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Stamkos would be more than welcome here

Tim Murray needs Steven Stamkos. He thought he needed Mike Babcock too but that ended up with the Detroit coach simply leveraging Buffalo on his way to Toronto. The Babcock affair comes to mind with all the chatter on Canadian sports giant TSN in recent days after the Dion Phaneuf trade opened a lot of cap space for the Leafs.

Suddenly, the thinking is that Stamkos may actually find it more palatable to sign in Buffalo come free agency if he doesn’t stay in Tampa Bay, than to head home to Toronto.

Something tells me this is going to end up the same way. If Stamkos doesn’t work out an extension with the Lightning, it seems hard to imagine any team trading for him as a rental and then losing him anyway come July 1. If not Tampa, it has to be Toronto.

The Sabres certainly have more to offer Stamkos. They’re far closer to winning than the Leafs are and already have core pieces in place. How would Stamkos look alongside Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart, for instance? You want more money than the $10.5 million per year that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are making? No problem. Terry Pegula can easily come through with $11-12 million a year, even with the need to pay Rasmus Ristolainen now and Eichel and Reinhart in a couple of years.

Stamkos would be close to home and without the daily media circus sure to envelop him in Toronto. And he would be the kind of addition the Sabres’ general manager desperately needs.

Murray has shown he can draft well, although anyone could have taken Reinhart and Eichel. There are some interesting-looking picks from 2014 and the 2015 selections look strong even after Eichel, with what we’ve already seen from defenseman Brendan Guhle and the American World Junior team berth for St. Cloud State blueliner Will Borgen.

But Murray needs veteran NHL talent now. At the trade deadline and during free agency. There is no excuse for this team to be floundering near the bottom of the NHL again. It’s certainly not the fault of Eichel, Reinhart or Ristolainen. Or Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly, even though players about to start the largest contract in franchise history really can’t go without a goal and play minus-13 hockey for a month, as O’Reilly just did.

This team has failed this year – yes, the standings do matter – because returning players and veterans simply weren’t very good.

Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons have battled injuries. So has Zach Bogosian. At 37, captain Brian Gionta’s skills are limited. Same for David Legwand at 35. Johan Larsson looks like he’s never going to score goals in the NHL and Cody Franson’s 5-on-5 play shows why he was a free agent into September.

Then there’s Matt Moulson. At 32, the former 30-goal scorer looks finished as an NHL player. No goals since Nov. 1. How is that even possible? Good thing he’s Eichel’s landlord. The problem is three more years on that five-year, $25-million contract Murray handed him that is the kind of mistake Murray simply can’t make anymore.

People quickly want to say these veterans won’t be here “when the team gets good,” whenever that happens. Well, who will be? You can’t just plug in, say, Justin Bailey and Hudson Fasching. You need NHL veterans to legitimately compete.

Murray just about flushed the farm system to get Kane and O’Reilly and gave away a No. 1 pick for Robin Lehner. He doesn’t have a whole lot of capital left to make more trades to help this club. Stamkos, who would be the biggest-ticket free agent in the salary cap era, would quickly mend that deficiency and bring the Sabres full circle from the day they lost Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.

Almost no one expected the Sabres to be a playoff team this year. Murray said that himself during training camp in the wake of clear fan delusion and some goofy playoff predictions in the Canadian media. But no one expected the Sabres to be on the verge of staging three tankfest games with the Leafs in March either.

If he’s still in Tampa by then, you wonder how much Stamkos will be paying attention to those matchups.

Gudas escaped arm of law

Still can’t wrap my head about the lack of suspension – or even a hearing – for the scummy, concusssive hit Philadelphia defenseman Radko Gudas laid on Sabres newcomer Dan Catenacci Thursday night in Philly. Direct to the head. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be taking out of this game?

Of course, this is a league that hired Chris Pronger to work in the Department of Player Safety, which is the antithesis of how the longtime NHL defenseman played during his career. Maybe nothing should be surprising in this area.

What was surprising was the Flyers’ reaction. Philly reporters said GM Ron Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol met with Gudas Friday to discuss if his borderline hits are helping or hurting his team. Hakstol went so far as to say there could be changes in the lineup, as in Gudas might sit.

If the team thinks it’s a bad hit and acts like it was expecting a suspension, how does the league turn a blind eye?

‘Q’ fuming over challenges

When he was in Chicago last week announcing the awarding of the 2017 draft to the United Center, Gary Bettman’s question-and-answer session included his bizarre comments that the new challenge system was “pretty close” to perfect and was working “extraordinarily well.”

