BUFFALO – What will happen now? The Sabres were the NHL’s worst team before they traded Tyler Myers, Jhonas Enroth and Drew Stafford. The final 27 games could be brutal without their best defenseman, starting goalie and No. 3 scorer.
Myers skated a team-high 25 minutes a game, zooming all over the ice. Despite the Sabres’ porous defense, Enroth tended some strong goal all season. Stafford had nine of the club’s 97 goals and 24 points.
Wednesday’s trades decimated the league’s weakest roster.
Do the rebuilding Sabres have any chance to win? They only earned 16 victories in 55 games with those talented players.
“That’s exactly what we talked to the team about,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said Thursday following practice inside HarborCenter. “We’re not going to be like sacrificial lambs, just go out there and get slaughtered. We have to make sure we play together, we protect one another and we work together – and that’s the one ingredient we have some kind of success.
“I told them, ‘The only difference between winning and losing most often is not quitting.’ We just got to continue to work hard and you never know.”
Nolan said Wednesday “was kind of nerve-wracking.” Thursday was still difficult for the team. Sabres general manager Tim Murray had told Nolan that Myers could be traded. But Nolan didn’t know Myers would be dished to the Winnipeg Jets in a blockbuster deal that morning.
Just days ago, Nolan said Myers was the type of player teams build around.
“My job is to coach,” Nolan said. “Obviously, some of the players you get attached to. I’m just like the players. We’re in this thing on a daily basis. We work together. We practice together. We play together. We spend a lot of time.
“Myers is certainly one of those players that will be beneficial to any player, and I’m quite sure got ourselves back a pretty good player.”
That good player, winger Evander Kane, comes with some baggage. The 23-year-old reportedly didn’t show up for a game Feb. 5 after teammates threw his track suit in the shower. Kane allegedly violated the Jets’ dress code. Kane responded by undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
“When you hear rumors and you hear things, to me, that’s what they are, they’re just rumors,” Nolan said.
Nolan doesn’t know Kane, although he has seen the power forward play.
“Hopefully,” he said, “I’ll get to know him.”
Nolan might never have that opportunity. Murray hardly gave him a ringing endorsement Wednesday, saying he wanted to see more consistency after pausing. Clearly, Nolan’s coaching hasn’t impressed Murray much.
Murray hasn’t offered much feedback, Nolan said.
“I know in this job we’re judged every day, and the only thing I can do is bring what I have to bring every day and I can’t bring anything more,” Nolan said. “I think our coaching staff has been doing that. We work as hard as we can. Do we make the right decisions all the time? I don’t think there’s any staff that does that. The intent is there and the effort’s there and the enthusiasm is there and the passion is there.”
Mike Weber still has plenty of passion. The gritty defenseman, who debuted in 2007-08, has the second-longest tenure on the Sabres behind winger Patrick Kaleta, who played seven games in 2006-07.
But the constant losing and seeing so many friends leave has taken a toll on Weber.
“For a lack of a better expression, this sucks,” he said. “This isn’t fun. Never in my career did I … dream of, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to be on a rebuilding team.’”
Still, Weber said he trusts what the Sabres are doing and he’s “all in.”
“The sun does come out here in Buffalo every once in a while,” he said. “So we need to get it back here as soon as possible.”
The Sabres practiced Thursday with Anders Lindback, the goalie acquired from Dallas in the Enroth deal. Defenseman Zach Bogosian, the other piece from the Jets, was absent but should be on the ice Saturday. Nolan watched Bogosian play in junior and is impressed.
The trades, of course, created some opportunities. Goalie Michal Neuvirth, a free agent following the season, will likely receive most of the starts with Enroth gone.
“Now it’s time for me to show I can do the job,” Neuvirth said.
The 26-year-old Czech knows his career has reached a crossroads. If he plays well, the Sabres might re-sign him or his trade value could increase. His numbers this season – 3-14-1 with a 3.37 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 19 games – are poor. He hasn’t won since Nov. 15.
“The more games I play, the better I play,” he said. “I’m confident I can do the job. It’s time to show everybody I can do that.”
Lindback, meanwhile, is happy to have a fresh start. The 26-year-old Swede posted awful numbers this season in Dallas, losing coach Lindy Ruff’s trust.
“I knew how things were going … so I was mentally prepared something could happen,” he said. “Right now, I’m happy it did. I feel like I’m coming to a great opportunity here to prove myself. I’m happy.”
Notes: With Stafford gone, winger Cody Hodgson, a healthy scratch the last two games, practiced on the third line. … Defenseman Josh Gorges had a maintenance day from practice Thursday, Nolan said. … Bogosian said on the radio he will wear No. 47.