There was a point last season when the Buffalo Sabres were on track for the worst season in NHL history. That record still belongs to the 1974-75 Washington Capitals who finished with just 21 points, but the Sabres’ 51 points by season’s end was the worst in the NHL and 16 points behind the 29th place Florida Panthers.
It was also a season of changes for a team that hired a new head coach in Ted Nolan, a new general manager in Tim Murray and sent star goaltender Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues after 11 seasons.
Added to the changes was Murray’s huge first day of free agency, where the Sabres focused on shoring up veteran leadership to groom their eclectic, young team.
Here’s a look at the moves management made to escape the NHL basement:
Who’s Already Gone:
Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott were sent to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline. The Sabres were hoping to avoid losing the pending free agent Miller for nothing and found a deal with a good return – goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and a conditional draft pick..
The Blues made the deal in the hopes Miller could contribute to a deep playoff run. That didn’t happen and the Blues were ousted in the first round.
The Sabres then shipped out Halak to the Washington Capitals in exchange for goaltender Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla (who was waived by the Sabres and since signed in the Czech Republic).
The Sabres may have a question mark in goal, with three netminders on their roster and none with the pedigree of Miller, but they added some much-needed depth by signing a wealth of veteran talent that can help pull the team together and groom the young talent on both offense and defense.
On July 1st, the Sabres added former Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta who was signed to a three-year, $12.75 million deal; traded for former Canadiens alternate captain Josh Gorges; signed defenseman Andrej Meszaros to a 1 year, $4.125million contract; and brought back centre Cody McCormick , for 3 years at $4.5million, and Matt Moulson who played 44 games with the Sabres in 2013-2014. Moulson was the most expensive signing at 5 years and $25million.
Said Murray of his free agency coup: “It just shows you that there are quality players that want to come here. I’ve thought that all along, but you’re never sure until the clock hits 12. And there were more (interested players) than what we got done.”
What Murray accomplished is impressive. He added coveted free agents to a team most assumed would be avoided, after finishing with a franchise record for losses and an NHL worst 150 goals scored. Gionta may not have as much to give on the ice as he used to but he was a solid captain and was a big part of the Habs’ preparedness going into the playoffs. Josh Gorges at 29 years is now the eldest defenseman on the Sabres roster who throughout his career has poured everything he had onto the ice. The two will surely capture the ears of the Sabres youth. With Ted Nolan at the helm, there’s no saying what the Sabres can accomplish this season. That said, they don’t have a consistent, proven goaltender which can be a death wish for any team, just as the Philadelphia Flyers, no matter their talent, and the Sabres have a lot of it coming up the ranks.
Still, fans have a reason to be excited and fans of the NHL in general will surely be checking the standings to see what they accomplish next season.
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