The Buffalo News - Sabres Latest stories from The Buffalo News en-us Thu, 10 Jul 2014 15:29:14 -0400 Thu, 10 Jul 2014 15:29:14 -0400 <![CDATA[ Hackett signs Sabre offer sheet ]]>
According to several media reports, Hackett accepted a qualifying offer from the team and agreed to a one-year, $750,750 contract for the upcoming season.

Hackett took a turn in the Sabres’ net last season, when the team was in the midst of a run of injuries to its goaltenders, such as Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth. He had a 1-6-1 record with a 3.10 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.

However, his season ended prematurely when he suffered a knee injury in a game against the Boston Bruins.

Hackett came to the Sabres in April, 2013 with two draft choices and Johan Larson. Jason Pominville and a draft choice were dealt to the Wild in the transaction.

Sun, 6 Jul 2014 18:04:26 -0400
<![CDATA[ Trottier dies at 73 ]]>
Trottier was the top offensive star on the 1969-70 Bisons team that won the Calder Cup as AHL champion. He scored 55 goals and 33 assists for 88 points. The right winger had played for the Bisons in 1967-68 and 1968-69 as well.

Trottier went on to play 113 games in the National Hockey League, mostly with Toronto, and 166 games in the World Hockey Association. He finished his career with the Buffalo Norsemen in the North American Hockey League in 1975-76.

According to the Dayton Daily News, Trottier returned to Dayton, Ohio, after his hockey career, where he played and coached minor-league hockey. He spent 20 years working with ABF Freight Systems in Dayton before retiring. ]]>
Sat, 5 Jul 2014 23:27:10 -0400
<![CDATA[ Sabres acquire winger from Jets ]]>
Samuels-Thomas compiled 29 points in 34 games in his second season at Quinnipiac University. He previously attended Bowling Green.

The Atlanta Thrashers drafted Samuels-Thomas in the seventh round in 2009.

Wed, 9 Jul 2014 23:52:25 -0400
<![CDATA[ Kane, Toews get 8-year extensions in Chicago ]]> by Amy Moritz

How does eight more years sound?

The Chicago Blackhawks announced contract extensions to both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews that will run through the 2022-23 season. The contracts are worth a reported $10.5 million per season.

A formal press conference will be next week.

Kane, the 25-year old Buffalo native, has scored big goals in big games for the Blackhawks, including the series-clinching goal in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final while winning the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) in 2013. He won the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) in 2008 and has participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

The 26-year old Toews has 440 points (195 goals, 245 assists) in 484 regular season games after making his debut during the 2007-08 season. He became the second-youngest player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy  when he led Chicago to its first Stanley Cup title in 49 years back in 2010. In 2013, he won the Frank J. Selke Trophy for the league's best defensive forward.

Wed, 9 Jul 2014 13:54:20 -0400 By Jean Westmoore

News Staff

<![CDATA[ Esmonde: Deal with the rejection, Toronto ]]>
We know.

We’ve felt it often enough.

Slights, insults, disses, denunciations – we’ve taken them all.

And often.

So when the joke is on someplace else, when Buffalo is selected instead of spurned, heck yeah we feel good about it.

We feel especially good when the city passed over in our favor is our neighboring cross-border megalopolis

Yup. For all Toronto has going for it, it wasn’t enough for coveted hockey player Josh Gorges. After rejecting a trade Tuesday to the Maple Leafs, Gorges left the Montreal Canadiens for the Sabres.

That’s right. He – for various reasons – liked Buffalo better than Toronto.

Aside from anything else, Gorges just took the early lead in the unofficial balloting for Our Favorite Sabre.

Judging by the sputtering disbelief of a Toronto Sun sports columnist, our northern neighbors aren’t happy about it.

Wrote Steve Simmons: [Gorges] selected living in Buffalo and playing for quite possibly the worst team in the NHL, to living in Toronto and playing in the so-called center of the hockey universe. He chose the armpit of America over one of world’s great cities.

Imagine that.

I’m not happy about the “armpit of America” shot. In terms of anatomic metaphors, I prefer to think of us more as the nation’s heart, soul or spine. But I can understand how someone equally befuddled and apoplectic over a seemingly counterintuitive choice would reflexively reach for the civic-insult bag. The big, shiny, glass-skyscrapered metropolis got passed over by an object of its affection for a cozy, underappreciated, just-reviving, mid-sized American burg. For many Torontonians, it does not compute.

It particularly stings when the desirable commodity is an NHL player. Hockey is a passion here. It’s a religion there.

But there it is: The fourth-largest city in North America got rejected for a suitor one-tenth its size, with about 1/100th its economic muscle.

It’s the 98-pound weakling kicking sand in the hunky lifeguard’s face. It’s the most popular girl in school turning down a prom invitation from the star quarterback and going instead with the quiet computer geek. It’s the movie star turning down a weekend in Cannes with Miss Universe for ice cream sundaes and a round of Putt-Putt with the girl next door.

It’s … well, you get the idea.

Simmons: He made that decision of supposedly sound mind, or so we are informed. … It’s one thing to say no. Another thing to pick Buffalo.

That’s right. Chew on it.

OK, I don’t want to sound snarky. But we’ve been on the opposite end of these choices often enough to have perfected the art of gracious deflection. Laugh it off, move on and know that – ultimately – whoever spurned, dissed or dismissed us doesn’t know what he or she is missing. That’s the way to go. Not to get all huffy-indignant and reach for the “armpit” cliche. It only makes you look petty.

Gorges cited various reasons for the decision, chief among them not wanting to play for the Canadiens’ bitter rival. He told The News he was excited about the Sabres’ rebuild, felt Buffalo was a good fit for his family, and liked coach Ted Nolan. Some speculated he didn’t relish Toronto’s intense media glare, coupled with the team’s relative lack of success. The Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, three years before the Sabres were born.

Or maybe Gorges just thought Buffalo was a cooler city.

Sorry, Torontonians, I couldn’t resist.

And to think that we’d lately been getting along so well with our northern neighbor. Toronto’s media was graced in recent months with stories of Buffalo’s resurgence, filed by reporters who treated the two-hour journey down the QEW like an anthropological expedition. We were happy to share our charms, hidden and otherwise. They were gracious enough to chronicle a litany of pleasant surprises. On the flip side, Buffalonians have long appreciated Toronto’s cosmopolitan appeal.

But all has not gone smoothly. Nobody was pleased to hear that a Toronto investment group, fronted by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, is reportedly poised to buy and move the Bills. And Gorges’ choice is sweet payback for the sting delivered two years ago by the Maple Leafs’ Joffrey Lupul. He tweeted a photo from his hotel room of a winter-beset downtown Buffalo, with a caption longing for a “window-less room.”

