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Rangers fire Trottier

| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2003

NEW YORK — Rookie coach Bryan Trottier was fired by the New York Rangers on Wednesday, as the league's highest-paid team faces a sixth straight season without a playoff berth.

The Rangers have a payroll over $70 million but are last in the Atlantic Division just over halfway through the season.

Trottier, who starred for the rival New York Islanders for 15 years, replaced Ron Low in June but held the job just 54 games in his first head coaching stint.

The Rangers showed signs of getting back into the playoff race, winning five of six games heading into last weekend.

But the Atlanta Thrashers, who have the second fewest points in the NHL, beat New York twice in four days sandwiched around the Rangers' 7-2 loss at Washington on Sunday. New York was outscored 16-5 during this three-game losing streak.

"After the last three games I made the decision that the team was sliding in the wrong direction," general manager Glen Sather said. "If I was going to do anything to try to salvage this season I had to do something in a hurry. Put some shock value into the team and get the reality of the discipline that we need to have to win."

The Rangers planned to announce a new coach Thursday, before New York plays host to the Colorado Avalanche. Rangers assistants Jim Schoenfeld and Terry O'Reilly were considered likely candidates.

But Sather, who won four Stanley Cups as coach of the Edmonton Oilers in the '80s, didn't eliminate himself as a possible replacement.

Trottier was given the news Wednesday afternoon after concluding his final practice with the team.

"I think he looked a little relieved," Sather said. "It was a shock, but he looked like the weight of the world was off his shoulders.

"He said he didn't think he was the right guy for this group of players and felt like it was the right thing to do."

Sather said Trottier could still remain in the Rangers organization.

Trottier helped the Islanders win four Stanley Cups in the 1980s, and Ranger fans never really warmed up to the Hall of Famer. Trottier even fell out of favor with Islanders fans — many of whom branded him a traitor.

He won two more Stanley Cups as a player with Pittsburgh and another as an assistant coach in Colorado. But couldn't bring a winning formula to the Rangers.

"It really had more to do with the discipline and the accountability more than anything," Sather said. "We were on a pretty good roll and then all of a sudden the discipline disappeared."

Trottier is the seventh coach to lose his job this season — and the All-Star break isn't until this weekend.

Bob Hartley, let go by Colorado, and Darryl Sutter, fired by San Jose, have already landed elsewhere. Hartley took over for Curt Fraser in Atlanta, and Sutter replaced Greg Gilbert with Calgary.

Before turning to Trottier, Sather interviewed several candidates, including Ken Hitchcock, who was hired by Philadelphia, Dave Tippett, who took the job in Dallas, and U.S. Olympic coach Herb Brooks.

"I certainly thought he was capable of doing the job and I felt we'd be very successful," Sather said. "I thought that it would be a great match for us. It didn't turn out to be that way. I still think that Bryan is going to be a good coach in this league."

At least 20 people were given a long questionnaire. Many responded well to it, but only Trottier wrote his answers by hand — faxing dozen of pages to Sather. That was enough to win him the job.

But what was on paper didn't translate to the ice.

The Rangers are 21-26-6-1 and sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Islanders, who currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot.

"I think that this team certainly has the right personnel to get into the playoffs and do well if we can get there," Sather said.

Injuries have hit the Rangers hard this season.

Regular goalie Mike Richter was lost for the season following a concussion sustained in November. Trottier then used 19-year-old rookie Dan Blackburn in net for 18 straight games, until turning the job over to Mike Dunham after he was acquired from Nashville.

All-Star defenseman Brian Leetch hasn't played since Dec. 6 because of a bruised ankle, and Pavel Bure has been limited to 27 games because of knee injuries. Bobby Holik, New York's major offseason acquisition, missed 18 games because of a hip injury.

Trottier was an assistant coach with Colorado from 1998 through last season and spent three years as an assistant with Pittsburgh. His only previous head coaching experience at any level was with Portland of the AHL in the 1997-98 season.

Like so many coaches before him, he leaves the Rangers without winning the title. New York has won the Stanley Cup just once — in 1994 — since 1940.

Low was fired April 15 after two years. Trottier was the Rangers' 30th coach and fifth since they last made the playoffs. Sather hired Low shortly after taking over as general manager in 2000.

ERIE COUNTY FIGHTS FOR SABRES

Erie County hired its own legal counsel to prevent the potential relocation of the bankrupt Buffalo Sabres

The move comes two weeks after the Sabres filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Prospective owners Mark Hamister and Todd Berman have until Monday to sign an asset purchase agreement, expressing their conditional intention to buy the franchise.

While the prospective owners are intent on keeping the team in Buffalo, bankruptcy opens the opportunity for outside parties to make competitive bids on the Sabres and potentially move them elsewhere.

County executive Joel Giambra is taking no chances, hiring William F. Savino, one of Buffalo's top business attorneys.

