BUFFALO – The Sabres’ acquisition of winger Evander Kane and defenseman Zach Bogosian from the Jets in Wednesday’s blockbuster trade that sent defenseman Tyler Myers to Winnipeg makes the rebuilding club closer to contending, general manager Tim Murray said.
“My plan was to do something like this to speed it up,” Murray said inside the First Niagara Center after pulling off the NHL’s biggest deal this season.
The Sabres paid a steep price, however, dealing a stud defenseman, winger Drew Stafford, prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and their latest 2015 first-round pick for the established NHL talent and a goalie prospect.
In the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Kane, the Sabres possess a talented 23-year-old whose character has been questioned over the years, most recently following an incident in which he reportedly didn’t show up for a game after some teammates threw his tracksuit – he apparently violated the Jets’ dress code – in the shower.
Kane responded by undergoing season-ending surgery for a torn labrum. The Sabres expect him to be ready for next season.
Murray knew Kane, the fourth pick in 2009, wanted a change of scenery and a more important role, something he believes the Sabres can give him. Kane scored 30 goals in 2011-12 and has 109 in his 361-game career.
“He can be can be an important guy here,” Murray said. “He’s going to be a big part of any success we have, I believe. You watch him play on the ice, he plays hard. He plays in traffic. He doesn’t play a perimeter game; he plays a heavy game. He scores goals from around the net. He plays the game right. He finishes checks. He’s a good fighter. I don’t know how much I want him fighting. That’s his character on the ice.
“I’ve heard some hearsay and stuff like that and a little bit what happened in Winnipeg. I see a guy who plays like that on the ice I have to assume he’s at least a little like that off the ice. I’m excited to have a player like that.”
Murray spoke to Sabres owner Terry Pegula about the move. He said Pegula asked questions and he “answered as best he could and truthfully.”
“So it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows and Jujus,” he said.
Players, Murray said, have warts.
“I can tell you the best of the very best players have warts,” he said. “But I can’t talk about them. It’s just what it is in the past.”
What do the Sabres have in the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Bogosian, the third pick in 2008?
“He’s a big, strong, athletic kid who works hard, has a ton of character in my estimation, has leadership qualities,” Murray said. “I’ve liked him since probably the first game I saw him as an amateur. …
“The one dimension they both bring is they’re hard to play against. They make us as a team harder to play against.”
Dishing the 6-foot-8 Myers, a franchise-type defenseman and perhaps the Sabres’ best player, was difficult. The 2009-10 Calder Trophy winner had rebounded following some poor seasons, skating big minutes and moving the puck all over the ice.
“Every time you make a trade it’s hard,” Murray said. “Tyler was playing No. 1 minutes here, playing in all situations. But you can’t make a trade like this without giving up something. Either you’re in when they call … or you’re out.”
About 10 teams were interested in Myers, Murray said. He knew the Jets had more to offer.
“That was the only way I would trade Tyler Myers, in a big, big deal,” Murray said. “Why trade him otherwise? There’s no point.”
The 29-year-old Stafford, the longest-tenured Sabre at nine seasons, will be a free agent this summer and was expected to be dealt. Stafford scored a career-high 31 goals in 2010-11 but struggled for parts of the past few seasons.
Armia, a slick winger who spent the past two seasons in Rochester, played his first NHL game earlier this season. The 21-year-old Finn was chosen 16th in 2011. Lemieux, meanwhile, a big winger, has 35 goals with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts. The Sabres selected the 19-year-old 31st in June. The Jets requested Lemieux.
Murray shot down a report out of Canada that said Lemieux wouldn’t sign with the Sabres. The Sabres tried to ink him earlier this season but couldn’t reach an agreement.
The Sabres also acquired goalie prospect Jason Kasdorf, a 2011 sixth-round pick who plays collegiately at R.P.I.
Myers and Stafford were first-round picks, so every player the Sabres traded was chosen within the first 31 picks of the draft.
For Murray, it was worth parting with the talent.
“I believe in these two players,” he said about Kane and Bogosian.
Sabres captain Brian Gionta said Kane has “a clean slate.”
“Nobody knows the situation that’s happened in the past,” he said. “Coming in, he’s going to be accepted and brought into the room. We’re obviously excited, a move that was made for the future. It’s great to have a guy with his skill set. There’s no opinion, preconceived notion coming in. You can’t work based off of rumors.”
Gionta said he plans to reach out to Kane.
The Sabres didn’t practice Wednesday.