Hey, Joffrey: The last I heard, Buffalo is Gorges.

email: ]]>
Fri, 4 Jul 2014 16:25:50 -0400 Donn Esmonde
<![CDATA[ Regier lands assistant job with Coyotes ]]>
“There was one guy on the list,” the Coyotes’ GM said Thursday. “At the top of the list was Darcy Regier.”

Regier needed time to think about it, but the oft-rumored reunion with his old pal is official. The Coyotes have hired Regier as senior vice president and assistant GM. Regier worked with Maloney with the New York Islanders in the 1990s.

“It was really important if I was going to get back into hockey, the people were the most important thing for me,” Regier told the Arizona Republic. “He’s just a very high quality person, so it’s great.”

Maloney told The News last week Regier was a candidate for a job in the organization. The Coyotes’ previous assistant GM, Brad Treliving, became Calgary’s general manager in April.

“I had really dozens and dozens of candidates for this position,” Maloney said on “Bringing Darcy into this organization is a really good thing for us.”

Regier was the longest-tenured general manager in Sabres history, holding the title from June 1997 to November 2013. He was fired along with coach Ron Rolston after a 4-15-1 start that featured fans chanting for Regier to be dismissed.

The 58-year-old is happy to be back in hockey as an assistant.

“When you’re general manger you’re living it, so you don’t really step back and say, ‘Is this a difficult job or is it not?’ ” Regier told the newspaper. “I’ve been off now for eight months, and when you’re on the outside looking into the position of general manger, you realize it’s a very, very difficult job. I gained more appreciation. I think this is a more ideal entry for me back into the game.

“He asked me if I had an interest quite a while ago after I was fired in Buffalo, and I said something probably along the lines, ‘I think I might. Can you call me back a little later?’ Which he did. It obviously worked out. I think for me, I wanted to make sure I was in a position I could help him and the organization.”

The Sabres went to four Eastern Conference finals and one Stanley Cup final with Regier as GM. However, they missed the playoffs in eight of the last 12 seasons, including three in a row.

“If you think about Buffalo, obviously the last couple years haven’t gone the way they would have liked,” Maloney said. “He had great moments there and like all of us had some down moments.

“I think he’s a great resource for the organization, for me. He’s intelligent, creative, experienced, knows the league, knows people in the league, knows players. I can’t imagine a better hiring for this organization than Darcy.

“He’ll be with the team when I’m not. What Darcy does, he’ll give me a chance to get away from the team more and get on the road and do a little more scouting. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen in this league.”

email ]]>
Thu, 3 Jul 2014 23:07:59 -0400 John Vogl
<![CDATA[ Sabres notebook: St. Catharines to host prospects game ]]>
The Niagara IceDogs, who play in St. Catharines, Ont., will host the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 22, the Canadian Hockey League announced Thursday. The list of players is expected to include Connor McDavid, the favorite to be selected at the top of the next draft.

“This is an event that all NHL scouts look forward to attending,” NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr said on “The game is a unique opportunity to evaluate 40 of the top draft-eligible prospects on a single stage in what has annually become an intense competition.”

This year’s Top Prospects Game featured 17 players taken during the first round of last week’s draft, including No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad and Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart, who went second. The players for the 2015 game will be chosen in December.

Tickets will cost $35, with IceDogs season-ticket holders getting first priority. Individual tickets will be made available in September at

Buffalo will host the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in September in First Niagara Center. The event features the top 40 U.S. players eligible for the draft, including McDavid’s rival for the No. 1 spot, Jack Eichel.


Sabres General Manager Tim Murray was looking for a couple of players for the Rochester Americans, and he found one in Tyson Strachan.

The 29-year-old defenseman spent last season in the Washington organization, dressing in 18 games with the Capitals and 60 games for their minor-league affiliate in Hershey. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound defenseman has played 138 games for St. Louis, Florida and Washington, recording one goal, 15 points and 155 penalty minutes. Carolina drafted the Ohio State product in the fifth round of the 2003 draft.

Strachan provides experience for the Sabres’ organization, which features young blue-liners Rasmus Ristolainen, Mark Pysyk, Chad Ruhwedel and Jake McCabe.

Strachan’s two-way deal, according to TSN, is for one year with an NHL salary of $650,000 and American Hockey League pay of $275,000. Strachan had a two-way contract with Washington last season that paid $550,000 and $225,000.

The dog-loving defenseman is the founder of Strachan Strays, which promotes pet adoption.


The Sabres will hold their seventh annual golf tournament Sept. 16 at Wanakah Country Club. Each foursome will golf with a player, former player or broadcast personality. Lunch will be provided, along with a clam bake and open bar following the round. Cost is $3,000 for a foursome, with proceeds benefiting the Sabres’ foundation. Contact Teresa Belbas at 855-4588 or visit

Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta and his HITS Foundation will host two benefit rounds. The first, a mixed couples event, will tee off July 12 at Concord Crest Golf Course. Golf, lunch and dinner are included for $75. The second tournament, which costs $800 for a foursome and includes lunch and dinner, will be held Aug. 18 at Brierwood Country Club. For information or to register, visits

email ]]>
Thu, 3 Jul 2014 23:07:42 -0400 John Vogl
<![CDATA[ Darcy Regier gets job with Arizona ]]> By John Vogl

Darcy Regier's long-rumored reunion with old pal Don Maloney is official. The Arizona Coyotes have hired Regier as a senior vice president and assistant general manager.

Maloney, the Coyotes' GM who worked with Regier with the Islanders in the 1990s, told The News last week Regier was a candidate for a job in the organization. The Coyotes' previous assistant general manager, Brad Treliving, became Calgary's GM in April.

"When I found out Brad Treliving was leaving us in April, there was one guy on the list," Maloney told "At the top of the list was Darcy Regier."

Regier was the longest-tenured general manager in Sabres history, holding the title from June 1997 to November 2013. He was fired along with coach Ron Rolston after a 4-15-1 start that featured fans chanting for Regier to be dismissed.

"He had great moments there and like all of us had some down moments," Maloney said. "Thrilled to bring him on. I think he’s a great resource for the organization, for me. He’s intelligent, creative, experienced, knows the league, knows people in the league, knows players. I can’t imagine a better hiring for this organization than Darcy."

The Sabres went to four Eastern Conference finals and one Stanley Cup final with Regier as GM. However, they have missed the playoffs in eight of the last 12 seasons, including three in a row.

"If you think about Buffalo, obviously the last couple years haven’t gone the way they would have liked, but there was a long time where they were in the very same position," Maloney said. "They were in a bankruptcy situation. They came out of it. They had an ownership group that had to watch every penny that was spent, and yet he found a way to make it work.

"I had really dozens and dozens of candidates for this position. Bringing Darcy into this organization is a really good thing for us."

