NHL rosters are frozen for Christmas, but that has nothing to do with the chill hockey fans are feeling in Buffalo these days courtesy of commissioner Gary Bettman.
While the financial struggles of the Sabres have been well documented over the past few months, the ominous warning Bettman sounded last week about the team's future has created a new stir.
|Rhett Warrener, a Sabre for five years, and his teammates might be short-timers in Buffalo. (Getty Images)|
The problem stems from the package of financial incentives and handouts the prospective owners say they need from local and state governments in New York in order to complete the purchase. So far, all levels of government have been unwilling to commit themselves to providing any aid, prompting Bettman to insist the future of hockey in Buffalo is at risk.
"There's no question the franchise will complete the season. What happens beyond that will depend on if we can complete the sale," Bettman said last week. "It hinges on a lot of things, but it will hinge, in some measure, on whether this is a good investment for the community. And that's something that only the government leaders will decide."
While Bettman's comments are seen by some as an attempt to pressure government officials, there have been several rumors about the commissioner having a possible ulterior motive. In fact, several reports have appeared speculating that rather than move the franchise, Bettman would prefer that it fold.
Under that scenario, the thinking goes, Bettman would have a better bargaining position as he tries to work out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Players Association. After all, what better way to demonstrate just how hard times are to the union than eliminating 23 roster spots at an average salary of $1.7 million?
Sutter again linked to Calgary
With the Flames obviously in no rush to hire fan favorite Ted Nolan as their new coach, speculation has begun that former Sharks coach Darryl Sutter could be back in the mix.
Sutter lost his job in San Jose just a couple of days before Calgary dumped Greg Gilbert, leading many to believe that the Flames were given a golden opportunity to bring an Alberta boy back to his home province.
When the Flames didn't move immediately to secure Sutter's services -- the job has been handled by 67-year-old Al McNeil on in interim basis -- the common assumption was that the team was looking to go in another direction.
But reports out of Calgary in the past few days have suggested the team simply wanted to give Sutter a little time to distance himself from his previous situation. Once the holidays are over, they will reportedly make a play for him.
- With the Penguins fading quickly and still struggling at the box office, speculation about a trade involving Alexei Kovalev is starting to grow. Kovalev, who earns $4.6 million this season and becomes a restricted free agent in July, could be heading to the Devils, according to the New York Post, in return for Brian Rafalski and a couple of young players, possibly Jiri Bicek and/or Christian Berglund. The Boston Globe, meanwhile, suggests that Kovalev could be pried loose by the Bruins in return for holdout Kyle McLaren.
- Reports out of Dallas say that Texas billionaire Sam Wyly is the leading candidate to buy the Stars. The team has been up for sale since September and is expected to fetch between $250 million and $300 million for current owner Tom Hicks.
- According to the New York Times, high-priced free agent Bobby Holik won't win any popularity contests with his teammates anytime soon. Holik's outspoken nature has rankled some Rangers, and many players wondered privately why it took him 18 games to get back into the lineup after an early season hip injury.
- Mario Lemieux gave coach Rick Kehoe a vote of confidence before the Pens snapped a 10-game losing streak on the weekend, but GM Craig Patrick was not so forthcoming. "I don't know if my job is safe, so I can't answer that," Patrick said in response to a question about Kehoe's future. Other coaches whose futures are rumored to be precarious are Atlanta's Curt Fraser and Nashville's Barry Trotz.
- Look for the New York Islanders to move a goaltender as soon as they can. The problem is there isn't much of a market now for backup Garth Snow, who has struggled this year, and the Isles want Chris Osgood around to help former No. 1 overall pick Rick DiPietro develop. Osgood, though, has the trade value.