Josh Gorges added Buffalo to the list of teams he would accept a trade to.
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.”