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Sabres see market for deals opening

There will be trades in the NHL, plentiful in both number and significance. The league's general managers have little doubt of that.

Exactly when is another matter.

The league had a very quiet draft weekend, which went against the early predictions of a swap meet. Still, teams need players and teams have extra players, so the logjam could end as early as today. Or maybe Thursday in the hours leading up to the start of free agency. Or maybe next month.

Inevitably, though, it will happen.

"I expected there to be a little more action on the trade front, and there wasn't," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said. "I think there's reasons for it. I can speculate. I think that with the cap going up, with the value of draft picks, people just stayed with the draft and didn't want to give up the picks. It really probably will play out over the month of July now."

Last week's announcement that the salary cap is rising $2.6 million -- from $56.8 million to $59.4 million -- certainly affected the trade market. Some teams that had cap trouble got a bit of relief, while others needed time to determine exactly how to spend that extra cash, if at all.

"While there's some additional room in there, there's some teams that are jammed up," Regier said. "What they decide they have to move or what they don't have to move, I think, will be one part that will play in conjunction with unrestricted free agency.

"The [collective bargaining agreement] has evolved over time, and it continues to evolve. Exactly how it's going to play out, we'll just have to wait and see."

In the Sabres' case, they need to decide if they spend money before Thursday to re-sign pending UFAs Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, or if they should save that money for when the trade market does open.

Of course, the defense duo has a say in that, too.

"We'd love to have Toni and Tally back, but the reality with an increase in the cap, they're aware that there's additional money out there -- at least in available cap money -- or their agents are well aware of that, and it does change things," Regier said. "They'd like to come back, we'd love to have them back, but you've got so much money to spend -- it doesn't matter what team you are, you make decisions.

"I think the big question is, What's available after July 1 versus what do you have to lock in now? And if you lock in now, do you have any availability to do anything after July 1? So it's a bit of a balancing act, and obviously any decision you make prior to July 1 with your own is going to take away what you can do after July 1. That's really what you're managing."

Once the dealing starts, the Sabres intend to be buyers.

"Our discussions were more about acquisitions than they were about moving someone out," Regier said, "so we've been focusing more on acquiring as opposed to trading someone."

Thing is, the Sabres are not alone.

"We're one buyer in an active marketplace starting [this] week, and teams will make decisions for us by their actions," Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said. "There are no artificial deadlines or pressures in terms of how I do things. If we can make our team better, we will. But you can't force things in this game. That's how you make mistakes."

Regier believes one significant transaction could lead to more.

"There's some excess in the market, excess signings, and teams who have players, some recently signed, are now looking to move those players," he said. "The price hasn't been set for those players, so all of this will kind of roll out over the first few weeks of July, or maybe later even."

It could make for a long summer, with players wondering where they'll be in September and fans bemoaning their team's lack of movement. Then again, the wait for trades could end with just one intriguing phone call.

"I went into this past period of a month or so thinking I'm going to be more active in the trade market," Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said. "I think that's still the case. The trade market is still from now until July 1, and it extends beyond that. I'll be involved. We'll see what happens."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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