Thu, 3 Jul 2014 16:18:38 -0400
<![CDATA[ Outpouring of good wishes for Rick Jeanneret ]]>

#Sabres have set up an email address for those who want to wish Rick Jeanneret well in his battle with throat cancer:

— Buffalo News Sports (@TBNSports) July 2, 2014

Buffalo Sabre fans -- and hockey fans everywhere -- were taken aback by the news that Rick Jeanneret is battling throat cancer.

Archived News stories:

Thu, 3 Jul 2014 09:20:38 -0400
<![CDATA[ Gleason: Cancer adds insult to injury for R.J. ]]>
My immediate reaction upon hearing Rick Jeanneret was diagnosed with throat cancer wasn’t necessarily sadness or empathy or fear or anger, although all four quickly kicked into gear. My first thought was about inequity, that cancer was looking to perform one of its signature injustices.

Of all things from which a play-by-play man may be made to suffer, did it really need to be throat cancer?

Jeanneret’s throat isn’t just anyone’s throat. It’s what made him a good living and led him to become a communal treasure. Cancer shouldn’t be allowed to mess with his voice. It’s like damaging Yo-Yo Ma’s fingers or Albert Einstein’s brain. In a perfect world, fate would leave certain gifts alone.

If he’s reading this, he’s laughing. He’s finding great amusement in anyone comparing him to world icons and thinking it’s absurd. But I’m guessing a large population of hockey fans would argue that Rick Jeanneret had a much greater impact on their lives than Yo-Yo Ma or Albert Einstein.

For more than four decades, he has displayed his innate ability to bring the action to us while making it seem as if he planted himself on our couches or in the car or the bar stool. Sons who grew up listening to him have since become fathers and now listen with their sons.

It goes beyond hockey.

And it matters.

Understand, I need to be careful here. R.J. had enough laughs at my expense from my early days of covering the Sabres, when beat writers traveled with the team and stayed at the same hotels. The last thing I need is him accusing me of prematurely writing his obituary and pouncing with his trademark sense of humor.

I can almost hear him say, “Geez, Jackie, how about letting me die first?”

He always called me Jackie or Jack, and a few other names, but never Bucky.

It was a reference to Jackie Gleason, the overweight actor who had an affinity for the nightlife back in the day. To him, it was just a nickname. To me, it was a term of endearment, a form of acceptance. Spend time with him and you realize R.J. really is a kid stuffed into an older man’s body.

He would often insist that he wasn’t a broadcaster; he was an entertainer. He made it look easy, but he cared deeply about his craft and was far more interested in being right than being loud. It still amazes me how names of players on both teams roll off his tongue, especially with so many Europeans in the NHL.

Anyway, who else could make icing sound compelling? He’s the reason “where mama hides the cookies” has an entirely different meaning in Western New York than anywhere else. You know a play-by-play man is good when his calls become part of the vernacular. How good? Scary good, of course.

There are only a few broadcasters, and fewer play-by-play announcers, who are more popular than players they cover. Vin Scully comes to mind. Scully and Jeanneret and, well, that’s about it. Players for years quietly have been in awe of him, as if it’s an honor for him to call their games, let alone say their names.

His rock-star status extends beyond Buffalo. Anyone who has been with R.J. on the road has heard random cries of “May Day, May Day” and “La-la-la-la-la-Fontaine” from people in the streets. If they only knew they were interrupting a conversation about “Cupcake” or his sons or his grandchildren.

“Cupcake” is his wife, Sandra. I’ve known Jeanneret for 25 years but never knew his wife’s name until I saw it written in the newspaper Wednesday. He spoke of Cupcake in reverent tones and talked about how she ran the house. He made her sound like a sweet woman and a tough cookie.

Cancer should know that he’s no pushover, either. It has been at least a decade since he first told me he was thinking about retiring. He doesn’t know how to give up. He keeps coming back because he loves the game. He loves the fans. He loves his job. And, yes, he loves the attention.

For him to wish to be left alone while he battled the disease, which left a golf ball-sized tumor in his throat, confirmed he was bracing for difficult months ahead. Cancer treatment is certain to test his will. He’ll draw strength from his family and fans sending him emails, via

I’m among thousands of friends letting him know that I’m thinking of him and wishing him a speedy recovery. Knowing him, he’ll approach cancer like a minor nuisance before returning to work. He may be back with a different voice but, mark his words, he will be back.

And we’ll be listening.

email ]]>
Thu, 3 Jul 2014 08:04:42 -0400 Bucky Gleason
<![CDATA[ Hockey world sends warm wishes to Jeanneret via Twitter ]]>
Ryan Miller (@RyanMiller3039)

Thoughts are with Rick Jeanneret. I hope everyone lets him know how much he is loved & that we believe in him in his fight against cancer.

Jay McKee (@JayMcKee74)

Thoughts are with good friend Rick Jeanneret as the Buffalo legend now fights throat cancer. Rick bleeds blue & gold, he’ll win this fight!

Matthew Barnaby (@MattBarnaby3636)

Thoughts are with the great Rick Jeanneret who’s voice is etched in my mind. #LalalaLafontaine #MayDay

Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN, TSN commentator)

Thoughts and good wishes to legendary Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret who was diagnosed with throat cancer. See you in the booth soon, RJ!

Jim Jackson (@JimJPhilly, Flyers announcer)

Get well wishes to Sabres’ voice Rick Jeanneret. See you in the fall way upstairs where “Momma hides the cookies” in the broadcast booth!

Dave Strader (@TheVoiceDS, NHL on NBC announcer)

Saddened by Rick Jeanneret’s diagnosis, but encouraged by his quotes of strength, courage and determination. #GetWellRJ

NHL Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL)

Our thoughts and well wishes are with #Sabres broadcasting legend Rick Jeanneret as he fights this battle.

Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey)

Our thoughts and prayers go out to @BuffaloSabres broadcaster Rick Jeanneret. Best wishes on a full and speedy recovery! #GetWellRJ

Portland Pirates (@PortlandPirates)

Our thoughts are with @BuffaloSabres broadcaster Rick Jeanneret and his son Mark, our former broadcaster, as Rick battles cancer. #GetWell

Bailey LA Kings (@BaileyLAKings, Kings mascot)

Thoughts and prayers go out Rick Jeanneret and the @BuffaloSabres #youWILLbeatthis #BELIEVE

Make-A-Wish WNY (@makeawishwny)

We extend encouragement and many positive thoughts to @BuffaloSabres legendary voice and long-time supporter of WNY wishes, Rick Jeanneret.

Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer)

Sad to hear of Rick Jeanneret’s cancer diagnosis. A true @BuffaloSabres & @NHL legend. Get well soon, RJ! #PrayersforRJ

Brian Higgins (@RepBrianHiggins)

Our thoughts & prayers are with legendary @BuffaloSabres broadcaster Rick Jeanneret as he fights cancer #PrayersForRJ

For more Twitter reaction, go to the Sabres Edge blog at

Hockey world sends warm wishes to Jeanneret via Twitter

Thu, 3 Jul 2014 00:11:11 -0400
<![CDATA[ LaFontaine, May saddened by news of Jeanneret’s cancer ]]>
Like the rest of the hockey world, the players were shocked and saddened to hear the news Wednesday that Jeanneret is fighting throat cancer. LaFontaine texted an encouraging message to the ailing announcer, who responded with thanks.

“I feel terrible for him,” LaFontaine told The Buffalo News by phone. “He’s such an icon and a tremendous treasure in Buffalo. To see that happen, I just pray that he’s going to be OK. He’s a special man.”

LaFontaine and Jeanneret helped each other become more recognizable. The announcer’s unforgettable “La-La-La-La-La-LaFontaine” calls became highlight-reel staples. They bring LaFontaine back to special days, similar to listening to legendary baseball announcers Ernie Harwell in Detroit and Harry Caray in Chicago.

“You identified that voice and that personality with a feeling and a team,” LaFontaine said. “You immediately hear that voice and there’s a connection: It’s the Buffalo Sabres, it’s Rick Jeanneret and there’s a feeling that you get.

“It’s like one of your favorite songs. You hear it and it brings you back. His voice just automatically is Buffalo, is the Sabres. He’s truly an icon in that organization and the city of Buffalo.

“In your life, if you can make an impact and a mark in what you do or who you touch, I think his personality and the person he is and the gift that he has, he obviously found his calling, no pun intended. He’s the best. He’s simply the best. I know and have heard a lot of great announcers, but there’s nobody more exciting and more electric and more enjoyable to listen to than Rick Jeanneret.”

Jeanneret’s most recognizable call came in 1993. May’s playoff goal eliminated Boston, and the exuberant announcer punctuated overtime by exclaiming, “May Day! May Day! May Day! May Day! May Day!”

“Every player that’s been here has the utmost respect for Rick Jeanneret and owes a lot of their persona to Rick Jeanneret, the way he calls games,” May, a fellow Sabres broadcaster, said by phone. “People recognize and understand the players through the voice of Rick Jeanneret. For myself, that one moment, that epic time, he memorialized that moment for us, our team. It was a lot of fun.

“Anytime we hear of our friends or colleagues getting sick, it’s tragic. But Rick Jeanneret, such an icon in Buffalo, he’s such a bright light for me and Sabres players and fans and just the organization as a whole.”

LaFontaine, who founded the “Companions in Courage” charity that helps kids and families who are dealing with life-threatening illness, knows Buffalo is going through a tough time when it comes to cancer.

“With him and Jim Kelly now, you guys have got some very prominent, important icons that you pray for,” LaFontaine said. “You just hope Jim’s going to be OK. Obviously, you hope and pray that Rick’s going to be OK. They’re so important to Buffalo.”

LaFontaine, of course, left Buffalo earlier this year in a sudden split with the Sabres shortly after being hired as president of hockey operations. He’s in New York and has resumed his job with the league in development and community affairs.

“Things are really good,” LaFontaine said. “I’m in the city, back with the National Hockey League and kind of picking up where I left off. Everything’s good.”

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Thu, 3 Jul 2014 00:08:30 -0400 John Vogl
<![CDATA[ Murray, Sabres sitting tight for now ]]>
He hopes one of these times it’s a fellow GM who’s willing to overpay in a trade. That’s the only way another team is going to get one of his young guys.

Murray’s summer focus, with the free-agent frenzy behind him, is to sign a few minor-league players and help Ted Nolan hire a coaching staff. He doesn’t plan more newsworthy waves, at least not on his own.

“Whatever other surprises come, come,” Murray said Wednesday. “That certainly won’t be me. It’ll be if somebody likes someone on our team.”

The guys people tend to like are defenseman Tyler Myers and forwards Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and Marcus Foligno.

“I expect them all to be on the team,” Murray said in First Niagara Center. “Other teams want them, so they call and ask, and you listen. You listen only because they may do something crazy.

“We don’t make the calls on those guys. We’re not looking to trade those guys. In saying that, when you get a call you listen, as if I would call another team on their good young player, of course they’re going to listen. You’re going to hang up. They’re going to say, ‘He’s crazy,’ or, ‘He’s actually willing to overpay.’ ”

Provided no one overpays, those key players will share a dressing room with Brian Gionta in September. The Sabres’ top acquisition got a look at his new building Wednesday. He shook Murray’s hand and pulled a Sabres sweater over his head.

Buffalo’s new No. 12 then went to the Sabres Store to get gear for his three kids. He knew what they’d like because he was once a young Buffalo fan.

“This was my childhood team growing up, and it’s a dream to play for them and put on the jersey,” Gionta said.

While the former Montreal captain is excited, he felt he should temper some of the enthusiasm that accompanied him, Matt Moulson, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros into Buffalo.

“By no means am I going to come here and work miracles,” Gionta said. “I just try to be a presence and be somebody for the young guys coming along, being around and having some experience in the league that they can be a sounding board.”

The 35-year-old knows how important it is to have a respected veteran available. He was able to spend time with Scott Stevens, Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner during his formative years in New Jersey.

“They were great to me as a young guy, and all that experience carries over when you develop and become an older player in how you treat guys,” Gionta said.

“They showed me how to be a professional, how to conduct yourself on and off the ice. You’re talking a few Hall of Famers on that list.”

Murray, like most of the National Hockey League, was free of transactions Wednesday after a hectic July 1. GMs and agents needed to take a breath and rework their depth charts.

“A guy that thought Buffalo was a great opportunity yesterday to sign a two-way contract may look at what we did, and if he’s a right winger he may say somewhere else is a better opportunity today,” Murray said. “That’s just the way it works.”

One guy expected to look elsewhere is Steve Ott. While there was mutual interest between the Sabres and their former captain, it has waned with Buffalo’s big moves.

“I don’t know if he’s a possibility,” said Murray, who enjoyed his chance to take a breath. “I certainly reflected on what we did and was very happy with what we did.”

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Thu, 3 Jul 2014 00:04:11 -0400 John Vogl
<![CDATA[ Sabres broadcaster Jeanneret diagnosed with cancer ]]>
In a telephone interview Tuesday, the 71-year-old member of multiple Halls of Fame said he had a biopsy three weeks ago in Canada and was told two weeks ago that a golf ball-sized growth in his throat was malignant.

