Kyle Okposo has scored 12 goals this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres captain Kyle Okposo quiet on future as trade deadline nears

TORONTO – Sabres captain Kyle Okposo chose his words carefully, only revealing that he has spoken to general manager Kevyn Adams about his future, and they’re on the same page as Friday’s trade deadline approaches.

“We’ll keep the rest of those talks private,” Okposo, 35, said following Tuesday’s practice in LECOM Harborcenter.

In answering other questions, however, Okposo essentially acknowledged the obvious: that after eight years in Buffalo, he seems prepared for a possible trade that would offer him a chance to pursue the Stanley Cup in perhaps his final season.

When Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets ended, he said he took time to soak in his surroundings knowing it could be his last game in KeyBank Center as a member of the Sabres.

“You never know what’s going to happen here, but, yeah, it definitely went through my mind,” said Okposo, whose Sabres play the Maple Leafs tonight at Scotiabank Arena.

When Okposo signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract in May, it felt like he would retire with the Sabres, perhaps after having led them to their first playoff berth in 13 years. After finishing one win shy last season, they looked ready to take the next step.

But the season went sideways in a hurry, and the Sabres began Tuesday’s schedule 10 points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot.

So for the first time in his 17-year career, Okposo, who makes his permanent home with his wife and four children in Clarence, is sweating out the trade deadline.

“I’ve seen a lot of deadlines come and go, and you see guys get moved, you see that it’s part of the business,” said Okposo, who last participated in the playoffs with the New York Islanders in 2016. “I’m going to go about my day and be professional, be who I am. I’m not going to change who I am just because of a situation I’m in. I’m here today and just trying to do the best I can to lead the group.”

Okposo’s leadership has helped transform the Sabres. He wants everyone to be themselves, and they’ve grown into a tight-knit group over the past few years.

These days, in addition to his duties as captain, an honor he earned prior to last season, he’s dealing with the emotions of possibly leaving a group of players he loves.

“When he comes to the rink and puts his skates on, he dials in and has such a great sense of objective of what job needs to get done, what’s being asked of him,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “So I think for him, yeah, probably away from the rink is the big challenge. But he’s been at this and in this business so long and done such a great job, when he walks in this building he can dial in and has a great sense of objective.”

Okposo said he’s “never been one to want anyone to worry about me.”

“I always wanted people in the locker room to feel like I had their best interest at hand and I had their back and you don’t have to worry about anything because I was going to take care of it,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s really ever going to change with who I am as a person. I don’t want anybody to worry about me, I’m fine.”

Okposo said as captain, he has tried “to make sure that everybody felt their best every single day.”

“That’s not something that’s just going to stop because of the situation I’m in,” he said. “So it’s definitely a bit of a balancing act trying to do a lot of different things and wear a lot of different hats, but at the end of the day … I can only be in the moment, and that is to try to do the best I can to lead the group.”

Any teams interested in Okposo’s services would receive a winger who has kept contributing on the ice at an advanced age in which many players are graying or retired.

He has remained a versatile presence, playing up and down the lineup and earning time on power-play and penalty-killing units. He has compiled 12 goals, 22 points and a plus-2 rating while averaging 13 minutes, 33 seconds of ice time over 59 games this season.

Granato recently moved him up to right wing alongside center Casey Mittelstadt and Jeff Skinner.

“Kyle’s been on a very impressive stretch,” Granato said. “I think even the last month has been some of his best hockey, and I’ve been able to use him in different spots, all through the lineup.”

Granato, whose Sabres play a road game Thursday against the Nashville Predators, said he will likely split his goalies in the back-to-back set.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen started Saturday and Sunday and has played nine straight contests. Backup Eric Comrie hasn’t played since Feb. 15.

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