Kyle Okposo is in his eighth season in Buffalo. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

As trade deadline approaches, Sabres captain Kyle Okposo could be dealt

BUFFALO – Can you picture Sabres captain Kyle Okposo wearing a different uniform, say, for example, the Black and Gold of the rival Boston Bruins or the colors of another Stanley Cup contender?

When Okposo, 35, signed a one-year contract to return for his eighth and perhaps final season here, it felt like he would retire with the Sabres. Over the past three years, he has very much been the face of the team, helping transform the culture and guide it through a difficult rebuild.

Having finished one win shy of the playoffs last year, the Sabres seemed poised to end their NHL-record 12-year drought this season. When Okposo inked his $2.5 million deal in May, he talked about embracing the new expectations and how the Sabres were just scratching the surface.

But as Friday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline approaches, they find themselves in a familiar spot, far out of the playoff chase. Even after winning seven of their last 11 games, entering Monday’s schedule, they stood a distant 10 points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot.

While they’ve improved since Jan. 1 – they’re 14-10-0 and have allowed just 55 goals, the league’s third-lowest total during that stretch – this disappointing season will almost certainly end with another playoff DNQ.

So as hard as it might be to imagine, Okposo could be moved. Some playoff-bound teams surely covet the 17-year veteran for the depth he can add up front and the character he possesses.

This spring could be his final crack at the Cup. He hasn’t played in the postseason since 2015-16, his final season with the New York Islanders.

If Okposo, who makes his permanent home in Clarence, wants to go – and that’s big if – general manager Kevyn Adams will likely try to grant his wish. It’s possible he would want to remain close to his family or have a limited number of teams he would consider joining.

Right now, the Sabres have six players set to become unrestricted free agents following season: Okposo, wingers Zemgus Girgensons, Victor Olofsson and Eric Robinson; defenseman Erik Johnson; and goalie Eric Comrie.

Okposo, Girgensons and Johnson, who won the Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2022, might draw the most interest. The Sabres have been scratching Johnson, 35, to protect an asset.

Trading Girgensons, the Sabres’ longest-tenured player, would remove the final link to the tank era. He’s the last player on the roster drafted by former GM Darcy Regier, having been selected 14th overall in 2012.

The Latvian, 30, has experienced a heck of a lot of losing over his 11 years. But he has remained the one constant through a whopping six coaches and four GMs, giving the Sabres a hard-nosed, up-and-down presence for their third or fourth line.

When Okposo and Girgensons both scored in Saturday’s 7-2 thumping of the Vegas Golden Knights, it felt like they could be celebrating their final goals for the Sabres in KeyBank Center.

Okposo downplayed the significance following the game and deflected any talk of getting traded.

Girgensons acknowledged he has spoken to Adams about his future.

“That’s between us,” he said. “I’ve been in this situation plenty of times, so it’s nothing new to me. I don’t really get too stressed out anymore.”

The Sabres had Monday off.

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