"The threat of moving this team is something that we're going to fight and resist at every step of the way," county executive Joel Giambra said. "It would be a tremendous injustice to this community from a financial standpoint and psychological (standpoint) to allow this team to leave.

"We're going to throw everything but the kitchen sink into our position."

The county holds a 25 percent share of HSBC Arena, the Sabres' home, and has more than 23 years left on its lease with the team — which includes a strict non-relocation clause agreed to by the NHL.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has insisted he wants the Sabres to remain in Buffalo but has added that the team could fold or move after this season should Hamister and Berman fail to complete their purchase.

Savino said there are several points, including the county's lease, he plans to argue to convince Buffalo bankruptcy judge Michael Kaplan to block the Sabres from moving.

Savino said the Sabres' case has precedence, noting that in 1998, a bankruptcy judge ruled in favor of the then-bankrupt NHL Penguins' request to remain in Pittsburgh before they were eventually sold to Mario Lemieux.

Savino said he also will argue that the county would file for compensation — adding to the team's long list of creditors — from any prospective owner wishing to move the franchise.

He wouldn't say how much the county would seek in compensation, only suggesting the figure would be "very large."

Bankruptcy hearings on the Sabres' future and potential sale aren't expected to begin until late next month at the earliest.

The Sabres have been in limbo since the NHL took over operational control from then-owner John Rigas last June. Rigas has since been accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from Adelphia Communications, the cable television company he founded.

Adelphia, which filed for bankruptcy protection last June, is the Sabres' largest creditor, owed between $130 million and $160 million in money Rigas used to purchase and operate the team in the mid-1990s.

Hamister and Berman last week were granted their fourth NHL extension, the latest which runs out on Monday, to gain Adelphia's approval to complete the asset purchase agreement.

Signing the agreement would be only one step in a complex sale process.

The prospective new owners would then have to be approved by both an Adelphia bankruptcy court judge in Manhattan and the Sabres bankruptcy court judge in Buffalo.

Hamister and Berman also have said the sale is contingent on them receiving more than $40 million in public assistance, which has yet to be fully approved.

FACE-OFFS

The Vancouver Canucks sent defenseman Bryan Helmer to Manitoba of the AHL, clearing a roster spot for All-Star Ed Jovanovski.

Jovanovski, who has been out since Dec. 28 with a fractured left heel, spent most of yesterday's practice skating with defensive partner Marek Malik but was noncommittal about his return.

The Canucks play Edmonton today before the All-Star break.

"It feels great, and we'll see how it feels tomorrow, but as far as playing there's no decision yet," Jovanovski said.

With four goals and 23 assists in 37 games before the injury, Jovanovski was named to the Western Conference All-Star team. He hopes to play Sunday in Sunrise, Fla., where he started his career with the Florida Panthers.

Helmer was pointless in two games for the Canucks this season, but has three goals and 14 assists in 29 games with Manitoba. … The injury-riddled Los Angeles Kings placed goaltender Felix Potvin on the injured reserve list due to a sprained right knee.

The 31-year-old Potvin was injured in the first period of a 3-1 loss at San Jose on Tuesday night. He came out of the game after allowing three goals in the first 13:04 of play.

To replace Potvin, the Kings recalled goalie Cristobal Huet from Manchester of the AHL.

Potvin joins centers Eric Belanger and Brad Chartrand, left wings Ken Belanger and Kip Brennan, right wing Adam Deadmarsh and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky on the team's injured reserve list.

In addition, center Jason Allison has missed two straight games because of a strained hip flexor, and defenseman Mathieu Schneider didn't play at San Jose after being hit with a shot in the foot a night earlier in a 3-0 loss to the Sharks at Staples Center.

The Kings have lost 15 of their last 19 games to fall into last place in the Pacific Division. … The Florida Panthers recalled defenseman Mathieu Biron from San Antonio of the AHL on Wednesday and sent down right wing Denis Shvidki and defenseman Kyle Rossiter.

Biron played in three games with the Panthers earlier this season, but did not score. In 43 games with San Antonio, he has three goals, eight assists and 58 penalty minutes. Biron was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in October for right wing Petr Tenkrat.

Shvidki had one goal and two assists in 14 games with the Panthers. Rossiter is in scoreless games with Florida. … Joe Reekie retired after 17 seasons as an NHL defenseman with five teams.

The 37-year-old Reekie finishes with 25 goals, 139 assists and 1,326 penalty minutes. He had 14 straight seasons with a positive plus-minus rating.

In 1998, Reekie appeared in the Stanley Cup finals with Washington. His last action was with the Blackhawks and Capitals last season. He also played for the Sabres, Islanders and Lightning. … The Philadelphia Flyers picked up minor league forward Eric Chouinard from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a second-round pick in this summer's entry draft.

Chouinard, 22, has 12 goals and 12 assists in 32 games with the American Hockey League's Utah Grizzlies this season.

Chouinard was the Canadiens' first-round draft pick in 1998. He has a goal and three assists in 13 NHL games.

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