The days of the hockey enforcer are dwindling. The tough guys aren’t extinct yet, though. The Buffalo Sabres proved that Sunday night.
The Sabres added a mountain of a man to the organization on the opening day of free agency, signing 6-foot-8, 270-pound forward John Scott to a one-year deal worth $600,000. Scott, who has also played defense, has 22 fights in his 146 NHL games.
“John’s size and toughness make him a difficult player to battle against,” Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said. “His physical play will be a valuable addition to our team.”
The Sabres’ need for toughness was exposed last season with the Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller debacle. No one stood up for the goaltender after Boston’s hulking forward ran him over. Scott has shown he’ll take on all comers. He had five fights last season while splitting the year with Chicago and the New York Rangers, including tilts with noted pugilists Deryk Engelland and Cam Janssen.
Scott has just one goal and five points in his four-year career. The 29-year-old from Edmonton started his career with the Minnesota Wild.
Small-scale signings like the Sabres’ deal with Scott were the norm. Hockey folks said the same things over and over as July 1 approached. This is a small free agent class for the NHL. Available players with top-end talent are few and far between.
Given those overwhelming sentiments, it shouldn’t have been a surprise the first day of free agency had the sizzle of a waterlogged sparkler.
The NHL’s annual shopping spree started slowly Sunday. The biggest names decided to take their time digesting offers, leaving teams and other players at a standstill. A total of 42 players signed new deals, but only one of the deals topped $16 million on a day that sees contracts worth four or five times that.
The Buffalo Sabres lost one player when the market opened. Forward Brad Boyes signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the New York Islanders. Boyes, who had eight goals and 23 points in 65 games with the Sabres, took a $3 million pay cut.
The Sabres had no plans to re-sign Boyes. He made it very clear he had no intention of staying in Buffalo with coach Lindy Ruff.
During an interview with CBC Sports that was posted before he signed with the Isles, Boyes said one of his biggest priorities was playing for a coach who would communicate with him and give him an opportunity to excel in a well-defined role.
“I want to play for a coach that I respect a lot, and that’ll go a long way in the way that I play,” Boyes told CBC. “That starts by communicating with off-ice stuff, saying hi, asking how the family is. Those things go a long way. I’m just looking for a coach that will do that to begin with. Once you get the personal side, then it’s the hockey stuff, with the coach communicating what he likes or doesn’t like about your play.
“I don’t need someone telling me every game, every minute or every shift if I’ve done something good or bad, but every once in a while it’s nice to hear some communication either way to know you’re part of the team and feel important.
“I’ll take what I can from last year, but I’m looking at next year to really getting back to having fun and playing on a team that wants me there and I want to be a part of.”
The Islanders signed Boyes to fill a void left by one of the top players to write his name on a contract Sunday. Winger P.A. Parenteau, who had 18 goals and 67 points in New York last season, agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with Colorado.
The Avalanche also made news with a player they ultimately didn’t sign. The team’s Twitter account reported the Avs had come to terms with unrestricted free agents John Mitchell and Matt Carkner, with an official announcement to follow. The agent for Carkner quickly denied the Avs’ statement, and the defensemen signed a three-year, $4.5 million contract with the Islanders.
“I don’t know if they were trying to exchange information for my address to make an official offer, and somewhere along the line someone must have confused Colorado, saying that maybe I accepted the deal,” Carkner told NHL.com. “I never told anyone that, but things like this happen. We called Colorado and apologized right away. We didn’t mean to mislead them at all. It ended up a couple of hours later I agreed to terms with the Islanders.”
No NHL team came to terms with left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, the top prizes on the market. Parise and Suter received offers but decided to mull them at least overnight.
It created a logjam for organizations in the mix because they didn’t want to go in a different direction while there was still a chance at landing the All-Stars. Defenseman Jason Garrison earned the largest contract Sunday, agreeing to a six-year, $27.6 million deal with Vancouver. Garrison had 16 goals and 33 points with the Florida Panthers last year.
Dallas signed 40-year-old winger Ray Whitney to a two-year, $9 million deal after he put up 24 goals and 53 assists with Phoenix.
Shane Doan, Whitney’s former teammate in the desert, will wait until next Monday to decide where he’ll play. The Coyotes’ captain wants to stay in Phoenix but is waiting to see if the team’s muddled ownership situation can be cleared up next week.
Ottawa, meanwhile, traded forward Nick Foligno to Columbus for defenseman Marc Methot. Foligno is the brother of Buffalo forward Marcus Foligno and son of Mike Foligno. Nick Foligno had 15 goals and 47 points in 82 games with the Senators.
“Nick is a versatile, durable two-way player who at age 24 is coming off the best season of his career,” Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson said.
The Anaheim Ducks signed defenseman Sheldon Souray to a three-year, $11 million deal and agreed to terms with defenseman Bryan Allen on another three-year deal.