Jeanneret, who has been broadcasting Sabres games either on radio or television for 43 years, expects to have radiation treatment for six or seven weeks and possibly chemotherapy. His doctors in Hamilton, Ont., have told him that it is stage III cancer and that he has an 85 percent chance of recovery. He is meeting with them again Thursday.

“I would like to stress I have every intention of coming back,” said Jeanneret. “I have probably three months ahead of me that aren’t going to be fun. I know they aren’t going to be.”

He said his return to do play-by-play is “open-ended.”

“I consider this to be a bump in the road and am fully intending to come back and fulfill my obligations to the Sabres,” he said. “I know there is going to be a lot of concern. All I can do is ask everybody to please allow me and my family to keep this as private as possible. We will provide updates through the team.”

After Jeanneret recovers, he hopes to give more signature calls on the play-by-play of the 47 games he is scheduled to do under terms of the three-year contract he signed last season that concludes when he works half the team’s games in the 2015-16 season. The Sabres let him choose his games so he could do 47 games this upcoming season if his recovery goes well. Dan Dunleavy was signed last season to work the games that Jeanneret doesn’t call.

“I’m in the middle of a contract that really is unheard of,” said Jeanneret. “They were phasing me out and gave me an opportunity to do fewer games every year, have a lot of time off and less travel. It was great. I was looking forward to it very, very much. And I’m still looking forward to it.”

He is getting strong support from his wife, Sandra, his two sons, his stepdaughter and his 94-year-old mother, Kay, and is relying on it to continue. “I’m going to need more family support for the next little while,” said Jeanneret.

He describes himself as a “private person.”

“That’s paramount,” said Jeanneret.

Jeanneret doesn’t plan to do any more interviews and is having the Sabres deal with the fans who want to express their support through cards, emails and other ways.

“All further updates will come from the Buffalo Sabres,” said Jeanneret.

The Sabres have set up an email address, that starting today will deal with the expected large number of Jeanneret fans who want to wish him well.

Jeanneret knows and admires Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly, understands his situation and supports his public way of dealing with his cancer battle. But he acknowledges that there are different ways of dealing with situations like this.

“I like Jim and I understand what he and his family are doing and admire them for it,” said Jeanneret. “But Kelly is Kelly and Jeanneret is Jeanneret. That’s the way he has chosen to go and this is the way I have chosen to go. I just want to keep it a little more private. JK is JK and RJ is RJ. I don’t know how else I can say it. And neither one of us is necessarily right or wrong.”

Jeanneret, who has missed only a handful of games because of illness in his 43 years with the Sabres, said his symptoms began late in the past NHL season, when he had a nagging sore throat that eventually led him to visit a doctor. An independent contractor with the Sabres, Jeanneret’s health insurance is in Canada and not in the United States. “I thought it would pass,” he said of his sore throat.

When it didn’t, his doctor sent him to an ear, nose and throat specialist and the growth was discovered. He had the biopsy June 11 and cancer was diagnosed June 19. His reaction was understandable. “It was a little bit of trepidation,” said Jeanneret, who stopped smoking more than 20 years ago. “It is the great unknown for me now. I can listen to everything the doctors say and you put yourself in their hands. You guys do your job and I’m sure everything is going to be fine.”

He was told surgery is not currently an option and a course of radiation was planned.

Jeanneret described his spirits “as pretty good at this moment.”

“I have no pain or any issues,” said Jeanneret, whose voice sounded normal during the interview. “I have a little difficulty swallowing once in a while, which isn’t surprising since the growth is the size of a golf ball. If anything, I’m just anxious to get the treatments started and over with.”

Jeanneret is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall and the Sabres Hall of Fame, but has never wanted to be called the Voice of the Sabres out of deference to the late Ted Darling.

The Sabres’ youth movement has made him more excited to come back this upcoming season and perhaps invent some new, exciting calls for top draft choice Samson Reinhart and other young Sabres.

“I would say so,” said Jeanneret. “I have a feeling this team is on the cusp of busting out. It is not going to happen immediately, that’s for sure, but they are going down the right path now and everybody is going to be rewarded as a result of that in the very near future.”

And he wants to be part of the team’s renewal.

“Big time,” said Jeanneret “Do I ever! I’m very much looking forward to it.”

email: ]]>
Wed, 2 Jul 2014 10:03:29 -0400 Alan Pergament
<![CDATA[ Sabres open free-agent frenzy with trade for Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges ]]> By John Vogl and Amy Moritz

The Buffalo Sabres filled a need for veteran leadership on defense, acquiring blue-liner Josh Gorges from Montreal for a second-round pick in the 2016 draft.

The 29-year-old Gorges also fills a major need on the Sabres' payroll chart. He has four years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of $3.9 million per season.

Montreal had been trying to trade Gorges to Toronto, but the Habs-loving defenseman nixed the deal. He originally had 15 teams on his modified trade list, but he reportedly expanded it to include Buffalo.

"It’s tough when you first hear the news because I’ve really loved every moment that I’ve had here in Montreal," Gorges said on Sportsnet. "It’s become my home over the last eight years, and I’ve made a lot of friends in the city and on this team. That’s the hardest part is knowing you have to say bye to all that, but that’s the nature of the beast and part of the business we’re involved. You move on, and I’m excited about the opportunity to go to Buffalo and help that team out.

Gorges knows the main job in Buffalo this season is to develop young talent, but he's not ready to admit he'll play only 82 games this year.

"I still think as much as Buffalo has a lot of good, young players that they’re trying to develop, I think at the end of the day the mind-set still has to be to make the playoffs," Gorges said in the TV interview. "I think anything can happen, and as long as the team and the group of guys are committed and buy into what the coach is preaching and play as a team, it’s not impossible. That shouldn’t be our mind-set, just hoping to have an OK year and have guys get better. The mind-set still has to be, ‘We’ve got to find a way to get into the playoffs.’"

Gorges went to Buffalo partially because he heard his close friend and former Montreal teammate Brian Gionta was close to signing with the Sabres. About an hour later, Gionta signed with Buffalo.

"I think he sees they're going in a different direction and he's heard good things about the place," his agent, Kevin Epp, told The Buffalo News by phone. "He heard his good, close friend Gionta could be signing there. I think he sees a lot of good things in Buffalo."

Gorges is a stay-at-home defenseman who had one goal and 14 points in 66 games this season. He is 6-foot-1, 201 pounds.

Gorges, speaking on Sportsnet, said he vetoed the trade to Toronto because he could not envision himself going to such a rival. He'll continue the rivalry when Maple Leafs fans invade Buffalo two or three times a year.

"It’s hard to realize after being in Montreal for such a long time that you can switch over and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs," Gorges said. "Nothing against that organization or that team, but when you build a rivalry it’s hard mentally, emotionally to think, ‘Wow, I’ve grown to hate this team, to play against them. How could I really go and put my heart and soul into it?’

