BUFFALO – The Sabres could still add more talent after signing two NHL players and six depth additions early in free agency.
Bringing back 38-year-old captain Brian Gionta is still a possibility, general manager Jason Botterill said Saturday after the market opened. And while Botterill said he feels comfortable with the Sabres’ overall toughness, acquiring more muscle could be a priority.
But after inking goalie Chad Johnson and winger Benoit Pouliot on Saturday, a day after the Sabres obtained defenseman Marco Scandella and winger Jason Pominville from the Minnesota Wild, a clearer picture of the 2017-18 team has emerged.
“It’s a good situation here,” Botterill, who was hired May 11, said Saturday on a conference call. “It’s been a good week for our organization.”
Johnson’s return after a season with the Calgary Flames offers the Sabres a sturdy backup capable of starting. Pouliot gives them a veteran left winger – they needed one after after dealing Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno – with a lot to prove.
Botterill has addressed the blue line with three notable additions in recent weeks, including Scandella, the puck-mover the Sabres sorely needed.
“We are very happy with what we accomplished on the back end,” Botterill said.
Botterill, like most GMs, seems open to a deal that would add scoring or help them get quicker up front. But it’s likely the roster come Oct. 5, opening night, will look quite similar to today’s.
As Botterill hinted Friday, the Sabres stayed away from the “big bang” in free agency. He denied an NHL Network report the Sabres made a seven-year offer to defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who ultimately signed a four-year, $26.2 million deal with the New York Rangers.
“That’s certainly not the case,” he said of the report. “We never put a seven-year contract on the table. We had some good conversations with the Shattenkirk camp. It was a situation where with we got Scandella in a trade we felt we had shored up our defense. That really was not our priority.”
It remains to be seen if Gionta is truly a priority or if Botterill just being respectful to the veteran.
“I have a ton of respect for what Brian can bring to the team and bring to the organization,” he said. “We’ll just continue to have those discussions.”
Botterill said he has discussed the roster’s toughness. Parting with Foligno was difficult because of his grittiness.
“I’m a big believer in trying to have a team toughness mentality out there,” Botterill said. “We have players such as Evander Kane, (Rasmus) Ristolainen, (Zach) Bogosian, (Marco) Scandella who … can certainly finish checks and play a very physical game out there.”
Saturday’s other notable addition, the 6-foot-3, 204-pound Pouliot, was waived by the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday so they could buy out the final two seasons of his five-year, $20 million contract. The 30-year-old signed a one-year, $1.15 million deal with the Sabres.
Pouliot endured a miserable 2016-17 season, mustering only eight goals and 14 points in 67 games, career-low offensive totals for a full season.
“I’m hoping to get a good look in Buffalo and a fresh start,” Pouliot said on a conference call. “I’m going to be 31 years old. I’m not 23, 24 anymore. So I think I’m just looking for the best opportunity for me to extend my career.”
The rest of Saturday’s signings:
– Defenseman Matt Tennyson signed a two-year contract with a two-way deal next season and a one-way deal in 2018-19.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Minneapolis native played a career-high 45 games last season with the Carolina Hurricanes, recording six assists and six penalty minutes. The 27-year-old has three goals and 20 points in his 105-game NHL career.
– Forward Seth Griffith signed a one-year, $650,000 contract.
The 24-year-old played 24 games last season with the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, compiling five assists.
The 5-foot-9, 191-pound Griffith also had 10 goals and 44 points in 38 AHL games. Griffith could be ticketed for the Rochester Americans. He has been one of the AHL’s top scorers in recent seasons, producing 66 goals and 202 points in 203 games.
– Old friend Kevin Porter signed a two-year, two-way contract.
The 31-year-old played 43 games for the Sabres from 2012 to 2014 and also captained Rochester. He spent the last two seasons shuttling between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Wilkes-Barre, their AHL affiliate, a team Botterill ran.
The 5-foot-9, 191-pound former Hobey Baker winner has 29 goals and 58 points in 249 NHL games.
– Forward Kyle Criscuolo also signed a two-year, two-way contract.
The 25-year-old Criscuolo had 17 goals and 41 points in 76 AHL games last season with the Calder-Cup winning Grand Rapids Griffins.
The 5-foot-9, 175 Harvard product has never played in the NHL.
– Goalie Adam Wilcox signed a one-year, two-way contract.
The 24-year-old played with the Syracuse Crunch and Springfield Thunderbirds last season, going 25-13-7 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.
The 6-foot, 189-pound St. Paul native was the Big Ten Player of the Year at the University of Minnesota in 2013-14.
– Late in the day, 6-foot, 190-pound center Jacob Josefson signed a one-year, $700,000 contract.
The 26-year-old Swede spent the last seven years with the New Jersey Devils, compiling 18 goals and 60 points in 276 games.
The Sabres also lost some players:
– Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, a colossal disappointment last season as he battled a lower-back bruise, signed a three-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets worth $12.99 million, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.
– Backup goalie Anders Nilsson signed a two-year with the Vancouver Canucks worth $5 million, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.
– Center Cal O’Reilly signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Minnesota Wild.