BUFFALO – As a versatile, smooth-skating forward willing to fight any heavyweight, Cody McCormick had plenty of options as free agency opened. Veterans with the 31-year-old’s talents are coveted, especially with the NHL evolving into a four-line league.
But instead of shopping his services, McCormick told Pat Morris, his agent, to contact one team, the Sabres. He wanted to return to Buffalo, his home.
“Come July 1, we wanted to make sure that that was the first phone call,” McCormick told the Times Herald by phone Tuesday.
Shortly after free agency opened last Tuesday, the gritty McCormick signed a three-year, $4.5 million contract with the Sabres, his team from 2009-10 until they traded him to Minnesota in March.
“There was a couple teams, they said they were interested and that,” McCormick said. “But we pretty much said for Buffalo, if we can do this, we won’t talk to another team.”
Why was Buffalo his No. 1 choice?
“It’s home to us,” said McCormick, who has a wife, Alyssa, and two young daughters, Aubrey and Ava. “It’s where we want our girls to grow up. It was perfect.”
To McCormick, who lives here all year, Buffalo’s a special place. He wasn’t ready to leave the friendships within the team and the community. He loves the city’s passion for sports.
“That’s what we love about Buffalo,” he said.
Naturally, leaving the Sabres before the deadline for a 27-game run with the Wild wasn’t easy.
“It was a shock to get traded, obviously,” McCormick said. “Leaving Buffalo at that time, the first thing I started thinking about was my family, my wife and my two girls. You wonder how that’s going to work.
“When we got to Minnesota, it worked out fine. It was great. They took great care of us. (We) had a chance at the playoffs, had a chance to have a run at the Stanley Cup, which is why you play.”
Getting dealt with winger Matt Moulson, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Sabres the same day McCormick re-upped, helped the transition. So did joining a team with former Sabres captain Jason Pominville.
McCormick hadn’t played in the postseason since 2011.
“It was real refreshing to get into the playoffs again,” he said.
Even after the Sabres’ 30th-place finish last season, McCormick believes “the playoffs are something we can go after.”
In addition to McCormick and Moulson, the rebuilding club inked veterans Brian Gionta and Andrej Meszaros and traded for Josh Gorges. The Sabres also possess a stable of top prospects.
“It’s exciting around here,” McCormick said. “There’s some new faces. There’s some young talent. The young that are here, they’re getting better every year, and I know just talking to the guys in the room lately everybody demands a lot out of themselves this year.
“They’re working hard. They know that this is a big season, and it’s a season they want to do better than last year. They don’t want to think about last year anymore being 30th. No one wants to be 30th.”
McCormick said he and his teammates “know we have to do more.”
“That’s what guys are doing,” he said. “You see the work ethic in the weight room right now. Guys are skating right now. They know that we’re playing for jobs, we’re playing for ice time. … It’s a good energy here.”