NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in the city famous for its chicken wings last week to discuss the future ownership of the club.
- Sens trounce hapless Sabres
Bettman said he has become more vigorous in trying to find someone to step up and buy the Sabres.
Ottawa Senators' Anton Volchenkov slows Vaclav Varada of the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. (CP Photo)
"We're beginning to accelerate the process," Bettman told reporters gathered during a news conference at Buffalo's HSBC Arena before the Sabres played the Boston Bruins.
"I'm comfortable that we've explored the variety of opportunities that are out there, and while some bids may be further along than others, we're now going to move this along as quickly as possible. "
The NHL took over operating control of the Sabres in June from John Rigas in order to protect the team. Rigas has been all over the front page of newspapers in Buffalo after being accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from Adelphia Communications, his cable television company.
Bettman refused to set a time limit as to when he hoped to find a new owner, but did say it would likely be sooner than later.
"I'm optimistic we're closer to the end than we are the beginning, so you can do the math," Bettman said.
Among the ownership groups interested in the Sabres: Rochester billionaire B. Thomas Golisano and Mark Hamister, owner of the Arena Football League's Buffalo Destroyers.
Bettman met with both when he was in town. Hamister, who submitted a bid in October, refused to comment on his proposal. Golisano, fresh off his loss in the New York gubernatorial election, revealed he is serious about moving forward.
If only the Sabres' prospects on the ice looked as promising.
At 3-11-3 and with only nine points, the Sabres sit in the basement in the NHL standings. Buffalo is currently mired in a six-game losing streak, and is winless in its last eleven games.
Its last victory came on Oct. 22, a 2-1 win over Philadelphia.
Making matters worse is that their once loyal fan base appears to be deteriorating.
The Sabres have averaged less than 12, 000 spectators in six home games so far this season. That's roughly 4, 500 fewer they were averaging last season at this point, the highest dropoff in the NHL this season.
As of Nov. 11, the Sabres had sold 7, 900 season tickets, close to 3, 000 short of last season's NHL average.
Bettman said despite the attendance problems, he will do everything in his power to keep the club in Buffalo.
"We as a league continue to believe in the Sabres, we continue to believe in Buffalo and we're working very hard to make things right," Bettman said.
Cujo returns to Hogtown (sort of)
It was the one game this season that Toronto Maple Leaf fans had marked on their calendars.
On Saturday, the Detroit Red Wings rolled into Hogtown for a showdown with the Leafs at Air Canada Centre. It was supposed to mark Curtis Joseph's return to Toronto after signing with the Red Wings this past summer.
Heartbroken fans made signs and placards. Radio talk shows were all abuzz in the days leading up to the game. Newspapers dedicated massive amounts of editorial space to the return of Cujo.
The stage was set for a good, 'ol fashioned showdown.
Unfortunately, somebody forgot to tell Detroit coach Dave Lewis.
Lewis decided to keep Joseph on the bench and start backup Manny Legace in his place, thus denying Toronto fans the opportunity to heckle their former hero in the Wings' lone visit to the Air Canada Centre this season.
The move was a shrewd one as Legace turned aside 30 shots in earning a 2-1 victory.
"I know a lot of fans would have loved to have seen him play," Legace said of Joseph. "But it's pretty much a circus around here with the media and (Lewis) didn't want him to get tied up in it. "
Even though Joseph, who played the day before against Anaheim, let it be known that he wanted to face the Leafs, Lewis made no apologies of spoiling the party by deciding to sit him against Toronto.
"As a player coming back to a city there always seems to be more than the game at stake," explained Lewis. "That was one of the factors, and we were playing back-to-back games."
Bruins defy the odds
Fans who took a gander at the overall NHL standings Sunday morning might have been surprised to find the Boston Bruins tied for first with the Dallas Stars.
Surprised, because this was the same Bruin club that lost Bill Guerin to free-agency, gave starting goalie Byron Dafoe his pink slip, and couldn't ink defenceman Kyle McLaren to a new deal.
And yet, despite these huge losses -- and not to mention key forwards Martin Lapointe and Sergei Samsonov being lost to injuries -- the Bruins are 11-2-2-1 and arguably the hottest club in the NHL.
So what's Boston's secret?
"This has been accomplished by players believing in themselves," says GM Mike O'Connell. "They believe they are good players, that they have a good team, regardless of what was said about them."
Goalies John Grahame and Steve Shields have stepped up in Dafoe's absence, centre Joe Thornton continues to play like the league's next superstar, and wingers Mike Knuble, Marty McInnis, and Michal Grosek have played well over their heads.
"These guys have really stepped up," O'Connell said. "They're solid NHL players who were given the opportunity to show that."
O'Connell is also quick to heap praise on coach Robbie Ftorek and his staff.
"You have to look at the players, you have to look at the coaching staff, too, and our scouting as well."
Success, however, has come at a price. O'Connell's decision to avoid signing any big-name free agents during the summer has resulted in fewer season-ticket holders and smaller crowds at the FleetCenter.
O'Connell feels that problem can be resolved, as long as the Bruins "continue what we're doing and put a good product on the ice, continue to have good solid individuals as players as role models, and we have to have success in the playoffs."
Leafs most hated club in the NHL
Montreal writer Michael Farber was in the hot-seat last week after the latest edition of Sports Illustrated hit the stands.
The magazine ran a column by Farber that characterized the Toronto Maple Leafs as the most hated team in the NHL.
Entitled "Why Everyone Hates The Leafs," Farber's article argues that Toronto is home to the NHL's most notorious band of whiners, divers and cheap-shot artists.
During an appearance on Satellite Hotstove, Farber cited several reasons and factors in defending his position.
"No. 1, it's the players they have there now," explained Farber. "Tucker, Corson, Domi; these guys aren't especially liked by other players in the National Hockey League."
"No. 2 is the cultural reason. Ken Dryden spoke very eloquently on this subject. He said Toronto is the home office. It is part of the ethic and understanding of this country to hate Toronto."
"And finally, it's the growth of media in Canada. The rise of the all-sports stations in Toronto in the last ten or fifteen years and the power of Hockey Night in Canada, which I call the second-most important institution in the game, beside the Stanley Cup itself."
Noted Leafs fan Don Cherry wasn't shy about shooting down Farber's article in Coach's Corner.
"Did (Farber) ever go to the Forum when (the Leafs) were there?" asked Grapes. "Does he not hear the 'Go Leafs Go' (chants)? Does he not go to Vancouver and here 'Go Leafs Go'? Edmonton? Goes around the league, drowns out everything. 'Go Leafs Go.'"
with files from CP Online