After three uncertain seasons in New Jersey, defenseman Henrik Tallinder was back in his comfort zone Wednesday. He’s 34 now, a far cry from the 18-year-old the Buffalo Sabres drafted with their No. 2 pick way back in 1997, but this is where his hockey career was made and where he hopes it will be rejuvenated.
“I know all the people around here. It’s an easy transition,” a smiling Tallinder said after reporting to First Niagara Center for his training camp physical. “Love the fans, love the arena. It was a good call.”
The Sabres re-acquired Tallinder in a July 7 deal with the Devils for prospect winger Riley Boychuk. Tallinder’s time there didn’t go nearly as well as he had hoped after he signed a four-year, $13.5 million contract on July 1, 2010.
“We had a couple things that didn’t work out during those three years,” he said. “But it was a good experience. I loved the area. To go and see new things is a good experience, I think. In that way, it was good.”
Tallinder played in just 25 games last season, posting one goal and three assists with an even rating. He was minus-11 during the 2011-12 season and was a healthy scratch through a good chunk of the Devils’ run to the Stanley Cup final.
The last two years, Tallinder has played just 64 games due to injuries and not being able to regularly crack the Devils’ rotation under coach Peter DeBoer.
At Tallinder’s exit meeting with Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, clear messages were delivered: He wanted out and the Devils were looking to get younger. As for DeBoer, Tallinder said cryptically Wednesday, “We didn’t create positive images for each other.”
Tallinder’s first run in Buffalo created many positive images. He spent parts of eight seasons here, playing key roles on the 2006 and 2007 Eastern Conference finalists. In 2010, he was the defense partner for Tyler Myers as Myers earned the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
Most observers felt this trade was a way to reunite Myers, who has struggled much of the last three years, with his favorite former partner. Tallinder even said Wednesday he was looking forward to playing with Myers again.
But Tallinder spoke to the media before Sabres coach Ron Rolston, who tossed water on that theory to reporters by saying his initial plans are to have Tallinder paired with Mark Pysyk and Myers with Christian Ehrhoff.
Still, Rolston said he loved the idea of having Tallinder on the roster.
“Henrik is a player we got for veteran leadership to help both Tyler and our other players,” Rolston said. “You can’t have enough depth on defense.”
Tallinder said he’ll do anything to help the entire Sabres’ defense corps, not just Myers. But he had high praise for his former partner.
“I think Tyler is an exceptional young man and player,” Tallinder said. “When he came in his first year, I’ve never seen a guy that talented and that good at that age. Or very few of them, that I’ve played with at least. I think he’s still young. I think you guys have been pretty hard on him, too.
“He’s going to be an exceptionally good player still. Just give him time. Let him play. He’s tall and I’m tall. Two octopuses back there is pretty good.”
What does Tallinder think has been wrong with Myers?
“Everything plays a factor,” he said. “Pressure, big contract, maybe he starts to think a little bit too much instead of just playing. Once he gets that, he’ll be fine.”
Tallinder said he expects the Sabres to be a playoff team and isn’t necessarily going to be the quiet player he once was on Buffalo clubs that had plenty of leaders. He has to be one now, so he’ll voice whatever it takes in the locker room to help get them there.
“I might not be the most vocal guy but if I have something to say, I’m saying it,” he said. “I’m not afraid any more of saying what I want.”