If Jason Botterill hadn’t been fired as general manager, then perhaps center Johan Larsson would’ve returned to the Buffalo Sabres.
Larsson, 28, just enjoyed arguably his best NHL season, becoming one of coach Ralph Krueger’s trusted forwards. The checking line the Swede pivoted between Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo quickly solidified itself as the Sabres’ steadiest combination. Krueger kept the trio intact nearly all season.
It appeared Larsson, who signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, might remain in Buffalo. Then Botterill was dismissed June 16.
“Maybe it changed a lot for me, I don’t know,” Larsson of the Sabres firing Botterill and hiring Kevyn Adams as GM. “It’s a different view from a new GM and everything.”
Larsson said he and the Sabres had little dialogue as he entered free agency.
“We talked a little bit, but I think the interest was kind of very low from Buffalo,” he said on a Zoom call Sunday, a day after inking a deal with a $1.4 million average annual value. “So I didn’t really feel the excitement from them.”
So Larsson moved on and tested the market, where he found a few suitors.
Right away, new Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong, who won a Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues last year, connected with Larsson.
“I felt like he had really a lot of passion to him when I was talking to him and the way he wanted to come down there and really wanted to win,” Larsson said. “It was just the passion he had how and how he wanted to build and be a really good team. Where he comes from he knows. So I think he really got me there.”
When Larsson examined the roster, he said he saw “a lot of potential.” The Coyotes won their qualifying round matchup against the Nashville Predators in August before falling to the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs.
“In the end, it was kind of an easy choice with Arizona,” he said.
Larsson never sniffed the postseason in Buffalo, missing it all seven seasons. He often seemed frustrated by the Sabres’ woes during his long tenure. He has played 393 NHL games without appearing in the playoffs.
“That’s why you want to be in the game,” he said of the postseason. “You watch it every year and you’re not in there, you kind of have a sour taste to it. So for sure, it’s tough, and that’s it’s been tough in Buffalo.”
Changing teams, Larsson said, is “definitely going to be a little weird.”
“But at the same time, it’s a new opportunity for me, come somewhere else and maybe have some other eyes on you and see some new environments,” he said. “(I) get that feeling could be good for me.”
The NHL Players’ Association announced the following arbitration dates for three Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday: goalie Linus Ullmark, Oct. 26; winger Sam Reinhart, Oct. 27; winger Victor Olofsson, Nov. 4.