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Sabres Chart New Course Following End of Lock-Out

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Sabres hockey officials predict more excitement, more player movement and some uncertainty under the new NHL's collective bargaing agreement with the players union.

Fans will see many changes in the NHL now that the lock-out is over. That includes who will be on the ice, as well as what they can do. The goal of the rule changes is to make hockey more fun and accessible to fans. Among the biggest changes is the elimination of the red line - and tie games. Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff says what's not to like?

"If all the changes we are making are for the better of the game and the offensive numbers go up, which is what a lot of these changes are for, and reduced equipment, the reduction on the amount of obstruction that's allowed and that leads to more exciting plays in the game -- how can you not like it?" said Ruff.

Fans will also get a personal look at players -- with their helmets off -- as they shoot-out for the win. Officials believe drawing in more fans, along with lower tickets prices, will also position the Sabres better financially. But salary caps are seen as the biggest boost for profits. General Manager Darcy Regier says the caps, will also let the Sabres compete for top players. But he says that will mean making choices.

"The uncertainty is that we don't know where the market is going to go," said Regier. "We don't don't know what terms other teams are going to offer players, whether there will be four and five year contracts out there. So, I think we just have to be ready to go on August 1 and see where that takes us."

Regier predicts salary caps could mean more player movement and shorter contracts. A so-called "cap-ologist" has been hired to run the numbers, coming up with the best salary equations for the available trades. Still, Sabres officials say it will take time to sort out all the nuances. But they say there should be some new stars emerging. And it will be a more exciting game for fans.

Sabres owner Thomas Golisano predicts a bright future for hockey and the Sabres now that the long lock-out has ended. He says the agreement gives everybody a better shot.

"It was tedious, it was time consuming, it was grueling, but I gotta tell you, I think in the end we came up with a relationship financially between us and the players that both are going to come out positively," said Golisano. "For us to tie revenue into the players salaries I think is great for the ownership and it also puts more emphasis on the owners because we want to increase those revenues, which will be good for the players. So, it should be a situation where everybody wins."

Golisano says the best news about a more financially stabilized NHL is that the Sabres will be staying put. And Golisano says he will too. The three-time gubernatorial, Independence party candidate wouldn't comment on a possible fourth run. Golisano said Monday he was only there to answer hockey questions. But, he says on that topic, hypothetically, a run wouldn't completely trade the team for politics.

"No, I would probably make less games, which wouldn't be good," said Golisano. "But, no, it would have no effect."

Some speculate that Golisano could be a likely Republican candidate should Governor George Pataki opt not to run for re-election.