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The Swap Sheet

It’s an annual rite of passage in the NHL: the trade deadline, when general managers around the league engage in frenzied calling, faxing and bartering to bolster their teams’ fortunes for the playoffs. Those teams who have a legitimate claim to the Stanley Cup or are on the bubble for playoff seeding are the “buyers,” looking to acquire that one component to give them a better shot. Other teams are “sellers,” hopelessly out of the playoffs and looking to dump their marquee players or high-priced talent for future prospects.

For our guys, the trade talk has been mostly about the goaltenders. Since day one of training camp it was widely accepted that the three-headed monster of Martin Biron, Ryan Miller and Mika Noronen was going to be separated. It was only a matter of which one and where will said person wind up. When the trade deadline arrived it was Noronen who had his bags packed for Vancouver, as the Canucks acquired him in exchange for a second round pick in this year’s NHL entry draft.

What? That’s it? That’s all? No Todd Bertuzzi, no Ed Jovanovski, neither of the Sedin twins? Okay, okay, we’re dreaming a bit there aren’t we—maybe.

Apparently the Sabres are mighty confident in the roster they currently have and are going to make the run for the Cup with the status quo. And with good reason, as the team has been able to stay toward the top of the conference standings despite having lost plenty of man games with injuries to Tim Connolly, J.P. Dumont and Daniel Briere, among others. With Connolly and Briere’s return to the lineup following the Olympic break, this club has a clean bill of health as it heads into the stretch run. And, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the team has saddled a 12-1-2 record around the Olympic break.

Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier has never had the reputation of being a wheeler and dealer and at times has taken the hits from the public about it. (Where is Bob Corkum?) Yet the reality is that the club that is on the ice is totally of his making. To think that only Jay McKee remains from the team that won the conference championship in 1999 is all the evidence we need to see that, while his cautious style of making moves drives us mad sometimes, the on-ice performance is the proof of the pudding.

Other trade highlights from the rest of our conference: You gotta give props to the Carolina Hurricanes for snagging Mark Recchi from the Penguins. Add their previous acquisition of Doug Weight and you have two quality additions with solid playoff experience. On the other side of the coin, you can just picture Islanders GM Mike Milbury sprinkling from the gas can all over Nassau Coliseum after his team’s latest failings. Former Sabres defenseman Alexei Zhitnik bolted for the Island because he “wanted a chance to win.” How’s the view from the bottom of the standings, Alex?

In Tampa Bay, the Lightning did nothing to address their goaltending problems, and certainly the well tanned Stanley Cup will be heading north this spring. Montreal’s trade of goalie Jose Theodore to Colorado is addition by subtraction. Ottawa is still the Beast of the East, but acquiring goalie Mike Morrison is no substitute for a healthy Dominik Hasek. These guys can be had.

Will the Sabres have a long run in the playoffs this spring or will the lack of playoff experience on the roster come back to bite them? Either way, it will be a great ride.

TARO SEZ…

• Of all the LaFontaine tributes shown on the Jumbotron at the March 3 retirement ceremony, former coach Ted Nolan’s piece clearly drew the loudest applause. So will the Sabres and Nolan finally heal this thing, once and for all?

• NHL gay friendly? According to a survey by Sports Illustrated, 79.9 percent of NHL players would welcome an openly gay player on their team. This compares with 59.6 percent in the NBA, 56.9 percent in the NFL and 61.5 percent in Major League Baseball.

• But don’t count Vancouver player Donald Brashear among the 79.9 percent. After being handed a league suspension recently for excessive violence, Brashear derisively remarked, “This game is gay now.” Not exactly a Brokeback Moment.

• Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff and Toronto’s coach Pat Quinn have their own race going for most wins with their current team. As of March 12, Ruff has 294 wins as Sabres boss while Quinn’s tally stands at 288.

• So why aren’t you a season ticket holder? The team is keeping regular season prices for the first two rounds of the playoffs for its best customers. We’ve organized a group of friends sharing four season tickets in section 113 since the arena opened. Our participants will enjoy the playoffs at a cost of $29 a seat. Compare that to the $80 window price.

• Say a prayer for 11-year-old Madeleine Ruff.

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