Maine Hockey Journal

Dineen not impressed with schedule; Rivet clears waivers

The Pirates hit the ice this morning at Portland Ice Arena albeit 20 minutes late after an extended video session back at the civic center.

Back on the ice for the Pirates was Paul Byron, who was recently assigned to the club after spending nearly two weeks with the Buffalo Sabres.

It was Byron’s second stint with the team, and one that he felt like he learned a lot about what it takes to play at the NHL level.

“I learned how hard you need to work every shift,” said Byron. “What it takes to be an NHL player and not just be a first or second line guy. Just seeing how hard every one works. It’s about being a professional.”

“I got some positive feedback from (Sabres coach Lindy Ruff). Ice time is something that is earned especially in the NHL. It’s how you play with the ice time that you are given and making every time you’re on the ice count.”

In eight games, he scored one goal, one assist while playing mostly on the third or fourth lines with the Sabres. Still, it was the experience of playing in the NHL that couldn’t be bottled or sold for the Ottawa, Ontario native especially after scoring his first NHL goal in his hometown in front of family and friends.

“I was real lucky to be able to play in Ottawa for my second (career NHL) game,” Byron said. “I was fortunate to stay as long as I did. I think I learned a lot up there and it will benefit me down here in Portland.

“(Playing in Ottawa) was a real special moment. I think I had 30-35 people in the stands and it seems like everyone that I played hockey with as a kid was there. It was so awesome that my family and friends could experience that.”

Getting Byron back was perfect timing for a Pirates roster riddled with injuries. Currently, the Pirates are without their captain Matt Ellis as well as forwards Colin Stuart and Travis Turnbull and defensemen Alex Biega, Dennis Persson and Drew Schiestel.

Schiestel is out for the season with a knee injury, but the rest are expected back within the next couple of weeks. Stuart was on the ice today practicing on a line with Paul Byron and Mark Mancari and Turnbull, who went multiple shoulder surgeries, has resumed skating and could be back by the middle of March.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to field a full team this weekend,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen. “I’ve been playing with 17 bodies and that’s been the nature of the situation and now hopefully I’ve got some options.”

Dineen certainly isn’t a fan of the AHL schedule makers, something he’s made abundantly clear in the past, voicing his opposition to playing three games in three nights or playing four games in five days on a regular basis and when it comes to the injury front for the Pirates he puts a large amount of the blame at their feet.

“It’s been a big (rash) of injuries in a short amount of time,” Dineen said. “It’s come in bunches and no coincidence it came when we played eight games in 11 days. That’s when a lot of players started getting hurt.”

“It’s crazy the schedule that gets put together for these players. It’s dangerous to them. I bet if you went around the league and saw when teams are in the midst of that heavy schedule, that’s when guys are going to break down.”

“It’s unfortunate the schedule is set up like that because it forces you to find more depth and it’s costly.”

To the league’s credit, they’ve been attempting to address the problem for several years, but to no avail. There have been proposals on the table, which has been endorsed by the NHL and their General Managers to reduce the AHL schedule from the current 80-games down to 72-games, but there is a faction within the AHL’s Board of Governors that fear a reduction in home games will lead to a loss in revenue in an already lean economy.

A plan was present at the most recent board of governors meeting in Jan, but it failed to gain support.

“The NHL General Managers feel strongly that we should be trying to create a better environment through less games or somehow reducing the four-in-five’s,” AHL President Dave Andrews said at the league’s state of the union. “We looked at a proposal we put together as a sample of a 72-game test schedule and it didn’t work for all of our teams, it certainly didn’t work for enough of our teams to want to move forward quickly for next season.”

Andrews thinks that by the time the Board of Governors meet at the spring meeting in May there will be some sort of consensus on the direction the AHL will head in the upcoming seasons.

“I would think by the time we arrive at our spring meeting in May we will have gotten to something that will change the way we create our schedule, possibly change the calendar of our schedule, and change the number of games we play,” said Andrews. “I expect it will be a mix of all of those things.”

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Sabres captain and defenseman Craig Rivet cleared waivers today and was assigned to the Pirates, but merely as a paper transaction. He’s not expected to play in Portland anytime soon although possibility still does exist.

According to Sabres’ GM Darcy Regier, who addressed the situation today, Rivet will be placed on re-entry waivers on Friday where he’ll be made available to the rest of the NHL at half of his remaining salary.

Rivet, 36, is currently in the final year of his $3.5 million contract, and has about $850,000 remaining, which the Sabres would be responsible for half, if claimed.

“We’ll continue to work to try and get him playing somewhere in the National Hockey League and allow him to continue his career,” Regier said this morning’s media scrum at HSBC Arena.

“It’s not optional (assignment to Portland) and he understands. He also knows what the next step is with respect to trying to help him resume his career, so there’s another step here that will take place tomorrow, and we’ll go from there.”

Rivet, who hasn’t played since Jan. 11, requested a trade through his agent Pat Morris this week, but a deal couldn’t be struck, leaving the Sabres with the option of placing him on waivers. He could still be assigned to Portland if he goes unclaimed on re-entry waivers, but neither Regier nor Rivet would comment on that situation only referring to “letting the process play out”.

In 23 games with the Sabres, Rivet has one goal, two assists with a minus-5 rating.

Rivet still feels he can play in the NHL albeit, it might be with another NHL team as he doesn’t figure into the future plans of the Sabres with Marc-Andre Gragnani playing well in Portland, and the emergence of Mike Weber in Buffalo.

“It’s tough because I don’t want to leave here,” Rivet said after practice. “We’ve got a super bunch of guys in this room, and everybody in this organization has been fantastic. It makes for a difficult decision, but for me I feel that I can play in this league. If it’s not going to be here, then I need to give myself an opportunity to play someplace else.”

One current selling point for the Pirates might be a chance for his jumpstart his career and current Pirates assistant coach Eric Weinrich, who was a mentor and linemate of Rivet’s when they were with the Montreal Canadiens. They played together for three seasons from 1998-’01 before Weinrich was traded to Boston.

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