Erik Johnson (6) battles Carolina’s Jack Drury on Sunday. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres veteran Erik Johnson anxious as trade deadline approaches

BUFFALO – Having never experienced this in his 17-year NHL career, Sabres defenseman Erik Johnson acknowledged that, yes, these days he feels a little anxious.

In signing Johnson, 35, to a one-year, $3.25 million contract, the Sabres added a much-needed veteran presence to a blue line filled with 20-somethings. But they’ve stumbled this season, and instead of maturing into a playoff team, they’ve fallen out of the race.

So the graying Johnson could be moved before the March 8 trade deadline.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty and doubt,” he said following Monday’s practice of his future.

Contenders, of course, will likely be interested in acquiring Johnson, a highly respected veteran who won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2022.

While he has lost a step, he can still contribute, especially as a penalty killer. Off the ice, the Sabres immediately felt the newcomer’s influence. On the first day of training camp, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, 23, explained how he convinced him to purchase a sauna – “Whatever he says,” he said Sept. 22 – to help him recover.

But after falling one win short of ending their 12-year playoff drought last season, Johnson’s presence hasn’t resulted in more success. He likely never envisioned being in 13th place in the Eastern Conference when he chose Buffalo in free agency.

The Sabres enter tonight’s contest against the Florida Panthers, the start of a two-game road trip, 11 points out of the conference’s second wild card spot.

During their first three-game winning streak this season, they’ve made up one point.

“I’m disappointed that we are where we are and I take some responsibility for that,” Johnson said. “I don’t think I’ve really helped these guys enough as I should’ve, so I blame myself first and foremost.”

Naturally, Johnson said the Sabres can’t count themselves out and they’ll “go down fighting.”

“We still have a chance,” he said.

Still, that chance, according to, is just 1.6 percent, a 0.2 increase following Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams will almost certainly try to grant the wishes of his veterans on expiring contracts prior to the trade deadline. So if Johnson wants to leave, Adams will likely pursue a deal.

“If Kevyn comes to me and that’s what he wants to do and it’s for the best of the team, then I’ll go for it and get moved,” Johnson said. “But right now, I’m just taking it day by day, focusing on the team and the guys and just coming in and working hard and helping them any way I can. When that time comes, we’ll talk about it.”

If a trade materializes, Johnson, the first overall pick in 2006, will become the latest high-profile veteran to leave Buffalo after less than a season. In 2020-21, the Sabres dished forwards Taylor Hall and Eric Staal to playoff teams as they sat dead last in the NHL.

Johnson, who was traded once, in 2011, from the St. Louis Blues to Colorado, has tried to block out any external noise. He said he doesn’t read anything or watch television.

“I’m oblivious to all what goes on the outside, and I think it’s better that way,” he said. “You just focus on yourself and the team. And I think that would kind of build some anxiety if you just saw your names and rumors, right? …

“It’ll be harder and harder as we get closer and closer because deadline’s for action, right?”

After skating a career-high 31 minutes, 43 seconds in Sunday’s win at KeyBank Center, Dahlin received a well-deserved day off from Monday’s practice in LECOM Harborcenter.

It marked the sixth straight game the Swede has skated more than 29 minutes, the longest stretch since Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson did it in seven consecutive games from Feb. 25 to March 8, 2016.

Sabres coach Don Granato said without injured defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, “the urgency of the situation demands” Dahlin play mega minutes. Defenseman Owen Power returned Sunday following a six-game absence.

“When you’re missing Owen and Samuelsson, that’s over 50 minutes of prime, high-end defenders and skill on the defensive end,” Granato said. “And we’ve asked Rasmus to play more minutes and more situations, and he’s done an amazing job at it.”

Following two penalties on Dahlin in Sunday’s third period – Carolina went ahead with him off for a questionable goalie interference call – he returned to the ice hellbent on making a difference.

“He was kind of playing like a man possessed,” Johnson said. “That’s something I’ve kind of tried to work on him with this year, just stay levelheaded, I mean, you show you’re (ticked) off and frustrated, that’s an edge to the other team.”

Granato said the Sabres have talked about “using that frustration as fuel and drive.”

“That’s exactly what he did,” he said. “He was frustrated. He was (ticked) off. And he used it to take an extra gear and battle even harder.”

One thought on “Sabres veteran Erik Johnson anxious as trade deadline approaches”

  1. This season is OVER.
    Trade him, Okposo, and Zemgus.
    Then, trade Power and get rid of his ridiculous contract.

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