Sabres Free Agency Pickups


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Sabres' Dennis Gilbert wants to bring 'snarl' and 'anger' to hometown team​

Dennis Gilbert almost became a member of the Buffalo Sabres nine years before it finally came to fruition.

Flames defenseman Dennis Gilbert during a 2023 game at KeyBank Center. The Buffalo native was signed by the Sabres this week. Lance Lysowski

Former Sabres General Manager Tim Murray and his staff were planning to select the Buffalo native and former St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute standout with the 92nd pick of the NHL draft in 2015. Their media relations staff was preparing a Sabres jersey to present to Gilbert on-stage in Sunrise, Florida, when he was selected 91st overall by the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Sabres watched from the draft floor as Gilbert celebrated with his family, including Dennis Sr., formerly St. Joe’s football coach, and walked to the stage to receive a jersey from the Blackhawks. Gilbert went on to play three seasons at Notre Dame – including two trips to the Frozen Four and a national championship game appearance – before he began a professional career that’s included 188 games in the American Hockey League and 82 in the NHL with three different teams.

Gilbert became a regular with the Calgary Flames the past two seasons, and there were times throughout the journey when he wondered if he’d ever join the team that he loved as a kid in Western New York.

The day arrived this week when the 27-year-old signed a one-year contract worth $825,000 to give the Sabres the grit and physicality that Lindy Ruff wants on defense to complement the skill and puck-moving prowess of Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power.

“Obviously super exciting for my family and I,” Gilbert told reporters Wednesday morning. “It’s something in the back of your mind you always kind of hope for at some point in time could happen. I think at this point of my career, it’s a good time for it and hopefully I can come in and help.”

Gilbert is no longer a raw, inexperienced prospect trying to carve out a niche in the NHL. He’s been mostly a full-time player in Calgary since 2022 when he began to earn the respect and admiration of former Flames coach Darryl Sutter, a two-time Stanley Cup champion bench boss who lauded Gilbert’s work ethic and consistency.

The Flames had Gilbert in their lineup for 57 games over the past two seasons, as the former Buffalo Jr. Sabre averaged 12:04 of ice time and irritated opponents with his relentless, physical style of play. Calgary trusted Gilbert enough to play him next to top defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Chris Tanev, and its coach this season, Ryan Huska, used Gilbert with several partners because he’s able to complement a heavier, hard-hitting player like Zadorov and a skilled puck mover such as Rasmus Andersson.

The time in Calgary showed Gilbert that top defensemen on the team are going to get the bulk of ice time, so it’s important to find ways to make an impact that will help him stand out in however many minutes he receives each night.

“Gibby’s a guy that I’ve known over the years, obviously, and just from him being from here and watching him develop, I think he’s turned himself into, last year he really took a big step and turned himself into an NHL defenseman,” said Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams. “He knows what he needs to do to play in this league. He’s a big, strong kid who’s very, very competitive and continues to work on his game to get better. Not afraid to fight, he’s done that a number of times. He competes hard so, again, another guy that you’re bringing in some size, physicality. We don’t have a lot of that on our back end.”

Gilbert understands his role and works tirelessly to try to fill it to help his team win. He kills penalties, blocks shots, fights opponents to stick up for teammates and, generally, does everything he can to try to make the game miserable for whomever he’s matched up against.

Those qualities attracted the Sabres to him during the pre-draft process in 2015 and again this summer as Adams tried to add more physicality to a lineup that finished with seven fewer points last season than it did in 2022-23 when it almost qualified for the playoffs.

“Definitely a defensive-first player,” said Gilbert. “I try to be extremely hard to play against. You can look at that in a multitude of ways. Obviously, I’ve been willing to fight in my career and that’s something that’s not going to change. But also, there’s a different – you can do things that are hard to play against that aren’t just fighting. It’s being super physical. It’s after the whistle. It’s boxing guys out, giving a cross-check.

“If somebody takes a run at somebody on your team and they don’t even connect, but you go over and say something to them or you’re getting in their face. All that stuff is a big part of that. … So, it’s something I definitely want to help bring here.”

It’s an element that’s been missing from the Sabres’ lineup throughout their 13 years out of the playoffs and should give Gilbert an advantage as he competes for a roster spot in training camp.

The surroundings aren’t unfamiliar. He trains each summer at LECOM Harborcenter, where he’s routinely skated with some of his new teammates the past few years. Gilbert arrived at KeyBank Center early Wednesday to work out with winger Alex Tuch and defenseman Jacob Bryson.

