Here's one for Lalime 'fans'

BRUCE GARRIOCH

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Patrick Lalime back with the Senators?

Hard to believe, but it came "close" to happening, the goaltender revealed before starting for the Sabres last night.

"I thought it might happen," he said.

Senators GM Bryan Murray held several discussions with Lalime's agent, Ian Pulvar, in the off-season before signing Alex Auld to back up Martin Gerber.

Lalime said he had no problem returning to Ottawa. Fans who remember his last game with the Senators -- the Game 7, first-round meltdown against the Maple Leafs in the 2004 playoffs -- might have a different take.

"I always enjoyed playing in Ottawa," said Lalime, who was sent packing to the Blues, toiled in the AHL, then resurfaced with the Blackhawks for the past two seasons before signing with the Sabres as an unrestricted free agent.

The 34-year-old -- who played his 400th NHL game last night -- doesn't have any complaints about landing in Buffalo, either.

"It's been nice to come back to the East and this is a great place to play," said Lalime, who made a big stop on C Chris Kelly on a first-period breakaway.

"This is probably as close to a Canadian team as you can get. The fans are great and so far it's been a lot of fun because the guys are playing well."

NO DOLLAR DAZE

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's not concerned about the plunging loonie's impact on the six Canadian franchises because they've got strong ownership and are well-supported by fans. While Bettman admitted it's going to cost owners like Eugene Melnyk more to pay U.S.-dollar salaries, the commissioner said the salary cap allows Canadian clubs to remain competitive. "A lot of people in 1999 felt there would only be one franchise left in Canada and they were even talking about Montreal (at risk)," said Bettman. "Part of what we had to do in changing our system was making sure that all our teams could afford to be competitive. That's what the cap and the partnership with the players was all about and now all teams can afford to be competitive. It's a self-correcting system (based on revenues), plus we have solid owners in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary." Bettman also said the assumption the high Canadian dollar of the past few years pushed up revenue is rubbish. "That's not true," said Bettman. "Last year, we had 9% real growth separate and apart from the Canadian dollar. I don't know ultimately what this economy and what we're seeing from the financial markets is going to do, but even if the Canadian dollar comes down, it will not overly impact the system."

OFF THE GLASS

Didn't take long for the Senators to get in trouble with C Jason Spezza penalized for hooking only 15 seconds into the game ... Talks to get captain Daniel Alfredsson signed to a new contract will resume this week. Both sides believe a deal will get done to keep Alfredsson from becoming a UFA at the end of the season if he plays 70 games and has 70 points ... Bettman was in town to help USA Hockey announce that Buffalo has been awarded the 2011 world junior championship. This year's will be at Scotiabank Place and coach Craig Hartsburg, who was behind the bench for two junior golds, said people should be excited. "Besides the Olympics, it's the best tournament in hockey," said Hartsburg. "You've got young men who will play the game with such intensity and emotion. It really is a unique event. The emotions involved in it are second to none."

AROUND THE BOARDS

Murray has been working the phones, but teams aren't in the mood to deal. Most want to wait a few more games to see what they've got ... Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown must be a big hockey fan. He introduced Bettman as "NFL" commissioner ... The Sabres haven't played at the old "Aud" since 1996, but it's still standing -- until March 2009, when it will finally be torn down. The plan is to build shops and restaurants on the site to re-energize Buffalo's downtown core ... Sabres owner Tom Golisano has no concerns about a second NHL team in Toronto because he doesn't believe it will happen. "The chances of it happening might be very slim," said Golisano. "I'd say I don't think we'd have a position on it. Certainly, the demand for tickets is huge in Toronto and it would probably make a lot of people in Toronto happy. Would we sell less tickets because of a second team in Toronto? I don't think so." Bettman said the story "was without foundation. I don't know where it came from. This is not a subject of discussion at the league level."


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