Any doubt about whether the Buffalo Sabres think Cody Hodgson can be their No. 1 center ended Wednesday night when the team announced the restricted free agent has signed a six-year deal.
Hodgson should be on the ice for today’s opening workouts of training camp, ensuring the team will have a full roster.
The team announced the news via a Vine video on its Twitter account with Hodgson inside First Niagara Center saying, “Hey Sabres fans, I’m excited to let you know I’m going to be a Buffalo Sabre for the next six years.”
A Sportsnet.ca report that said Hodgson will earn a total of $25.5 million for an average of $4.25 million per year was not immediately confirmed late Wednesday.
“We are extremely excited to have signed Cody to a long-term deal,” General Manager Darcy Regier said. “We feel he is going to be an important piece of our organization’s success in the future and look forward to watching him develop as a player.”
Hodgson had turned down the Sabres’ one-year qualifying offer of $826,875. Earlier Wednesday, Regier said he had talked with agent Ritch Winter about both long- and short-term extensions for Hodgson, who had 15 goals and 19 assists last season and was the Sabres’ second-leading scorer with 34 points.
Hodgson struggled last season with his backchecking and defensive zone work and will certainly have to improve in that area. Especially since he’s now entrenched as the team’s top center and is its second-highest paid forward behind only Thomas Vanek ($6.4 million).
“We certainly believe that Cody is a player that will continue to get better and improve,” Regier said. “He has fit in very well organizationally. He’s a very mature young man. He’s a very hard-working, committed individual and athlete. That’s someone we’d like to have around for a long time.”
When Ron Rolston takes the ice this morning to direct the first on-ice sessions of camp, it will mark the first time since 1996 that a head coach other than Lindy Ruff has directed the Sabres through their September paces.
Rolston, 46, said the gig is the culmination of a career dream.
“It’s exciting in a sense that it allows you to have some preparation time and do a lot of thinking over the summer in philosophies,” Rolston said. “The philosophy of play will be one where we continue to improve on the things we worked on at the end of last year.”
And Rolston has specific goals in mind.
“We’ve got to get way more difficult to play against,” he said. “From there, our puck possession has got to be a lot better. For the most part last year we were a rush hockey team. Limited power play offense, limited offensive zone play. Those are areas that have to get better for us.”
By virtually any metric, the Sabres were one of the worst puck possession teams in the NHL last season. They were 29th on the power play at just 14.1 percent.
The Sabres hit the ice today for public sessions. There will be practices from 8:45 to 9:45 and 10 to 10:45 a.m., and 12:15 to 1 p.m. One group will scrimmage from 11:15 a.m to noon.
There will be just one practice Friday (7:45-8:45 a.m.) and a scrimmage from 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. before players head to the team’s annual golf tournament at Wanakah Country Club.
The Sabres are one of just seven teams in the league without a captain and Rolston said he will wait through camp before he makes the selection.
“Getting our new staff in here, we’ve got a couple new members that need to really get a good feel for the players too,” Rolston said. “So we’re going to let things play out early in camp and then see how it pans out.”
Rolston said he will rotate captains during the exhibition schedule. He said he would have no problem picking a player with one year left on his contract (like Vanek or Steve Ott).
Said Rolston of the “C”: “Anyone that’s a part of this team will have the possibility of wearing that and leading us this year.”
The Sabres took until Wednesday to confirm the hiring of Buffalo native and former Niagara University assistant Jerry Forton as an aide to Rolston, a move The News reported last month.
“I’ve known Jerry for a long time in the college ranks,” Rolston said. “I started in ’90 and he was similar in terms of the college game. We spent a lot of time on the road together in those circles and I’ve followed his path from team to team. He’s got a lot of character to him, a lot of integrity, tremendous passion for the game, hard work.”
Forton, who spent 13 years at Niagara and the last two at Harvard, is expected to join goaltending coach Jim Corsi in the press box. Rolston said former defenseman Teppo Numminen will move from the press box to the bench to assist the defensemen and the power play. New assistant Joe Sacco, the former Colorado head coach, is also expected to be downstairs.
Rolston said Tyler Ennis, who opened last year as the No. 2 center and finished it at left wing, will open this season on the wing. Zemgus Girgensons will also open at wing. … Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who suffered an upper-body injury during the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, is day to day and should at least do some on-ice skills testing. All other players are healthy and ready to go. … The first exhibition game is Sunday night in Montreal. That’s followed by a game Tuesday in Columbus and then comes the exhibition home opener Sept. 19 against Carolina.