Gilbert has known Tuch since they played against each other in minor hockey. Adams, Sabres assistant coach Matt Ellis and director of player development Adam Mair were among those who trained Gilbert with the Academy of Hockey as he was working his way through the Blackhawks’ organization. Gilbert made his NHL debut in 2019, appeared in 21 games with Chicago the following season and spent the Covid-shortened 2020-21 campaign in Colorado.

Gilbert also won a state championship at KeyBank Center with St. Joe’s and scored a goal against the Sabres in Buffalo on Feb. 11, 2023, with a large group of family and close friends in the arena. He grew up rooting for the team and its long time coach, Ruff, who, along with assistant coach Marty Willford, will work to try to help Gilbert reach another level. Gilbert already has a good read on the lineup that he’s joining from his time training in the summers with players like Tuch and Tage Thompson, as well as his competitive matchups against them the past two seasons.

Training camp won’t begin for a few months. The Sabres’ mix on defense may change with Henri Jokiharju still a restricted free agent. But signing Gilbert was one of several moves made by Adams to transform the roster into one that’s “hard to play against.”

“I’ve had a unique look at it just because I’ve been able to skate with them in the summer, just in the past, you know, three, four, five years,” said Gilbert. “Like watching Tage’s progression from playing most of the year in Rochester to really popping a couple years ago, I was skating with him most of that summer so you could see it kind of coming. A lot of the guys are like that and there’s just so much talent and speed and ability kind of throughout the lineup.

“Hopefully with age and maturity and some of the guys that are coming in, including myself, we can try to bring some of that snarl and that anger and kind of make some more pushback and kind of keep it going that way.”

Jason Zucker headlines free-agent haul as Sabres try to become 'harder to play against'​

Unrestricted free agency began only a few hours earlier Monday when the Buffalo Sabres announced a flurry of signings totaling $10.2 million.
Jason Zucker, a six-time 20-goal scorer coming off a disappointing season, inked a one-year, $5 million contract to give the Sabres another capable veteran forward that will skate on their first, second or third line after the club parted ways with Jeff Skinner.

General Manager Kevyn Adams also revamped his bottom six with two forwards, Sam Lafferty and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who, along with recent trade acquisition Beck Malenstyn, should transform the Sabres’ fourth line into a fast, physical group that wears down opponents on the forecheck. Lafferty got a two-year contract worth a total of $4 million, while Aube-Kubel left the Washington Capitals for a one-year, $1.5 million pack from Buffalo.

The Sabres signed former Arizona Coyotes left wing Jason Zucker on Monday to a one-year, $5 million deal. Chris O’Meara, Associated Press

Lastly, the Sabres added Amherst’s Dennis Gilbert, a left-shot defenseman, and re-signed Jacob Bryson to address the need for blue-line depths. Their goaltending in Rochester was also addressed with the addition of Felix Sandstrom.

It’s the money that Buffalo did not spend, however, that raised questions about the strength of the roster as the franchise tries to snap a 13-year playoff drought that’s among the longest in North American professional sports and dates to Lindy Ruff’s first stint as coach.

“I’m open to it,” Adams said in response to whether the Sabres are planning to add another forward who can skate on their first or second line. “It’s not like the offseason stops. There are ongoing conversations, plus the dust settles a little bit and you see where different teams are. But I really like where our group is at right now. I like it a lot. I like the look of our team."

The Sabres still have approximately $21 million to spend next season, according to, and a chunk of that available money will go to new contracts for restricted free agents Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Henri Jokiharju, Peyton Krebs and Malenstyn. However, none of the four will address the need for a goal-scorer to replace Skinner, whose contract was officially bought out Sunday after a disappointing season in which he still had 24 goals. The Sabres also elected to not re-sign Victor Olofsson, a flawed winger that had 28 goals while they finished with 91 points in 2022-23.

Among their signings Monday, only Zucker and Lafferty registered double-digit goals last season with 14 and 13, respectively. Zucker, 32, had 27 goals in 2022-23 while spending most of his 5-on-5 ice time next to Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust in Pittsburgh, but he’s also endured some struggles since leaving the Minnesota Wild in 2020.

Zucker was limited to 17 goals in 79 games between 2020-21 and 2021-22, and he was mostly used in a bottom-six role last season with the Arizona Coyotes, whose coaches implemented a defensive-minded system to account for the lack of skill in their lineup.

Zucker had 25 points in 51 games while averaging 14:02 of ice time with Arizona, then he had six goals with 10 points in 24 games between the regular season and playoffs after a trade to Nashville. His skill set is far different than that of Skinner, and fits with Ruff’s standards for how Buffalo needs to play next season. Zucker has 697 games of NHL experience and takes far fewer risks than Skinner, who, according to Adams, wouldn’t have skated in the top six with Ruff as coach. Zucker should help the Sabres score at even strength and serve as an additional net-front presence for a power play that ranked 29th in the NHL, though Zucker has only seven goals on the man-advantage the past two years. His speed and offensive ability could complement Sabres center Dylan Cozens on the second line.

