During his end-of-season media availability last month, Buffalo Sabres captain Kyle Okposo raised some eyebrows by saying little about his future.
With his contract set to expire following what he called an “emotional” season, Okposo, 35, said he wanted to talk to his family before he made a decision. He noted, however, that if he played a 17th NHL season, it would only be in Buffalo.
On Wednesday, Okposo signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Sabres, ending any speculation he might retire. The deal includes a $500,000 bonus if they win the Stanley Cup, according to capfriendly.com.
Okposo, who just finished a seven-year, $42 million deal, has emerged as the Sabres’ undisputed leader. The veteran winger was named the team’s 20th full-time captain Oct. 8. But long before that he began shepherding his younger teammates through some uncertain times.
The Sabres, who finished dead last in 2020-21, have showcased massive growth over the past two years, and this season they fell one win short of their first playoff berth in 12 years.
They appear poised to take more significant steps next year. They just recorded their highest win (41) and point (91) totals since 2010-11. They finished the campaign on a 9-2-1 run, staying in the playoff chase until the 80th game.
Okposo, who makes his year-round home in Buffalo, is a beloved teammate and has helped the Sabres become a tight-knit group. Players often rave about the culture he has fostered and how everyone can be themselves.
On the ice, he has remained productive, establishing himself as one of the Sabres’ most consistent checking presences. He scored 11 goals and 28 points in 75 games in 2022-23, a year after scoring 21 times, his first 20-goal season in Buffalo.
Overall, the American has compiled 230 goals and 592 points in 984 career NHL games. If he remains healthy at the start of next season, he should reach the 1,000-game milestone in November.
The New York Islanders drafted him seventh overall in 2006, and he made his NHL debut in 2007-08. He joined the Sabres as a free agent in 2016, believing they were closer to the Stanley Cup than the Islanders.
But the 6-foot, 218-pound Okposo endured years of personal and team struggles.
Early in his tenure, it seemed unlikely he would remain healthy enough to finish his contract. Late in his first season, shortly after earning a spot in the NHL All-Star Game, he suffered a frightening concussion that left him hospitalized in intensive care.
After he recovered, he suffered more concussions and struggled to regain his old form. Over the last four seasons, however, he has enjoyed a late-career comeback.