That’s pretty laughable, and you can add Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to the list of conscientious objectors. The Hawks had a Brandon Mashinter goal disallowed in Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Sharks – their third overturned goal in a month. The play came in the first period and would have opened the scoring but was wiped out on a dubious goaltender interference call.

Quenneville was asked one question about it and bolted from the room clearly to prevent fines after saying, “It’s gotten to a different level – I don’t know the rules anymore, or something’s changed. I played a lot of hockey. I don’t know. I think everybody has an interpretation, what’s a good goal and what’s a bad goal. But I can’t believe it.”

Quenneville was big on admission-worthy pressers last week.

Thursday’s 4-2 loss to Dallas, a game that featured a Patrick Eaves hat trick in the first period, produced this gem from the Hawks coach: “That was a statement loss. It was a terrible, brutal, brutal first period. It was like we had Ringette sticks tonight – no blade on our sticks.”

No more chances for Yeo

Time ran out for Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo on Saturday night, as he was fired after his team’s 4-2 loss to the Bruins. It was Minnesota’s eighth loss in a row and 13th in 14 games, a slump rooted in poor offense that KO’d a team coming off a 100-point season.

In his fifth season, Yeo’s message clearly grew stale for the Wild. Former Sabres captain Jason Pominville, with just six goals in 55 games, was one of Yeo’s big problems and the coach had healthy scratched Thomas Vanek in a game last week as well.

Yeo, remember, is one of Sabres coach Dan Bylsma’s close friends in the coaching fraternity. He was Bylsma’s top assistant on Pittsburgh’s 2009 Stanley Cup champions.

Sabres points

• The Sabres put a lot of effort into getting a new goal song for this season and here’s hoping they do likewise next season for whoever mans the public address microphone when regular Jay Moran is unavailable due to his other duties on radio or with Canisius College basketball. On non-Moran nights, names of the opposing team regularly get butchered. And you can give me the people-make-mistakes clause all you want, but there is zero excuse for “ICK-el” to ever come over the air as it did Friday night on an Eichel assist.

That faux pas came from Chris Swenson, the uber-popular Bandits voice for two decades. It just can’t happen. This is the NHL, a major pro sports league. It’s from a franchise that employed Milt Ellis, the legendary voice of class, at the mic for nearly 30 years. The Sabres have to do better.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kane and Florida defenseman Alex Petrovic became the first players ejected for fighting each other three times in an NHL game since 2002. They were also the first to do it in a game they scored a goal since Michael Haley of the New York Islanders against Pittsburgh on Feb. 11, 2011.

Petrovic became the first NHL player to produce a “Gordie Howe hat trick” – goal, assist, fight – while earning three fighting majors since Chicago’s Al Secord vs. Toronto on Dec. 9, 1984.

• It was flat-out cool for Kane to get tweeted at by Evander Holyfield for his fisticuffs, but certainly not just because he’s named after the former boxing great. Kane has a unique appreciation for other athletes outside of hockey, with his affinity for boxing well-known.

And he told this corner in the fall it was a huge thrill to be able to get to see a game in both of baseball’s League Championship Series last October. Kane took photos with Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman in the clubhouse after one of the ALCS games against Kansas City in the Rogers Centre.

Around the boards

• All-Star Game MVP John Scott rejoined St. John’s of the AHL this weekend after his wild weekend in Nashville and the birth of his twin daughters, giving him four. Scott told he had offers to appear at functions related to the NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto but turned them down to return to his hockey career.

• Pretty amazing that Toronto doesn’t get the All-Star Game, draft or Winter Classic as part of the Leafs’ 100th anniversary celebration. But it’s also the 50th anniversary for the second six teams added in 1967, with the all-stars heading to Los Angeles and the Classic likely going to Busch Stadium in St. Louis to help mark those celebrations.

Toronto is getting the World Cup of Hockey in September and the NHL was clearly worried about sports fatigue in the market from that tournament, another potential October playoff run by the Blue Jays and the Grey Cup game in November at BMO Field.

• Also from Elias comes this wild nugget on the Canadiens’ 5-20-1 stretch: During the glory years of the late 1970s, it twice took the Habs 160 games to lose 20. They were 118-19-23 in one stretch spanning 1975-76 and 1976-77, and 119-18-23 in another spanning 1976-77 and 1977-78.


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