“Like every team, you want to score more, and I think some of that can be just internally,” Adams explained. “Can guys take a big step and have an ever bigger offensive year? I’m not concerned about our talent or skill level or our ability to score goals. I believe we have that in our room. We needed to be a team that the roster’s rounded out and makes more sense and in matchups and all these things.

"And Jeff, when you make these decisions, 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. That’s the kind of internal debate we had, and when you’re looking at the cap and all the different things we’re juggling, that’s why we ended up making the decision."

The production that Zucker had during his 13th season in the NHL is not worth the contract given by the Sabres, but it’s only slightly above what he was expected to receive and they’re betting that the promising underlying numbers that he posted will translate to more offense if he’s given an opportunity with better players. He gets to the front of the net, a quality that’s been lacking in the organization for years, and he plays a simple, direct game that may be able to help Buffalo mature at 5-on-5.

As Adams stated, a trade is still possible. He remains in talks with teams. Winger Martin Necas, one of the top available options, did not get moved by the Carolina Hurricanes, who lost Jake Guentzel to unrestricted free agency.

An overhaul of the fourth line was needed after a season in which Krebs, Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo were unable to repeat the outstanding results from 2022-23 when they were among the best in the NHL at shutting down opponents at 5-on-5. Girgensons chose to join the Tampa Bay Lightning on a three-year contract over an offer from the Sabres to return for his 11th season in Buffalo.

Adams and Ruff wanted to add speed, physicality and tenacity, which led them to Malenstyn, Lafferty and Aube-Kubel.

Lafferty, 29, has double-digit goals in each of the past two seasons, including a career-high 13 with Vancouver in 2023-24, and he may be able to help the Sabres win more faceoffs after they again ranked last NHL. He won 51.1% of his 356 draws, ranked third on the Canucks with 192 hits and excelled when skating on a line with center Elias Pettersson. The Sabres will use Lafferty as a center, which positions Krebs to move up to a third-line role.

“I think he showed a lot of signs over the last year of starting to understand the defensive side of the game,” Adams said of Krebs, who, at 23 years old, has already appeared in 203 NHL games. “He’s a very, very competitive kid. He’s getting better and better like in different areas.”

Aube-Kubel reunites with his former linemate in Washington, Malenstyn, and gives the Sabres another agitator who has a strong track record of shutting down opponent’s top players while being a menace on the forecheck. He won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2022 before he eventually joined the Capitals. The 28-year-old was among their best at limiting opponents’ scoring chances at 5-on-5 while receiving challenging assignments next to Malenstyn and center Nic Dowd. The Capitals outscored their opponents 26-21 when Aube-Kubel was on the ice.

"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," said Adams. "So when you look at the additions that we've brought in over the last few days now, starting with Malenstyn, guys like Malenstyn and Aube-Kubel, that hit hard, they’re physical.

"... Lafferty is a really, really likable player. I kind of describe him as he's a winning hockey player. Plays center or wing, comfortable either way, good penalty killer, really good speed and size at six-foot, can skate and disruptive player."

Adding both represents a philosophical shift from the Sabres. They almost made the playoffs in 2022-23 with a fast-paced style of play that helped them rank among the highest-scoring teams in the NHL, but they gave up too many goals and got pushed around too often.

Adams began to address the latter problem at the trade deadline that season when he added Jordan Greenway. The Sabres then signed defensemen Connor Clifton and Erik Johnson last summer to bring playoff experience and improve their struggling penalty kill.

The team improved in the latter and showed progress in their 5-on-5 on defense. however, the Sabres fell behind too often in games and their power play hurt their momentum more often than it produced goals. Top players didn't produce as expected. They finished with 83 points, fired Granato and hired Ruff in an effort to bring accountability and experience behind the bench.

"We had goals coming into this offseason of what we were trying to achieve, and I think we’re a much better team than we were a couple days ago," Adams added.

The Sabres brought back Bryson on a one-year, $900,000 contract after they elected to not commit to a qualifying offer that cost twice that amount. He’s another left-handed shot on a depth chart filled with options on that side, though he’s coming off a bounce-back season in which he was excellent on the breakout and gives Ruff another defenseman who can help Buffalo play at a fast pace.

Bryson currently slots in as the Sabres’ seventh defenseman behind Jokiharju, Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power, Bowen Byram, Mattias Samuelsson and Connor Clifton. It’s unclear, though, what’s next for Buffalo’s blue line with Jokiharju unsigned. AFP Analytics, a Rochester-based consulting firm, projects Jokiharju to receive a one-year contract worth $3.39 million or two at a cap hit of $4.03 million.

