Sabres, new forward Ott, cling to optimism as another NHL lockout looms on horizon

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. – With a potential lockout looming, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for Buffalo forward Steve Ott to remain hopeful.

Raring to go with his new team—the Sabres—after an off-season trade from Dallas, Ott spoke with cautious optimism on Monday before a golf outing benefiting the Buffalo Sabres Foundation. He wants to play. He can’t wait to play. But he knows that might not happen.

For a while.

“It’s tough,” said Ott, who was obtained from the Stars in July for forward Derek Roy. “The players are looking for a fair deal. We want to play, and we want to get going. I think every single guy is ready to go. It would be a complete shame if the doors are locked by ownership.”

After the entire 2004-05 season was lost due to labour struggles, the NHL is heading toward another work stoppage. The collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15. And for players who are looking to make fresh starts on new teams—like Ott—any delay makes it that much harder to get acclimated.

“I can’t wait for the opportunity to throw my Buffalo Sabres jersey on,” said Ott, who will be among several players who will hit Manhattan Thursday to show their solidarity. “Hopefully it starts in October, and it’s ready to go. I love this team. It’s a young team, but it’s moulded right.”

Sabres forward Marcus Foligno is also itching to get going. After being called up from Rochester of the AHL late last season, Foligno emerged as an imposing force up front. Utilizing his size and strength, Foligno registered six goals and 13 points in 14 games with the Sabres, and was looking forward to playing a full year in Buffalo.

But if there’s any long-lasting lockout, Foligno will ultimately find his way back to Rochester … again.

“Whatever happens, you want to be ready for it,” he said. “I’m preparing like camp is going to happen, but for me I’m in a better position than some of the veterans because I can go to Rochester.”

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Ott spent that 2004-05 season playing with Hamilton of the AHL after playing 99 games for the Stars, starting in 2002.

“It was a shame that we had to miss a whole season,” he said. “It did nobody good. It wasn’t exciting for the fans, it wasn’t exciting for the players, and it wasn’t exciting for the ownership.”

Sabres owner Terry Pegula spoke conservatively at a press conference to formally announce a $123 million project he’s building in downtown Buffalo across from his arena. Pegula has high hopes for this team, especially after it missed the post-season last year.

“I don’t know if (a lockout) is going to happen,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll all want to see some hockey played. So let’s hope it doesn’t happen and be positive on it.”

Pegula also mentioned that if there were to be any sustained work stoppage, he had no plans on cutting the pay of his administrative staff. Meanwhile, several Sabres have been skating on their own already. While working out, of course, labour talks are always a topic of conversation.

“It comes up every single time in the dressing room,” Ott said.

If there’s no deal in place over the next week or so, Ott said he and his new teammates will seek more ice time at a local rink. But he’s hoping those workouts won’t last very long.

“We’re here, we want to play, and we want a fair deal,” he said. “To see and show the growth of the game and how its changed in the last seven years, and then to see it possibly have another lockout is disheartening.”

The regular season is slated to begin on Oct. 11. Buffalo finished with 89 points last season, three behind Ottawa, which snagged the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.