At least one player became an ex-Buffalo Sabre on Friday but it probably wasn’t one of the names you were guessing.
The team made no big moves prior to the NHL’s Olympic roster freeze, which went into effect Friday at 3 p.m. So pending unrestricted free agents Ryan Miller, Steve Ott, Matt Moulson and Henrik Tallinder will all remain with the Blue and Gold until play concludes in Sochi, Russia.
Earlier in the day, however, the Sabres put winger Linus Omark on waivers and returned forward Phil Varone and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel to Rochester so they could keep playing over the Olympic break.
Varone and Ruhwedel are expected to play for the Amerks tonight at 7 in First Niagara Center, when they host defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids (Radio 550 AM). Omark could be assigned to join them as well if he clears waivers.
The Olympic roster freeze passed quietly around the league, with no big names changing addresses. It went exactly as new Sabres General Manager Tim Murray predicted when he met with a small group of reporters prior to Thursday’s game in Ottawa, and how many other NHL executives also said it would go.
With no games for 2½ weeks after tonight, it made little sense for a team to make a deal for a new player and have to pay him over the break.
Similarly, there would be no reason to trade for a player headed for the Olympics, only to watch him get injured while playing in Sochi.
Thus, the likes of old friend Thomas Vanek remained with the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers retained captain Ryan Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi, and Edmonton winger Sam Gagner – widely rumored to be headed to Los Angeles – stayed with the Oilers.
Omark, acquired from Edmonton in December for a conditional sixth-round pick, had no goals and two assists in 13 games. He was in and out of interim coach Ted Nolan’s doghouse, sitting eight times as a healthy scratch.
Varone has a goal and an assist in nine games over his first stint in the NHL. Ruhwedel was pointless but had a plus-3 rating in seven games.
Rosters are now frozen until 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 23, which is the day the gold medal game will be played in Sochi. Teams cannot return to practice until Feb. 19.
The Sabres play the league’s first game after the break, the Feb. 25 game with Carolina in the FNC that will be the makeup of the Jan. 7 contest postponed by last month’s blizzard.
In fact, the Sabres pick up right where they left off, with more of the brutally compressed scheduled caused by the Olympics. They play three games – all at home – in the first four days after the resumption of play, against Carolina, Boston (Feb. 26) and San Jose (Feb. 28).
That closes out their February schedule and leads to a brutal finish.
Buffalo has 15 of its final 22 games on the road, where it owns a 6-17-3 record and NHL lows in wins and points (15). And the Sabres will be globetrotting in March and April, with stops in places such as Dallas, Tampa Bay, Florida, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Nashville and St. Louis still remaining.
Overall, the Sabres hit the break dead last in the NHL standings with a 15-34-8 record. They have just 38 points and are on pace for 55, which would be their lowest point total for a full season since they earned a franchise record-low 51 in 1971-72. That was their second season in the NHL.
The Sabres entered Friday eight points behind Edmonton in the battle for last overall and the top slot in the NHL draft lottery to earn the No. 1 pick June 27 in Philadelphia. Buffalo hasn’t selected first since taking Pierre Turgeon in 1987.
The NHL’s pre-Olympic schedule concludes today with 10 games. Play in Sochi opens Wednesday at noon Eastern time, with Nolan-coached Latvia against Switzerland and Sweden against the Czech Republic.
The United States opens Thursday at 7:30 a.m. against Slovakia while Canada’s opener is Thursday at noon against Norway.
Miller, Tallinder and fellow Sabres Olympians Jhonas Enroth (Sweden) and Zemgus Girgensons (Latvia) are slated to leave for Sochi today on NHL-arranged charters from Newark, N.J. Nolan is also scheduled to fly with them.