The Sabres are keeping their “unsung hero” in the first move of what could be an eventful week.
Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber, who was set to become a restricted free agent next Friday, agreed to a three-year, $5 million contract Thursday night. He’ll make $1.5 million during the next two seasons and $2 million in 2015-16.
He averaged $950,000 per season during his expiring two-year deal.
“Mike is very happy,” said Weber’s agent, Howard Gourwitz, who began negotiating Monday with Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and his assistant, Mark Jakubowski. “They have been saying Mike was in the future plans and they count on Mike as one of their top defensemen and they count on Mike for leadership and everything. I said, ‘Then you have to make a commitment. A commitment is real money, long-term contract.’ Finally, they did.”
Gourwitz also represents forward Steve Ott, who has one year remaining on his contract, and the agent “hopes and expects” to begin extension talks next month.
Weber’s teammates voted him as Buffalo’s “Unsung Hero” at their season-ending awards ceremony. The 25-year-old defenseman was a healthy scratch to start the season but became one of the more dependable defenders by the end. He played 42 games, recording one goal, seven points and a plus-3 rating with 70 penalty minutes. His 92 blocked shots ranked 24th in the NHL, and he was second on the Sabres in hits (122).
The 6-foot-2, 211-pounder has spent parts of five seasons in Buffalo.
It could be an interesting weekend for transactions. The festivities started Thursday morning when Tampa Bay announced a compliance buyout on captain Vincent Lecavalier. Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier doesn’t anticipate buying out a player, but Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek are on the trade market as they enter the final season of their contracts.
Miller texted Thursday night he had “no comment right now” on his mind-set heading toward the weekend.
“I really don’t have any updates from my end,” Vanek’s agent, Steve Bartlett, said in an email. “I am available to meet with Sabres at any time and hope to see them at draft.”
Regier and Buffalo’s scouting staff, featuring Kevin Devine, the director of amateur scouting, are in New York preparing for Sunday’s NHL selection process.
“We’ve got some holes to fill on both sides,” Devine said.
The Sabres have an opportunity to stock their system. They hold 10 picks, tied with Nashville, Winnipeg and Los Angeles for the most. Buffalo is set to select four times in the opening two rounds, including eighth and 16th overall.
Devine heads toward the draft with a loose plan of picking six forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. He raised eyebrows when he said a goalie could be on the radar with the second pick of the first round.
As far as quantity, goaltender is the position of least worry for the Sabres. Even if they trade Miller this weekend, they still have Jhonas Enroth and Matt Hackett available with NHL experience. Buffalo also has a trio of promising prospects in Andrey Makarov, Linus Ullmark and Nathan Lieuwen.
There’s no guarantee any will become stars. Although goalies usually go in the mid- to late rounds, Buffalo could opt for a first-round talent like Zachary Fucale, who backstopped Halifax to the Memorial Cup title.
The Sabres also appear to have depth at center, though it’s unclear whether they have top-end talent in the system. They drafted Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons in the top 14 selections last year. They added Johan Larsson in the late-season trade that sent Jason Pominville to Minnesota.
Girgensons and Larsson can play on the wings, but the only elite, pure winger the Sabres have is Joel Armia, the first-round pick in 2011.
The Sabres went heavy on defensemen from 2008 to 2010, drafting six blue-liners in the first three rounds, including Tyler Myers, Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc. They selected only three with their 14 total picks the last two years, and the defense was further depleted with the trades of Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold and T.J. Brennan.
Rasmus Ristolainen and Darnell Nurse might be around at No. 8.
“It’s a toss-up between the forwards and defense,” Devine said, “at least for the first pick.”