With the world's best junior players invading HSBC Arena, the Buffalo Sabres are far, far from home. But they certainly brought their troubles with them to the Canadian Rockies.
They play their first game without the gone-for-the-season Derek Roy tonight in the Scotiabank Saddledome against the Calgary Flames and then move on to Edmonton to meet the Oilers on Tuesday in Rexall Place.
General Manager Darcy Regier told The News here Sunday that Roy could have surgery on his torn quad muscle as soon as today but no later than Wednesday. Recovery time is 4-6 months.
The team's top center suffered the injury on a hit Thursday night by Florida's Dmitry Kulikov. Roy went down and the knee took blunt-force trauma at the bottom of the boards.
The Sabres are 12th in the East and eight points out of a playoff spot. Without their No. 1 offensive threat, their playoff hopes look like a long shot at best. It leaves Regier with the interesting dilemma of deciding whether a deal can be made to get an offensive talent added to the roster -- or if it's time to start selling assets.
But the GM was adamant Sunday those kind of discussions are premature.
"We're still looking at the playoffs and believe we can make it," Regier said. "This is a challenge for our club and it should be embraced. It should be rallied around. It can be if you have the right approach. You can have fun with it."
The pending sale of the team to Pennsylvania businessman Terry Pegula could certainly be a factor. But Regier said current owner Tom Golisano has issued no edicts about making moves.
Nothing has changed from the beginning of the year when the team's budget was set. Regier can trade, he just can't add money. Moves have to be dollar for dollar.
"Our ability in that area remains open," he said. "If something makes sense for us, the ownership has been supportive of ways to improve the team. That will continue."
With Roy gone and Tim Connolly still out after nose surgery, it's easy to say the Sabres have the worst corps of centers in the entire league. Connolly practiced Sunday and Regier said he looked good but didn't think he would be able to play yet.
Luke Adam moves up from healthy scratch to the lineup. The other centers are Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad and Rob Niedermayer. Together, they have seven goals on the season -- with Niedermayer yet to score in 26 games.
Niedermayer, however, seems to be getting healthy after surgery on the knee last month and clearly played his best game as a Sabre on Thursday night.
Roy was having the best season of his career and reaffirming the faith Regier showed over the summer when he said Roy and Connolly were two of the NHL's top 20 centers.
The GM took plenty of heat for that statement and it's proven to be foolish in Connolly's case. Not so with Roy, who entered Sunday tied for 14th in the NHL in scoring with 35 points and tied for seventh in assists (25).
Among centers, Roy was seventh in points and fourth in assists -- behind only the elite trio of Vancouver's Henrik Sedin, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk.
"Derek was certainly at the forefront of our offense," Regier said. "It's obviously a loss and a hole in the lineup, there's no question. For the club, it's an opportunity for others to step forward and we'll need them to step forward."
Ryan Miller will be making his second attempt tonight at getting the 200th win of his career. Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff is seventh on the active list at 252. He's just 2-1-2 against the Sabres in his career but has a glossy 1.75 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
The Sabres are 1-4-2 in their last seven road games and have been outscored, 22-11, in them.
Regier said the Sabres had no qualms about an NHL schedule that sends them out west for two games, home for Saturday's contest against Boston and back out West for three more next week (Colorado, San Jose, Phoenix).
The Sabres requested the home game during the World Juniors but it was reasonable to think the NHL would not make them go West in back-to-back trips.
"I never look at the schedule during the season as something to make an excuse or create an excuse," Regier said. "For me, the schedule is the schedule and everyone has good parts and tough parts."
Broadcaster Rick Jeanneret is taking his annual vacation starting tonight and returns Jan. 11. He will be replaced on these two games by his son, Mark, who is the play-by-play man of the Sabres' AHL affiliate in Portland.