The potential issue is neither Jokiharju nor Clifton can play the left side, which may be a need for Buffalo if it wishes to have a top four of Dahlin, Samuelsson, Power and Byram. The team may also prefer to have a different skill set on its third pair, particularly a veteran who can bring physicality and excels on the penalty kill. Gilbert fits the latter criteria and should be a top defenseman if he begins the season with the Rochester Americans.

The Amherst native and former Buffalo Jr. Sabre joined his hometown NHL team Monday on a one-year contract that’s worth $825,000 in the NHL. Gilbert, 27, has been a regular with the Calgary Flames the past two seasons, a stretch that began with the former St. Joe’s standout earning the praise and respect of Darryl Sutter. Gilbert averaged 12:17 of ice time while appearing in 34 games in 2023-24.

Aube-Kubel had six goals with 16 points in 60 regular-season games with the Capitals this season.

The Sabres also announced a batch of signings for Rochester late Monday afternoon in Sandstrom, winger Brett Murray, center Mason Jobst, center Josh Dunne and defenseman Jack Rathbone.

The next steps for Buffalo are unclear, aside from completing contracts with restricted free agents. As it stands, the NHL depth chart includes 12 forwards: Malenstyn, Aube-Kubel, Lafferty, Krebs, Zucker, Tage Thompson, Alex Tuch, Dylan Cozens, Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, Zach Benson and Jordan Greenway. Lukas Rousek will require waivers if he does not make the Sabres’ roster out of training camp, as his contract is now a one-way deal, and several prospects will try to impress Ruff, most notably Jiri Kulich, Isak Rosen, Matt Savoie and 2024 first-round pick Konsta Helenius.

The club is still in search of a No. 3 goalie to compete with Luukkonen and Devon Levi, whom Adams said will be their tandem in the NHL.

Sandstrom, who is coming off a disappointing season with the Philadelphia Flyers’ AHL affiliate, projects as a No. 4. Sandstrom, 27, has appeared in 30 NHL games over the past three years.

None of the moves Monday will matter, though, if the Sabres don’t get more out of franchise pillars like Thompson, Cozens and Tuch.

"And then Lindy and the coaches are going to do the rest in terms of how we play with structure, defensive responsibility," said Adams. "The non-negotiables. You know, our players talked about accountability at the end of the season. They’re gonna have accountability. I promise you. And this is gonna be a big, exciting time for these guys coming into camp, to say, ‘It’s time now.’ And I get excited about that. So, we’re gonna continue to look at things, but I like where our roster is."

Sabres sign veteran goalie James Reimer as depth behind UPL, Devon Levi​

Detroit Red Wings goaltender James Reimer (47) watches the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C.,
Thursday, March 28, 2024.

Eric Comrie's return to the Winnipeg Jets caused the Buffalo Sabres to go searching for another goalie to give their NHL club depth behind Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Devon Levi.

Their foray into free agency to add to the position ended Tuesday when the Sabres signed veteran James Reimer to a one-year contract that's worth $1,000,000 in the NHL.

Reimer will have to clear waivers to join the Rochester Americans if he doesn't earn a job over Levi during Lindy Ruff's first training camp back as head coach.

Reimer has played 14 seasons in the NHL, appearing in 501 games with five different teams. The 36-year-old spent 2023-24 as a backup with the Detroit Red Wings and produced a .904 save percentage while going 11-8-2 in 25 games. He was a full-time starter as recently as 2022-23 with San Jose, where he played 91 games in two years for the struggling Sharks.

The signing gives the Sabres insurance in the event of an injury or if they elect to send Levi to Rochester to give the 23-year-old more starts and experience as Luukkonen operates as the starter in Buffalo. Levi has 61 games of professional experience between the NHL and American Hockey League since signing his entry-level contract in March 2022.

Levi was the Sabres' opening-night starter last season and received the bulk of the starts until Luukkonen took control of the crease on his way to a career year. The latter will be signed to a contract extension soon as the Sabres and his representatives have been negotiating a new deal for the restricted free agent since April.

The time in Rochester was an opportunity for Levi to start for a talented AHL team with playoff aspirations. He had a .927 save percentage in 26 regular-season games to help the Amerks avoid the play-in round and delivered a few spectacular performances in their loss to Syracuse in the North Division semifinal.

For his career, Reimer has a .910 save percentage and 2.88 goals-against average. He spent the bulk of his career with Toronto, but the Sabres are his fifth team since 2016. The club signed goalie Felix Sandstrom to a two-way contract Monday to be the organization's No. 4.