Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2022 summer series, exploring the best and worst free agent signings for each NHL team of the post-lockout, salary cap era. With this past offseason seeing some big splashes (and potential gambles) like Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, John Klingberg, and others, it’s time to take a look at how teams have boosted and stunted their progress in recent history. Today, we take a look at the Buffalo Sabres free agents history.
Buffalo Sabres Free Agent Hits and Misses
Best signing: Teppo Numminen
The Buffalo Sabres free agent signings haven’t had many hits since the salary cap era started in 2005. There were some early success, but the team owning the longest playoff drought in the NHL has missed plenty of times since 2012.
— Mike Commito (@mikecommito) August 4, 2022
The Sabres did make some shrewd signings before the well ran dry and the Finnish defender was one of them. Numminen came over from the Dallas Stars and proved to be a key part of the 2006-07 President’s Trophy winners. His two-year deal was a smart investment and he ate up minutes for the Sabres.
Numminen also recovered from open-heart surgery to play two more seasons in Sept. 2007. He didn’t get the Stanley Cup he wanted, but was a key piece in the Sabres early 2000s glory days.
Honourable mention: Brian Gionta
Another bright spots during the drought has been the signing of Rochester, NY native Brian Gionta. He became team captain in Oct. 2014, which was a mere three months after signing with his hometown team. The former Rochester Aquinas standout recorded 40 goals and 103 points in three season.
He was the first New Yorker to be named team captain and provided leadership to the group. He played one last season with the Boston Bruins before retiring. His deal was for three years and $12.75 million. Gionta gave the team leadership and played hard in some lean years.
Other honourable mentions include Jaroslav Spacek and Jordan Leopold. The pair would sign three-year deals in 2006 and 2010, respectively. Spacek was part of the Sabres’ President’s Trophy winning squad. Spacek didn’t get a lot of ice time compared to other blueliners. However, he was a very solid third-pair defender on those teams. Spacek would move onto the Montreal Canadiens after his stint with the Sabres.
Leopold was also a solid defenceman in his three seasons before being dealt to the St. Louis Blues. He ate up ice time and showed he was reliable during his time in the Queen City. Unfortunately, the picks the team got for Leopold didn’t pan out.
Worst signing: Ville Leino
This is the part that Sabres fans have come to expect since Terry Pegula took over the team last decade. Ownership has been willing to pony up the big bucks, but there have been a lot of misses in the Pegula Era.
No miss signifies the current state of the franchise than Ville Leino. The Finn came over from the Philadelphia Flyers and signed a monster six-year deal in 2011. Leino was coming his best season of 19 goals in 2010-11 and many thought the Sabres were getting a getting a quality young player. However, Leino’s goal-scoring prowess didn’t come over from the Flyers.
He managed only 10 goals in 137 games with the club. The Sabres had seen enough and bought out Leino’s contract less than three years into the deal. He also didn’t endear himself to the fan base by equating playing in Buffalo to being in jail.
Dishonourable mention: Christian Ehrhoff
You’d think one disastrous signing on a particular date would be bad. However, the Sabres made two disastrous signings on July 1, 2011. Not only did the Sabres sign Leino on that fateful day, but compounded that with Christian Ehroff’s deal.
The German inked a 10-year deal worth $40 million for the duration. However, Ehrhoff did start the first two seasons of his deal with some solid numbers. His advanced possession numbers were solid those first two years. However, the third season showed some red flags in his game and he was on the ice for an alarming amount of goals.
The Sabres bought out the German almost three years to the date from signing that mammoth contract. Ehrhoff would play three more seasons before calling it an NHL career.
Matt Moulson would get a mention after getting a big-time contract despite a small sample size. Then-general manager Tim Murray broke the bank for Moulson, but he never replicated the numbers from his initial half-season. Deals for Cody Hodgson and Carter Hutton also make the list of the worst Buffalo Sabres free agent signings for the wrong reasons.