By the start of training camp goalie Martin Biron had seen and
heard enough. In July, Sabres owner and former CEO of Adelphia
Communications John Rigas had been whisked to jail after he and
his two oldest sons, Michael and Timothy, were charged with
conspiracy to commit fraud. (On Oct. 2 they were arraigned and
pled not guilty.) Following those arrests, which were shown
repeatedly on national TV, the NHL took control of the franchise
amid reports that the team would declare bankruptcy. Biron was
sick of the talk, refusing to watch TV or listen to the radio. "I
turned it all off," says Biron. "I couldn't focus on that."
As the league accepts bids from prospective owners the club is
trying to polish its tarnished image with a marketing campaign
built around the slogan, It's Our Team--Let's Keep It That Way. To
that end the Sabres, who were 35-35-11-1 in 2001-02 and missed
the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, instituted a
weekly Tuesday-night practice during camp after which fans
chatted with players and got autographs. "Everybody says, 'When
is the team going to show support for the fans?'" says the
25-year-old Biron, who last season replaced Dominik Hasek and
finished with a 2.66 goals-against average. "But the team made a
big effort this summer."
"We need to be accessible to help build the fan base that has
been lost because of the ownership problems," coach Lindy Ruff
says about the dwindling number of season-ticket holders, which
fell from 8,120 in 2001-02 to 6,682. "Everyone in the
organization will have to bend over backwards."
The on-ice product won't provide much help. Over the summer
general manager Darcy Regier stabilized the club by re-signing
Biron, speedy right wing Maxim Afinogenov, second-line center
Chris Gratton and hard-hitting defenseman Rhett Warrener.
However, Regier was unable to significantly help the offense,
which ranked 17th in goals last season and had only one 30-goal
scorer, wing Miroslav Satan. Regier's biggest splash was
acquiring 25-year-old left wing Jochen Hecht, who had 16 goals
and 24 assists for the Oilers last season.
Despite a stingy defense that allowed the third-fewest goals in
the Eastern Conference, the Sabres still aren't good enough to
earn a playoff berth, let alone make the fans forget about the
team's dubious future. --A.W.
Miroslav Satan, who had 37 goals in '01-02, led the NHL in
special-team scores with 20--two more than Peter Bondra of the
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
Offense 27 Connolly must prove that he's bona fide
No. 2 center
Defense 8 Team's strength; unit can skate and play
Goaltending 24 Not a come-from-behind club; Biron must
make big saves early
Special Teams 25 PP awful (13.4%), but PK excels with
Management 23 G.M. Regier has little to show for Hasek,