Jason Zucker has played 697 NHL games. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Signings, trade help revamp Sabres’ roster: ‘I like the look of our team’

BUFFALO – In signing Jason Zucker to a one-year, $5 million contract, the Sabres believe they added a versatile veteran winger they can utilize up and down the lineup.

“His ability to play anywhere in our lineup, I think, is critical in style,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said Monday in KeyBank Center. “He’s played plenty with top skill guys or he could play more of that hard-checking role.”

Meanwhile, center Sam Lafferty, the Sabres’ other notable free agent signing Monday, adds grit and skill to a revamped group of bottom-six forwards.

Since Saturday, Adams has traded for Beck Malenstyn, signed Lafferty to a two-year, $4 million contract and inked Nicolas Aube-Kubel to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

Adams believes Malenstyn, Lafferty and Aube-Kubel, who won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2022, bring physicality and an identity to the third or fourth lines.

“When you look at the offseason, kind of what we were looking to accomplish, we wanted to be harder to play against,” Adams said. “… We wanted to be a team that wears teams out, that can be relentless on the forecheck and hard, and we want to be a team that’s more responsible defensively.”

The recent moves – the Sabres on Monday signed 10 players, some of whom are ticketed for the Rochester Americans – have essentially filled every spot. So the roster they boast today might mirror the one they have opening night.

Adams will keep pursuing deals to improve the Sabres, a team that has missed the playoffs an NHL-record 13 consecutive seasons. But Monday’s moves could be their last significant ones this summer.

That highly anticipated trade for a top-six forward might never materialize.

“It’s not like the offseason stops,” Adams said. “There’s ongoing conversations, plus I think the dust settles a little bit and you see where different teams are, but I really like where our group’s at right now. I like it a lot. I like the look of our team. We had goals coming into this offseason what we’re trying to achieve and I think we’re a much better team today than we were a couple days ago.”

Adams, of course, is betting the Sabres’ talented young players will bounce back with a vengeance during the upcoming season and others will keep developing. Following career years in 2022-23, nearly every player struggled or underwhelmed last season.

“You don’t just hope,” Adams said. “You have to have some thought and substance to what you’re trying to do. And after a lot of conversations with the players, with different coaches and certainly as we got Lindy (Ruff) on board (as coach), there’s a belief, I would say is a better word, that the Tage Thompson’s of the world, and Alex Tuch, and Dylan Cozens, and Jack Quinn, these players are going to take steps to improve their own individual game.

“Some of them just because of their own game, and some of them maybe the way we are going to play and the predictability, playing a faster, more direct game. … I think our players will benefit from.”

If they don’t benefit, the Sabres could be in trouble. They ranked 23rd in goal scoring last season after finishing third in 2022-23.

That was before they bought out winger Jeff Skinner, who scored 24 times last season and averaged 31 over the past three years. Zucker, who scored a career-high 33 goals for the Minnesota Wild in 2017-18, registered 14 last season.

“We have talent on that roster,” he said. “We need to play sharper. We need to play more consistent. We need to play more competitive, and I’m not concerned on the offensive part.”

Still, in Skinner, who on Monday signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Edmonton Oilers, the Sabres subtracted a player who spent most of the last three seasons on their top line. Why?

“When he kind of got in a spot where he was not going to be on your top line and playing top power-play minutes or minutes in general, you have to make hard decisions,” Adams said. “That’s the kind of internal debate we had, and when you’re looking at the cap and all the different thing we’re juggling, that’s why we ended up making the decision.”

The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Zucker, 32, could absorb at least some of Skinner’s offensive production. The newcomer compiled 42 points, 81 penalty minutes and a minus-9 rating in 69 games with the Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators last season.

The 13-year veteran scored 27 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2022-23.

“I just like his package and I like his competitiveness, and I like his age where some experience can help our group,” Adams said.

Lafferty, 29, just enjoyed a career season, compiling 13 goals, 24 points, 32 penalty minutes and a plus-4 rating in 79 games with the Vancouver Canucks.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Lafferty has scored 36 goals and 83 points in career NHL games. Lafferty, who can skate at center and wing, has also played for the Penguins, Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The other signings the Sabres made Monday are below. They lost winger Zemgus Girgensons, their longest-tenured player, to a three-year deal from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Adams the Latvian turned down a contract the Sabres offered him.

– Defenseman Jacob Bryson, who wasn’t extended a $1.9 million qualifying offer as a restricted free agent, signed a one-year, $900,000 contract. He has spent the past four years with the Sabres.

Bryson, 26, just finished a two-year, $3.7 million contract.

– Defenseman Dennis Gilbert, a Buffalo native, signed a one-year, $825,000 contract.

Gilbert, 27, registered one goal, seven points, 16 penalty minutes and a minus-7 rating in 34 games for the Calgary Flames last season.

The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Gilbert has recorded three goals and 14 points in 82 career NHL games. He has also played for the Blackhawks and Avalanche.

– Aube-Kubel, 28, registered six goals, 16 points, 23 penalty minutes and a plus-4 rating in 60 games with the Washington Capitals last season. He also played 11 games for the Hershey Bears.

The 6-foot, 207-pound Aube-Kubel has compiled 31 goals and 78 points in 282 career NHL games. He has also played for the Philadelphia Flyers and Maple Leafs.

The Sabres also re-signed winger Brett Murray to a one-year contract and awarded center Mason Jobst, who tied for Rochester’s lead in scoring, a one-year NHL contract.

They also signed forward Josh Dunne to a two-year deal and goalie Felix Sandstrom and defenseman Jack Rathbone to one-year contracts.

8 thoughts on “Signings, trade help revamp Sabres’ roster: ‘I like the look of our team’”

  1. Unfortunately, none of the top free agents want to play in Buffalo. The top 4 teams in their division all made significant free agents signings and the Devils did the same. Sabres aren’t in the Hurricanes and Rangers class either. At best, they will be fighting for the 8th playoff spot. Don’t see them making the playoffs, unless their top players make a significant jump.

    1. I agree. You’ve done the same thing in Buffalo, that the Isles do- sign retreads from the bottom of the free agent pool.

  2. This dumpster fire of a roster isn’t fighting for anything but last place in the division! Every team got better but 1.

  3. I disagree. I love these signings. These guys are all gritty, hard-nosed, competitive veterans ….. which was a major void in last year’s team. Last year’s team was weak on the forecheck, winning puck battles, and getting in front of the net. Last year’s team was just too damn soft.

  4. Sabres are young and one of best up coming talents. Tage, Tuch, Peterka, Cozens, Quinn are all potential 30 goal scorers or more. The addition of free agents addresses biggest hole in roster and difference in close tough games, grit. Hits and grit is outstanding need, plus dependable goaltending. If they get that, they can beat any team in NHL. We all saw that in moments last year.

  5. Good evening
    Time to replace the gm who wants to build a competitive team bring Holland in to really rattle the cage in Buffalo look what he’s done in Detroit and Edmonton. We have missed the playoffs and want to taste it as fan and I bet the players do to…my thought

  6. How much of the freed up cap money from skinner did we use to get these guys? Looks like several one an3 year deals for more mediocrity.

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