"So I just wanted to take some time before I made a decision. I’ve been thinking about waiving it to go there over the last few days, and then this came up here today."

Wed, 2 Jul 2014 09:17:03 -0400
<![CDATA[ Sabres load up on veteran talent ]]>
“I think our kids are sitting at home going, ‘Wow,’ ” Murray said Tuesday. “They know these players. They watch the National Hockey League. They know the quality of the player. They know the quality of the person. They know the character.

“As excited as they are to get drafted by Buffalo in the last couple years, they know it’s a team that’s not there. We can say it’s a team on the rise, but people have to see that. I just think there are some kids at home going, ‘This is great.’ ”

It’s easy to assume young players such as Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen are indeed thrilled after the Sabres created headlines on the opening day of free agency. Buffalo more than accomplished its goal of bringing in respected leaders. The Sabres said they were hoping for two, so to acquire five – Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Cody McCormick – was a major accomplishment. “There were more than what we got done,” Murray said in First Niagara Center. “It wasn’t just these guys that want to come here. There were other choices. There still are, but these were the guys we thought we should go forward quickly with for what we wanted to achieve, and it happened in about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

“We’re trying to rebuild an organization into a top organization. Today shows that we finished in 30th place and there are quality players that want to come here.”

The list starts with Gionta. There was mutual interest between the Sabres and the Rochester native heading into the day, and it culminated with the right winger signing a three-year deal worth $4.25 million per season. There’s a no-movement clause during the first two years and a limited no-trade in the final season, but Murray has no plans to send the 35-year-old anywhere other than a locker stall near his youngsters.

“He was the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, a storied franchise, a playoff team,” said the general manager. “That’s real stuff. That’s legendary stuff. He’s now a Buffalo Sabre.”

Gionta, who’s topped the 20-goal mark seven times, is looking forward to the challenges that awaits in Buffalo.

“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup, but it would be nice to work with the young kids and build something there,” he said by phone. “It’s a great hockey market, and they’re very passionate fans. To bring it back to where it should be is the goal.”

Gionta’s eagerness to join the Sabres helped the team with its first acquisition of the day. Gorges, a 29-year-old defenseman, added Buffalo to the teams to which he’d accept a trade after learning Gionta might be coming. The Sabres acquired Gorges from Montreal in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, a selection previously picked up from Minnesota.

Gorges is a heart-and-soul player with a fierce hatred of the Toronto Maple Leafs, so he should be able to teach Ristolainen, Mark Pysyk, Nikita Zadorov and Buffalo’s other young blue-liners how to play with passion. He has four seasons left on a six-year deal that pays $3.9 million annually.

While Gorges will help in the defensive zone, Meszaros will provide offensive assistance to the blue line. The 28-year-old has 56 goals and 224 points in 585 games. He spent three seasons in Ottawa, including one while Murray was the assistant GM.

“I explained to him that I think he should come here and become the player he once was, the player I used to know,” said Murray, who handed out a one-year, $4.125 million deal. “We could decide to move forward with him, or he gets moved to a contender at the deadline, and that’s a positive also.”

Buffalo fans don’t need introductions to Moulson and McCormick. They played for the Sabres last season and were shipped to Minnesota together at the trade deadline. Moulson came back for five years and $25 million, with a reported no-trade clause. McCormick signed a three-year deal worth $1.5 million per season.

Moulson’s desire to return resonated with Gionta. “The fact he came back after being there for a little bit shows his confidence in the organization and the direction they want to go in,” he said.

The Sabres, who also re-signed restricted free agent Marcus Foligno to a two-year, $3.75 million deal, breezed past the salary cap floor by taking on $20.65 million in contracts this season. All told, the six transactions combined for $65.725 million over the life of the deals. “It’s easy to spend money,” said Murray, questioned often about the team’s ability to reach the floor. “You guys just didn’t have faith that Buffalo is a destination, that’s all.”

While Buffalo was a destination Tuesday, the next step is finding out if it can be a winner.

“We have to get a lot better to get away from the bottom,” Murray said. “Does this do it? I don’t know. This changes the mindset is what it changes. I still don’t consider us a contending team by any means. Now the players make think differently, and that’s good. People can get on the bandwagon early or get on late. It really doesn’t matter, but if you want to be more right than you are wrong, I would just say … get on a little earlier than you might have thought because this is serious stuff.”

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Wed, 2 Jul 2014 07:41:47 -0400 John Vogl
<![CDATA[ Gorges deal done in a heartbeat ]]>
And that’s really all Tim Murray needed to know.

The veteran NHL defenseman had been stunned a few days ago when he learned the Montreal Canadiens wanted to trade him. With a modified no-trade clause, Gorges could list the teams he would go to. Buffalo wasn’t one of the teams on his original list.

“I got a call saying ‘are you interested’ and I said ‘yes,’ but what’s the point of being interested, he’s got a no-trade,” Murray said. “They said that he had added us to the list of teams he would go to. It happened very quickly after I found that out. To me that speaks volumes.

“You can talk and talk and talk all you want. Actions speak louder than words and for him to do that … I didn’t call and ask him any questions about coming here. He put us on his list of teams that he’d go to and that told me everything.”

With that, Murray pulled the first move for the Sabres on free agency day, trading a second round 2016 draft pick (one acquired from Minnesota along with Torrey Mitchell in March) to Montreal for Gorges.

“I knew my time in Montreal was over, and looking ahead I wanted to evaluate the teams on the list,” Gorges said. “Looking at Buffalo, I always had a lot of respect for Ted Nolan as a head coach, the new ownership, what they’re doing with that team and the direction they’re heading. I felt it was a good opportunity to go in and help with a good, young team. I figured it’s a good fit for me and for my family, and we’re excited about it.”

Just what excites a nine-year NHL veteran about joining a rebuild in Buffalo?

“From playing against them this year, they’re a tough team,” Gorges said. “Their players work extremely hard, they come at you hard. It’s never easy to play against them, and when you have young guys willing and committed … it’s only going to get brighter.”

Mentoring the Sabres prospects on the blue line is one of the reasons Murray was interested in Gorges. That’s also why the club signed nine-year NHL veteran defenseman Andrej Meszaros to a one-year deal. Gorges and Meszaros were brought in to mentor the likes of Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Chad Ruhwedel and Nikita Zadorov.

“He’s heart and soul,” Murray said about Gorges. “He plays to the most of his ability and to the most of an effort level. He blocks shots. He’s a type of player who can wear a letter. He’s definitely part of the leadership group. He brings a lot of intangibles.”

Murray saw those intangibles first hand during his years as an assistant general manager in Ottawa when the Senators faced the Canadiens in the playoffs.

