On Canada Day, NHL teams made plenty of moves in hope of improving. For the Buffalo Sabres, that meant successfully recruiting Kyle Okposo by signing him to a seven-year $42 million contract. As TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger reported, $25 million of the $42 million will be paid in signing bonus.
The 28-year old former Islander forward has topped 50 points in each of his last three seasons. He had 64 (22-42-64) in his final season with the Islanders while helping them reach the second round for the first time since ’93. In 11 postseason games, Okposo tallied two goals and six assists for eight points.
A three-time 20-plus goalscorer who also can set up teammates as his 42 assists demonstrate in two of the past three seasons, the versatile right wing from Saint Paul, Minnesota decided the rebuilding Sabres give him the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. Featuring Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo gives Okposo the chance to play on the right wing with either center.
“He knows that Jack’s a great young player and he raved about Ryan and how hard he was to play against and [how] he was a complete 200-foot player and all the different adjectives that you use about a player like Ryan,” Sabres’ general manager Tim Murray said Friday in a feature that appeared on the team’s website.
The Sabres also boast other young talent including Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe and troubled forward Evander Kane. Kane is being investigated for harassment complaints against him stemming from a bar incident on June 24 involving two women.
According to his attorney, no charges have been filed. Murray was adamant about Kane needing to change his behavior. He is a controversial player the Sabres are invested in. Signed thru 2018, he’ll earn $12 million the next two years. Part of a deal that sent Tyler Myers to Winnipeg which also brought back Zach Bogosian, Kane scored 20 goals and 15 assists with 91 penalty minutes in his first season with Buffalo.
With Murray already re-signing McCabe to a new three-year deal worth an average of $1.6 million, he still must get Ristolainen re-signed. The Sabres’ top scoring defenseman broke out with nine goals and 32 assists with his 41 points ranking fourth in team scoring over a full 82 games this past season. If the recent extensions for Aaron Ekblad ($7.5 million AAV) and Victor Hedman ($7.875 million AAV) are any indication, the 21-year old Finn could be a rich man. The number probably won’t be as high but figure it to be between $5-6.5 million.
One move Murray also made this off-season was acquiring defenseman Dmitry Kulikov from the Panthers with a second round pick (Rasmus Asplund) at the Draft held in Buffalo for Mark Pysyk, a second round pick (Adam Mascherin) and third round pick (Linus Nassen). The 25-year old Kulikov is a solid skating left D who has one year left on a deal that pays him $4.5 million in ’16-17 before becoming unrestricted. Essentially, it was a swap of former first round picks with Kulikov more advanced than Pysyk, who would only turn restricted next summer. A risk Murray is willing to take.
As for the newest Sabre, Okposo believes they’re moving in a similar direction as his former team. After benefiting from working with John Tavares, he’ll get to play with either the super talented Eichel or the play-making O’Reilly. Either should be a good fit. Impressed with Buffalo’s skill level following a overtime loss late in the season, he hopes he can help bring a championship to Western New York.
“I hope I can provide a veteran presence,” he said. “I think we can get there quicker than I did with the Islanders. I just want to try to help the team in that aspect and try to help the team win a Cup.”