Former captain Kyle Okposo warms up Wednesday in Toronto. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres GM Kevyn Adams emotional after trading Kyle Okposo to Panthers: ‘An unbelievable person’

BUFFALO – Kevyn Adams processed the question, cleared his throat and stepped back from the podium for a moment to compose himself. When the Sabres general manager began talking about trading his captain, Kyle Okposo, he fought back tears.

“An unbelievable person,” an emotional Adams said Friday in KeyBank Center after dealing the veteran winger to the Florida Panthers hours before the 3 p.m. trade deadline. “I have a lot of respect for people that are selfless in this game and what he’s given to this organization, his heart and soul.”

Adams grew close to Okposo over the years, and his mind flashed back to the struggles his captain has endured, their experiences together and how carefully Okposo handled everything.

“That’s a unique relationship, so I want to thank him,” Adams said. “Danielle (his wife), his kids, these are amazing people. Maybe I can talk better if I just focus on hockey and not the personal side.”

Adams, of course, hoped he would never have to trade Okposo, a 17-year veteran who could be in his final season. But right now, the Sabres are out of the playoff chase. Out of respect, Adams felt he owed Okposo an honest conversation about his future.

While Adams wouldn’t reveal details, Okposo, who returned this season on a one-year contract, clearly wanted a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Adams did his best to help him. The Panthers, a Cup finalist last season, rank first in the Eastern Conference.

“He made it very clear to me what he was hoping to do and where he was hoping to go at the deadline and fortunately we were able to make it happen,” Adams said. “I wish him the best. I know he’ll be missed, but I think he’s got an amazing opportunity in front of him.

“And I’m disappointed that I’m talking about this right now because this isn’t where any of us wanted to be in terms of the standings at this time of year. Certainly, when he re-signed this summer, not what we were talking about, but that’s where we are and that’s part of how this game goes sometimes.”

Okposo said earlier this week he and Adams were on the same page as the deadline approached. He hasn’t played in the playoffs since 2016, his final season with the New York Islanders.

He fetched a minimal return. The Panthers sent the Sabres defense prospect Calle Sjalin, 24, and a seventh-round pick in 2024.

“Just over the moon to join a team like Florida,” Okposo told ESPN’s “The Point.”

He said the Panthers play “nasty, in your face.”

Okposo joined the Sabres as a free agent in 2016, signing a seven-year, $42 million contract. After earning a spot in the NHL All-Star Game that season, concussions nearly derailed his career.

He suffered a frightening one late in 2016-17 that left him hospitalized in intensive care. Others followed, and he often struggled as the Sabres remained at the bottom of the NHL.

But Okposo recovered and emerged as one of the Sabres’ strongest assets and undisputed leader, helping guide them through a rebuild. He earned the captaincy prior to last season and had very much become the face of the team, offering thoughtful words in good times and bad.

After falling one win shy of the playoffs last season, the Sabres have often struggled this year, compiling a 29-30-5 record entering this afternoon’s home game against superstar Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

“They’re going to have an extremely bright future,” Okposo said of the Sabres.

Adams said he hasn’t spoken to coach Don Granato about filling the vacant captaincy. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, 23, and winger Zemgus Girgensons, 30, are the Sabres’ alternate captains.

In Dahlin, center Dylan Cozens, 23, and others, Adams believes the Sabres have young leaders ready to step up.

“There’s no rush for us,” he said of naming a new captain. “I think we’ll just take a breath here, let it naturally happen.”

What do the Sabres have in Sjalin, who has joined the Rochester Americans?

Sjalin has compiled three points, 14 penalty minutes and a minus-3 rating in 22 games this season for the Charlotte Checkers, Florida’s AHL affiliate.

The New York Rangers drafted the 6-foot-1, 179-pound Swede in the fifth round in 2017, 145th overall. He has compiled five goals, 11 points, 36 penalty minutes and a minus-4 rating in 61 career games in the AHL.

He spent three seasons with Leksands IF in the Swedish Hockey League before coming to North America in 2022.

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