Inside the NHL, final chapter.

Eighteen years ago, when I was covering the Bills and Sabres for the Associated Press, my late friend and mentor, Jim Kelley, warned me that the day would come when a change would be in order. Like many things Kelley passed along over the years, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant at the time.

To me, he had an ideal gig.

He was 46 years old, covering the NHL and writing columns off Sabres’ games. He had connections across the league and inside the organization. His weekly Inside the NHL column was a must-read for any hockey lover.

Five years later, he left the newspaper and his column for me.

I’m not leaving the newspaper, but a change is needed. For years, too many years, I’ve written that the Sabres needed a new set of eyes or, more specifically, a set of eyes that belonged to anyone but Darcy Regier. That’s still true, but it also became clear during the lockout last season that the same applied to me.

Inside the NHL needed a new set of eyes, too.

The timing is eerie. I’m 46 years old, the same age Kelley was 18 years ago. I’ve written the weekly notes column for 13 years, which is only four fewer than Kelley wrote the column for the News.

It’s long enough for me. I’m leaving a drop pass for longtime beat reporter John Vogl, who will bring new ideas and fresh insight.

I approached executive sports editor Lisa Wilson and requested the move last season after contemplating for several months. If the lockout confirmed anything, it was that the NHL was only a part of my passion for sports.

The change will be good for the newspaper and good for readers.

Vogl is bright, knows the game from the inside and will bring a different perspective. It’s the right move for me, too, because it will allow me to shift into other areas.

For better or worse, I’ll still be writing columns about the Sabres. And like it or not, my opinion that Regier should be replaced isn’t going anywhere, either.

Since we’re all here, why not empty my notebook?

Is Black in trouble?

According to several sources, HarborCenter President John Koelmel has become more active in Sabres’ daily operations and could be gaining power within the organization.

One source has gone so far to predict that he will be running the front office after the project is completed, assuming he sticks around.

Koelmel, the former chief executive officer at First Niagara, has a reputation for putting people in the right places.

He was a respected leader in the banking industry, but he’s also a longtime hockey fan who is well aware of the Sabres’ problems. The question is whether he can fix them if given the authority.

How long Koelmel sticks around could depend on how much they listen to him. A source said he’s not the type of person who would stick around.

Given his reputation, staying with the organization to collect a paycheck is everything he stands against. If he’s retained after the project is completed, you’ll know he has Terry Pegula’s ear.

Does that mean Ted Black could be in trouble? It’s not yet clear.

Black’s performance at the season-ending news conference last April, when he engaged in an argument with the media and ended up apologizing for his behavior, was not well received by the hierarchy. One source also said Black also was largely ignored during an offseason trip to Las Vegas with team sponsors.

He also left some shaking their heads last week when saying on the radio, in a strange choice of words, that he was ultimately responsible for the Sabres’ new third jersey. Apparently, some weren’t amused and questioned his professionalism when he said he would be the one eating the “turd burger” if the jersey turned into a flop.

Roy’s act may unite Avalanche

Patrick Roy may have looked like a loose cannon during his dispute with Bruce Boudreau in the season opener, but the Avalanche coach’s tenacity will go a long way in uniting his dressing room.

Roy pushed over a glass partition that separated the Colorado and Anaheim benches while arguing with Boudreau and several players on the ice, including Corey Perry.

The only thing his players saw amid the chaos was their coach standing up for them.

“I love my players,” Roy said. “I will always defend them.”

Colorado won its first two games by a combined 9-2 with rookie Nathan Mackinnon recording three assists. The Avalanche still look shaky along the blue line. Look for them to move Paul Stastny before the trade deadline for a defenseman with experience.

Heat may be on Laviolette

It’s much too early to say Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and GM Paul Holmgren are in trouble, but that could change quickly if Philadelphia’s slow start continues. The Flyers lost to the Canadiens and Hurricanes in their first two games.

Laviolette is more likely to be sent packing before Holmgren if they needed to make a change. Chairman Ed Snider knows that Holmgren attempts to build a winner every year. His big move during the offseason was signing Vincent Lecavalier. The Flyers missed the playoffs after a terrible start last season.

Maybe it’s me, but Laviolette already has looked more stressed than usual.


Jaromir Jagr, now with the Devils, on playing his 20th NHL season at age 41: “Why should I stop doing something that I love? Because I’m going to hurt my name? So what? Are they going to criticize me that I can’t play anymore, that I’m awful? Who cares?

Around the boards

• Coyotes winger Radim Vrbata had a hat trick in the season opener, giving him two in two games going back to last season. Luc Robitaille was the last player to score three goals in the season finale one year and the season opener the next, completing the feat in 1988. Jeremy Roenick in 1999 was the last Coyotes player to record consecutive hat tricks.

• The Penguins wasted little time finding a positive sign to Tomas Vokoun being sidelined for three to six months with a blood clot. The goaltender’s place on the long-term injury list gave them room under the salary cap to sign Chuck Kobasew. The forward rewarded them with goals in his first two games, including the 4-1 win over Buffalo.

• Jason Pominville’s five-year contract worth $28 million should only help the Wild’s chances of signing Thomas Vanek as a free agent. Vanek has a home in Minnesota, where his wife has family. He trains at the University of Minnesota. His associates there make it sound like him playing there next season is a done deal.

• Phil Kessel’s eight-year contract extension worth $64 million includes $38 million in the first four years and $20 million in the first two. If he reaches the end of the deal, his career earnings will approach $100 million.

• Thanks for reading for all these years. John, take it away.