“You just have to sit through a series and watch it,” Murray said. “His care level is way up here, and I like that.”

His care level is one of the reasons why leaving Montreal has been difficult. Seven of his nine NHL seasons have been with the Canadiens.

“It’s definitely an emotional time,” Gorges said. “It’s never easy to say goodbye, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been here a number of years and made a lot of good relationships with a lot of good people. This had been my home for a number of years. It is tough when told you’re no longer a part of the team moving forward … but one thing that makes it easier is knowing where your future is going to be. And in Buffalo we have an opportunity.”

The “we” could refer to his family or to teammate Brian Gionta, the free-agent forward who was signed later in the day by the Sabres.

Gorges said he already added Buffalo to the list of teams he would accept a trade to before he knew Gionta, a Rochester native, was joining the Sabres.

“It makes things easier moving forward knowing how good of a friend and mentor he has been to me,” Gorges said. “The fact that he’s from around the area is a comforting feeling for me and my wife to go there with people we know, get situated and make the transition a lot easier.”

“Obviously I’m great friends with him, and we’ve been very close for our five years in Montreal,” Gionta said of Gorges. “I think he’s going to be a perfect fit. He’s a huge piece to that locker room.”

He already will be a perfect fit for Buffalo fans. Gorges nixed a trade that would have sent him to Toronto, saying he had developed a hate for the Maple Leafs while playing for the rival Canadiens. The Sabres, of course, have their own heated rivalry with the Leafs.

“It won’t take me long to get into that rivalry with Toronto,” Gorges said. “I’ve been living it a number of years already.”

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Tue, 1 Jul 2014 23:23:22 -0400 Amy Moritz
<![CDATA[ Murray lands marquee mentor ]]>
1. Leadership. Gionta wasn’t the best player on the roster when he was in Montreal but was named captain. History shows it’s an honor bestowed upon Canadians, often someone from Quebec and specifically from Montreal. Saku Koivu of Finland was the first foreign captain. Gionta was the first American to wear the “C,” which showed how much the Habs respected his professionalism and ability to communicate.

2. Intelligence. The right winger is known for his speed and heavy shot, but his high hockey IQ may have played a larger role in him playing 12 seasons and counting in the NHL. At 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, his lack of size forced him to think through the NHL game. He learned the importance of playing defense in New Jersey, experience that was invaluable.

3. Ability. The only season in which he played at least 60 games and failed to score at least 20 goals was last season in Montreal. He still had 18 and played a key role in the Canadiens’ success. He may have lost a step, but he’s still capable of scoring 20 goals and 50 points with a playmaking center, specifically No. 2 pick overall Samson Reinhart, anchoring his line.

In other words, GM Tim Murray was able to check all the boxes with Gionta when he began scouring free agent lists for players who can help turn around this mess. Gionta is a veteran leader with talent who wouldn’t demand ridiculous money and was down on the lists of serious Stanley Cup contenders.

Was he the best player available Tuesday? Not even close. But he was the right player for the Sabres, who needed a few selfless veterans who would be willing to help them teach prospects how to carry themselves like professionals and accelerate the maturation process of a young team.

Western New York is familiar with Gionta, of course. He grew up in Rochester, played youth hockey in all the local rinks, ended up with the Niagara Scenics and turned into a star at Boston College. For the past dozen years, Buffalo fans watched him from afar without realizing just how much he could help the Sabres.

Sure, his connection to the region made for an easier sales pitch. He lives down the street during the offseason. He understands the city’s passion for hockey and knows Buffalo isn’t NHL prison, as some believe. But he’s not here because the Sabres felt like giving him some warm and fuzzy homecoming.

They need him.

GMs weren’t lining up for Gionta. Any team in contention has enough leadership and doesn’t need undersized 35-year-olds. They’re shopping for top-end forwards or big-time defensemen or elite goaltenders. They want players who can make a difference on the ice. Lesser teams are looking for younger guys with more upside.

Murray wasn’t targeting marquee players. He wanted marquee mentors, and he isn’t going to find many that would be A) better than Gionta and B) willing to play in Buffalo. Gionta gives them what they need and adds another $12.75 million to his 401k. It was a good fit for all involved.

Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick will be around to help him look after the kiddie corps. They returned for numerous reasons, none greater than their deep respect for Ted Nolan. Murray made a trade for Josh Gorges, an honest defenseman who should thrive under Nolan. He signed Andrej Meszaros to a one-year deal with minimal risk.

Murray was busy adding players on the first day of free agency rather than explaining why they left, which made for a refreshing change at the foot of Jim Kelley Way. He even found time to lock up Marcus Foligno, scratching another item from his to-do list. I’m guessing the Sabres aren’t finished, either.

What does it all mean?

Sabres fans must have been excited Tuesday, but they would be wise to temper their optimism about the short term. The organization is marginally better. They still look like a last-place team, but perhaps they narrowed the gap between them and second-last. The Islanders’ inactivity, or inability, helps their cause.

For all the players who climbed aboard, none is more important to the Sabres’ long-term success than Gionta. It doesn’t matter if he scores 20 goals next season or two. The impact he could have on Reinhart & Co., will be immeasurable if they saddle up next to him and take notes.

Gionta played in only one Stanley Cup, winning with the Devils back in 2003, but he played on terrific teams with great players throughout his career. He learned early in his career from consummate professionals like Scott Stevens, Joe Nieuwendyk, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Danyko and Martin Brodeur.

He kept his mouth shut and his eyes open. He evolved into a tireless worker with an even temper, someone who understood the team concept in New Jersey. He never took a day for granted in the NHL and was unaffected by money. And he learned early in his career what it took to win. You see teams such as Edmonton that have an abundance of high draft picks year after year because the Oilers failed to get players who could teach young guys how to win. The Blackhawks surrounded young Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews with experience and taught them to win. Now, they’re teaching guys after them.

That’s how it can work.

Reinhart, assuming he’s ready now, will realize someday that he had the right player holding his hand. He’ll grow up faster and understand the game better. His chances for success are exponentially higher with Gionta than they would have been with Paul Gaustad or Derek Roy, for example, poisoning the dressing room.

Now, the Sabres have enough players who can help develop NHL infants into established stars. They can look after them and protect them and lean on them when necessary. Young guys usually have plenty of ability, but it’s useless unless they have a strong work ethic and play with intelligence.

The players who figure it out will eventually become leaders, too. Gionta will make look as easy as 1-2-3.

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Tue, 1 Jul 2014 23:22:53 -0400 Bucky Gleason
<![CDATA[ Sabres sign Brian Gionta on very busy (six moves) first day of free agency ]]> To read the full story, please click here.

