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Sabres in middle of expected wild week for NHL

I can’t wait to get to Newark. Seriously.

I think Governor Chris Christie and Cory Booker, mayor of New Jersey’s largest city, should put me on the payroll for that one. Perhaps many of my brethren in the land of hockey media, especially those who have spent the last 12 days hop-scotching between Chicago and Boston, would not agree with me.

But this is going to be one fascinating week.

It will culminate Sunday afternoon with the NHL Entry Draft in the Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils. Draft week and its accompanying trade frenzy is a little off kilter this year because of the lockout. After all, we haven’t even seen anyone hoist the Stanley Cup yet, although Patrick Kane & Co. get that chance tonight in Beantown.

But just think of all the rumors and deals that could go down in the next few days. The Daniel Briere buyout, although not official until the final is completed, has already leaked out. And a big name on the trade market was landed Sunday when the Toronto Maple Leafs got goaltender Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings for backup netminder Ben Scrivens, forward Matt Frattin, and a second-round pick.

By the time we get to Newark, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek might be ex-Sabres. Or they could still be in Blue and Gold and suddenly be sent packing shortly after the draft comes to order Sunday afternoon at 3.

Both owner Terry Pegula, in the “interview” he gave last week on Sabres State Run Radio, and General Manager Darcy Regier say they want to keep Miller and Vanek. Good luck with that. The reality is neither wants to stay with the Sabres in their current state of rebuilding under scattershot management.

Miller’s case is especially interesting in the wake of the Bernier deal, in which experts quickly said the Kings didn’t get much in return. With Bernier gone, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported later Sunday that the Wild are inquiring about embattled Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a Cup on his resume.

Miller, remember, is nearly as sullied as Regier. That Vezina is nearly 36 months in the past, the Vancouver Olympics are 40 months behind us. Miller is now a $6 million goalie who has appeared in two playoff series the last six years and lost both.

“Goalies are really hard to move,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times after the Bernier deal was announced Sunday. “You’re never going to get total value but you try to get the best you can.”

Sobering words for the Sabres.

For his part, Regier put quite a buzzkill on things at last week’s draft preview media briefing at First Niagara Center. Specifically, he used the term “extremely difficult if not impossible” to describe the chances of the Sabres – or any other team, for that matter – moving up into one of the top four picks.

It was a disappointing admission, at least from the drama angle over the next few days. But when you stop and think about it, here’s a question we probably should have asked of Regier and Kevin Devine, the Sabres’ director of scouting: If you had one of the top four picks in this draft, would you be looking to deal it?

The answer is pretty obvious: No way.

Imagine what Sabres fans would say if they had, ahem, suffered through a season that led to a top-four pick and it got traded. There might be circumstances that could warrant it but not this year. Not when the draft is being compared to the legendary 2003 selection party that saw the Sabres grab Vanek at No. 5.

Players such as Fleury, Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards all went in the first 25 picks. Second-rounders that year included the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, David Backes and Jimmy Howard.

Talk about a mother lode. So if the Sabres stay at Nos. 8 and 16 – which I still say is unlikely – they will almost certainly get a pair of standouts.

“I’m not sure people drafting back in 2003 knew how good that draft was going to be,” Devine said. “One of the negatives about this draft being so deep is that some of the teams that did not pay the price we did this year are going to get good players, too.”

Most observers thought the Colorado Avalanche were set to take Portland defenseman Seth Jones with the No. 1 overall pick but new Avs VP Joe Sakic buckled the hockey world last week when he said his team was going to take a forward with the top pick (translation being Halifax wunderkind Nathan MacKinnon).

You could just about hear the groans coming out of Florida and Tampa Bay with that one. Devine admitted he was floored by Sakic showing his hand. Was it all a smokescreen? We’ll see.

That’s going to be one interesting first round in Newark. How many times is Gary Bettman going to stroll to the podium and say, “We have a trade”? Will Miller or Vanek’s names get uttered? A growing name cycling Sunday was Phaneuf, now Toronto’s captain. Will Bobby Ryan or Paul Stastny finally go somewhere?

With the salary cap going down for next season, we could be embarking on a week unlike any we’ve ever seen: A Stanley Cup being awarded, frenetic trades and a historic draft party.

Who says going to New Jersey is not their idea of a good time?