey League because he's only 19. "I took [Monday] and basically laid in bed all day. Got some rest and tried not to think about it."

The Sabres worked out for about an hour in HSBC Arena in their first real in-season practice pointing toward Saturday's opener against Montreal. Toni Lydman (hand) and Drew Stafford (concussion) sat out with injuries that coach Lindy Ruff revealed afterward. Cody McCormick was placed on waivers but cleared them and was assigned to Portland.

"The final cuts are always the toughest because you can see how much they've given," Ruff said. "Myers-Kennedy-Gerbe have really stepped it up the last few days in camp. They've played well the last couple games. I've really been impressed how they've handled different situations."

The Sabres have 26 players on their roster. One way to keep everybody at least at the start would be to put Lydman, Stafford and Adam Mair (who is skating but still recovering from hip surgery) on injured reserve. That would leave the other 23 to fill out the lineup.

Of course, that would be dependent upon the injuries. Ruff seemed to indicate far more concern about Lydman being available to start the season than Stafford.

Lydman's injury could allow the Sabres to postpone a decision on Myers, who can play nine games in the NHL before the club is forced to either keep him on its roster or return him to junior.

"The obvious answer would be yes," Ruff said when asked if Myers' status could be helped by Lydman's injury. "If you don't have [Lydman], that decision is made easier when you have the absence of one of your defensemen.

"We've beat this up with you guys. We've beat it up internally and I don't know if there's a wrong answer to it."

Safe on defense are Craig Rivet, Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera, Steve Montador and Henrik Tallinder. Mike Weber struggled, especially late in the preseason, and seems headed to Portland. An injury to Lydman could also mean Nathan Paetsch would stay as the No. 7 defenseman.

Myers finished with an even rating while playing all six preseason games and clearly got better as camp went along.

"I felt more comfortable every game," he said. "I really wanted to focus on making sure I improved every game and I showed that. It's a fast game, an adjustment from junior, and I thought I handled it very well. . . . I keep hearing the speed jumps up to another level when the season starts and I want to show I can play at that level."

Kennedy spent Tuesday's practice centering Clarke MacArthur and Jason Pominville. Derek Roy and Tim Connolly traded off centering Thomas Vanek and Gerbe, with Roy spending some time at the wing. No one was reading too much into that but there's no question that Kennedy made a big impact in the preseason.

Kennedy had two goals and an assist in six preseason games while posting a plus-four rating. Gerbe had two goals, two assists and was plus-one.

"The first couple of games I was kind of nervous and didn't know what to expect," Kennedy said. "But once I got those first two under my belt, I thought the last four I was solid. I just hope I made their choice hard."

Ruff spent several minutes after practice extolling Kennedy's play in the exhibition season.

"Probably the reason you notice him is he's had the puck a lot," Ruff said. "He's got himself in real good position to get the puck coming out of our zone, has made great plays, come up the ice with great speed. He's been a nasty guy to play against and he's been right in the thick of things."

Kennedy's passing skills have been particularly strong, with linemates often getting good scoring chances.

"He's been really good at opening people up and dishing off," Ruff said. "We felt when we put him there that could be his strength. He comes out of the zone, he always has his head up. He finds the outlets. He's got sneaky good speed. I've been really impressed."

In addition to the Kennedy line and the Roy-Connolly-Vanek-Gerbe foursome, the other forwards skating Tuesday were Paul Gaustad between Mike Grier and Jochen Hecht and Matt Ellis between Patrick Kaleta and Daniel Paille.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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