With a logjam of forwards growing and the chance to reclaim more money as the free agency period opens Friday, the Buffalo Sabres made a surprise move Wednesday putting winger Nathan Gerbe on waivers for the purposes of buying out his contract.
Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can use two compliance buyouts to get out from under salaries either this year or next June. In Gerbe’s case, assuming he doesn’t get claimed by 5 p.m. today, the Sabres will owe him $308,333 each of the next two years; his cap hit of $1.45 million will be off the books.
General Manager Darcy Regier had been asked multiple times by reporters if the team was pondering any buyouts and said there were no plans for any; Regier was most recently asked after the draft Sunday in New Jersey and again in Tuesday’s free agency news conference in First Niagara Center.
But the Sabres apparently made a quick change in plans with the Gerbe move. There has been no confirmation of it by the club but as a general rule, teams do not comment on waiver transactions until the player’s waiver period has been completed. Jordan Neumann, Gerbe’s agent, said he received an email from the Sabres informing them of the team’s decision.
“We had no conversations with them regarding Nathan’s future,” Neumann said by phone late Wednesday afternoon from his Westchester County office. “His exit meeting was fine. This whole thing was certainly a little bit surprising.”
The 5-foot-5 Gerbe had five goals and five assists in 42 games last season, failing for the second straight year to become a major part of the offense as he struggled after offseason back surgery. His best season was 2010-11, when he collected 16 goals and 31 points in 64 games.
In 188 NHL games, Gerbe has 29 goals and 43 assists. He was Buffalo’s fifth-round pick in 2005 out of Boston College, where he was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2008 Frozen Four and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, won by current Sabre Kevin Porter.
Corey Tropp, who missed most of last season after suffering a knee injury during the opener in Rochester, is one player expected to get a long look by the Sabres this season. The team is also pursuing the return of former captain Daniel Briere, who was bought out of his deal by Philadelphia.
On the day of the Sabres’ regular season finale, Gerbe told The News the Sabres needed to do a better job supporting their players through tough times.
“I think confidence is 95 percent of this game. It really is,” said Gerbe, 25. “As an organization you can’t squash guys’ confidence every single day, and I think you’ve got to realize that everyone in this room, if they’re confident, you’re going to have a good team. You guys see a stretch of someone having confidence, and then you see a stretch of someone not having a confidence, and it’s a world of difference in a player. It’s not a different player, it’s confidence in the game. That’s so important to each individual. We’ve got to do a better job of that.
“If a guy’s playing well, reward them. If they don’t, talk to them. Don’t just call them out. Everyone sees it in every sport. Confidence is far beyond anything you can imagine.”
As part of the buyout, Gerbe becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team beginning Friday at noon.
“We’ve scrapped some ideas together pretty quickly today,” Neumann said. “It would have been nice to be prepared. But we have a nice little game plan here and I’m feeling confident and he’ll look back at this as a welcoming event. He can go somewhere else to play a more prominent role.”
News Sports Reporter John Vogl contributed to this report.