Tue, 1 Jul 2014 18:59:12 -0400
<![CDATA[ Ryan Miller becomes a Vancouver Canuck ]]> by Amy Moritz

Ryan Miller keeps going West.

The former Buffalo Sabres goalie signed a reported three-year, $18 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks.

Miller, who was traded with Steve Ott to St. Louis in March, went 19-10-8 with the Blues this year and 2-4 in six playoff games.

The 33-year old won 284 games over 11 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres. 

Tue, 1 Jul 2014 13:58:28 -0400 By Jean Westmoore

News Staff

<![CDATA[ A look back: Recent July moves by Sabres ]]> As Buffalo Sabres fans are well aware, free agency begins today, July 1, which has been a notable day of additions and subtractions over the years. 

As is the case every year, John Vogl will be all over the day's happenings here at the Sabres Edge blog. Here are a few links to previous years' blogs, beginning with stories about the infamous July 1 in 2007:

2007 -- Notable: The departure of Drury and Briere

There was no singular blog that season, but this Sabres Edge archive page provides several posts on how that day went down (most recent at the top).

Stories in the July 1, 2007 Buffalo News: 

Briere, Drury up for grabs by Tim Graham

Bucky Gleason column: Face of franchise could change today

Stories in the July 2, 2007 Buffalo News:

Sabres leaders now part of team's past by John Vogl

Sabres never in running to re-sign co-captains by Tim Graham

Bucky Gleason column: Sabres get lesson in business

Stories in the July 3, 2007 Buffalo News:

Sabres put on a brave face by John Vogl (off news conference)

Players have varied reactions to departures by Tim Graham

Bucky Gleason column: Blame rests solely with team brass

Story in July 5, 2007 Buffalo News:

Why the captain jumped ship: Newly signed Rangers center Chris Drury says he had agreed to Sabres pact in fall

Review live blogs:

2013 -- Notable for Sabres: Not much! (actually July 5)

2012 -- Notable for Sabres: John Scott signed 

2011 -- Notable for Sabres: Ville Leino signed

2010 -- Notable for Sabres: Lost Lydman and Tallinder, signed Leopold

2009 -- Notable for Sabres: Steve Montador signed

2008 -- Notable for Sabres: Signed Patrick Lalime, not Brooks Orpik

Tue, 1 Jul 2014 13:33:08 -0400
<![CDATA[ Sabres in the thick of free-agent frenzy ]]>
The NHL’s free agent frenzy begins at noon, and hundreds of millions of dollars are just waiting to be spent. Buffalo needs to shell out $20 million just to reach the salary cap floor, so the Sabres will be active.

Last-place Buffalo is hardly a destination for anyone chasing Stanley Cup glory, but Murray is surprised how many agents have contacted him during the past week to discuss having their clients sign with the Sabres. Now he learns whether they were just kicking tires, using the Sabres as contract leverage, or legitimately interested in having the players come to town.

“Certain players see opportunity,” Murray said Monday. “They see the rebuild happening, and they see that we’re going to add two or three good young players to our team every year for the next three or four years. I think that’s attractive to certain free agents.

“There’s been a lot of interest. Is it legit interest? I’m not sure. We’ll find out.”

Murray’s main targets are aging, still-productive players who are willing to mentor the Sabres’ stable of prospects.

“I’d like to acquire a couple veteran guys that can play the game but can also show our kids how to be pros, how to play properly, how to look after yourself,” the GM said in First Niagara Center. “On our free agent list there’s quite a few that fit our need for character, for leadership and all that stuff.”

The list includes former Sabres players Steve Ott and Matt Moulson, plus Montreal’s Brian Gionta. More importantly, all three list Buffalo as a possible destination, according to various sources.

Gionta is from Rochester, and the 35-year-old could be persuaded to close his career near home. He is finishing a five-year, $25 million deal. He had 18 goals and 40 points in 81 games this season, and he added six assists and seven points in 17 playoff games.

Gionta’s agent, Steve Bartlett, was scheduled to speak one more time with Montreal on Monday night.

Moulson has had “serious interest” shown from six teams. He was keeping his options open and remained interested in returning.

Other players who fit the leadership role Buffalo is seeking include forwards David Legwand, Brendan Morrow and Milan Michalek, and defensemen Brooks Orpik and Anton Volchenkov. Murray has also said Buffalo will attract fourth-line guys who want to prove they can be scorers, and Brian Boyle falls into that category.

Unless it’s a special circumstance, the players shouldn’t expect more than a one- or two-year contract offer.

“I don’t want to get too tied up in term because I think there are a lot of unknowns going forward here,” Murray said. “When I say unknowns, I mean young kids. Are they ready at 20, 21 or 22? When a kid’s ready, I don’t want him blocked by somebody else.”

Forward Cory Conacher and defenseman Jamie McBain won’t be in position to block anyone. Murray declined to extend qualifying offers to them and goaltender Connor Knapp. The restricted free agent group that was qualified includes Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Chad Ruhwedel, Luke Adam and Matt Hackett.

Conacher’s homecoming was a short one. The Sabres claimed the former Canisius College star off waivers from Ottawa in March. The 24-year-old relished the chance to recapture his game in Buffalo, but he foundered with only three goals and six points in 19 games.

Conacher’s qualifying offer would have cost the Sabres $874,125. He is now an unrestricted free agent. The other members of the Sabres’ UFA class include Christian Ehrhoff, Henrik Tallinder, John Scott, Ville Leino, Zenon Konopka, Matt D’Agostini and Kevin Porter.

Most teams have money to spend because the salary cap has risen from $64.3 million to $69 million. The cap floor will be $51 million, a jump of $7 million.

Despite Buffalo’s lack of big contracts – the Sabres have only $31 million committed to next season – Murray remains steadfast in his belief that getting to the floor will not be a problem.

“There’s the possibility of a couple of pretty good free agents that are going to make pretty good money,” said Murray, who outlined an additional money-spending scenario via trades. “What’s going to happen, I believe, is you have teams that are near the top of the cap. If a free agent comes knocking on their door and is a very good player, they have a hard time saying no. Their plan will be deal with it after that.

“The contending teams now are going to be contending for the top free agents. Somebody’s going to get them, and they’re going to have to move lesser players. That’s one way to do it.”

The contract frenzy will give fans in the United States their first look at the NHL’s big free agent signing. The league’s 12-year, $5 billion deal with Rogers Communications kicks in today. NHL Network will simulcast Sportsnet’s live coverage beginning at 11 a.m., which kicks erstwhile mainstay TSN off the American airwaves.

Viewers are all but certain to see and hear from the Sabres.

“I think that we’re on the right track,” Murray said. “There will be bumps in the road, but there’s a right way and a wrong way, and I think we’re doing it mostly right.”

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Tue, 1 Jul 2014 12:42:49 -0400 John Vogl