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Inside the Sabres: Alumni ready to talk; Murray calls in favor; Petersen offered starting job

There have been times during the Sabres’ alumni wine festival when Larry Playfair barely moves. Someone will stop him to chat, then someone else. Next thing Playfair knows, it’s time to go home.

The good old days are a never-ending topic of conversation. The next talks are Wednesday.

For the 13th straight year, Buffalo’s former players will mingle with fans at the annual wine festival. The event will run from 6-9:30 p.m. in KeyBank Center.

“It’s one of those events that’s fun to go to, especially if you’re a fan and you wanted to chat with someone or get an autograph, it’s not hard to do at all,” Playfair said. “You just don’t get very far because people want to chat. They want to ask questions they’ve always wanted to ask.”

Playfair and the players gladly give answers. Last year’s event featured more than two dozen alumni, including Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert, Danny Gare, Mike Foligno, Michael Peca, Don Luce and Jim Lorentz.

It’s one of the highlights on their calendar, primarily because of the event’s focus.

“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful way for us to raise money and awareness to breast cancer care here in Western New York,” said Playfair, the longtime Buffalo defenseman and director of alumni relations.

The event began 13 years ago after a few players’ wives and family members became afflicted with breast cancer. Wine tours weren’t yet a big thing in the area, so Playfair invited wineries from Southern Ontario down to Buffalo for a money-raising meet and greet. It quickly grew to include Western New York wineries and restaurants.

“What’s happened now is some of the wineries come because they’ve had somebody in their family afflicted with breast cancer,” Playfair said. “All the money goes to breast cancer care in Western New York. They feel good about giving something back. It’s really amazing.”

The event’s legacy is visible on Buffalo’s streets and church parking lots. The alumni association helped purchase and sponsor the Mobile Mammography Coach, a pink bus that travels throughout the area and offers mammograms to women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get them. The bus hit the road in 2012, and nearly 4,000 women got exams in the first two years alone.

“It’s the thing I am most proud of,” Playfair said.

Mobile Mammography traffic increases 40 percent

The current Sabres have joined the fundraiser, putting together baskets that will be raffled during the event. Tickets for the festival are $75 and are available at Sabres.com/WineFest, the arena box office or by calling Nick Fearby at 855-4452.

The former Sabres are ready to talk.

“Our guys are always happy to come in, and they’re great ambassadors to the Buffalo Sabres,” Playfair said. “But be careful that you give the alumni guys too much credit because really it was our wives that rolled up their sleeves. The girls do the heavy lifting, and it’s grown to even more of an event now where the Sabres’ community relations group has jumped in and taken it to another level.

"It’s a good time.”

CALLING IN A FAVOR

Rostislav Klesla may help the Sabres after all.

Buffalo acquired the defenseman in a trade with Washington in March 2014. The Sabres sent goaltender Jaroslav Halak and a 2015 third-round pick to the Capitals in exchange for Klesla and goalie Michal Neuvirth.

Klesla never showed up. He went home to the Czech Republic, and the Sabres waived him a month later. It seemed like a waste.

Not anymore. Klesla, acquired by Washington just one day prior to the trade with Buffalo, never figured in the Capitals’ plans, either. It appears Sabres General Manager Tim Murray agreed to take him off their books as a favor.

Washington’s general manager at the time was George McPhee, who is now the GM in Vegas. The Golden Knights are prepping for June’s expansion draft, and Murray has reached out.

“I’ve had a conversation or two with George on who I wouldn’t like to lose and how we can make that happen,” Murray said during his weekly show on WGR-AM 550. “Maybe I’ve done a deal with George in the past that was considered somewhat of a favor. Maybe I’ve had a conversation with him reminding him of that, and he remembered the wordage of that deal word-for-word, which I was very happy to hear.”

The Klesla trade could allow Murray to expose someone in the expansion draft – and therefore protect someone else – knowing McPhee won’t take the guy.

Inside the Sabres: Vegas will roll the expansion dice on ...

“There are things that happen in this game,” Murray said. “You only do a favor when it suits you. You do a favor for somebody when you can afford to do that favor now, knowing that you might need something down the road. That’s what favors are.”

PETERSEN’S DECISION

The Sabres want Cal Petersen to turn pro. They also want the Notre Dame goalie to join their organization.

They feel they’ve done everything they can to make it happen.

Petersen, a fifth-round pick in 2013, has led the Fighting Irish into this weekend’s NCAA Tournament. The junior went 21-11-5 with a .928 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average. He has made 87 straight starts.

“We’ve made our opinion pretty clear: What more does he have to accomplish at the college level?” Murray said during his radio show. “He’s been a stud goalie there. He’s been a workhorse goalie there.”

If Petersen leaves school, the Sabres would have a limited time to sign him. After he notifies NHL Central Registry he is no longer a student, Petersen would become an unrestricted free agent 30 days after his announcement or June 1, whichever is later.

“He’s got a good relationship with Andrew Allen, our goalie coach,” Murray said. “He’s got a great relationship with Seamus Kotyk, who is an ex-goalie who is a scout for us and does concentrate on goaltenders for us when he does scout. Our player development staff led by Jason Long have had tons of interaction with him. Jerry Forton, who’s from Buffalo who’s our main college guy, so the communications and the viewings and the effort’s been put in, but without bugging him, without texting him five times a day, without looking like we’re somewhat in panic mode whether we’re going to get him signed or not.

“The decision’s going to come to him, to his family and his representatives, but I think our staff has done a good job with him, and I think that he’s been treated more than fairly by the organization.”

In an ideal world, the Sabres would have Robin Lehner and Linus Ullmark fill the net in Buffalo next season, while Petersen would get the No. 1 job in Rochester.

“The relationship’s a big part of it, but also opportunity is a big part of it,” Murray said. “We’ve explained the opportunity here, and we think there’s an opportunity for him to start out as the starter in the American Hockey League next year and continue this great progression that he’s had.”

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