“He said, ‘If you want to take it, take it,”‘ Zubrus said Wednesday, a day after Buffalo acquired him in a deal with Washington. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? … No way.”‘ With that, Zubrus – who wore No. 9 with the Capitals – made it clear he didn’t come to Buffalo to make big demands or mess up the chemistry of the Eastern Conference-leading Sabres.
More significant to Zubrus, who’ll wear No. 15, is going from out of the playoff race to a bona fide Stanley Cup contender.
“It definitely gives you a little boost,” Zubrus said. “With the last couple of years in Washington, you don’t get to experience the playoffs or a real hockey atmosphere. This is a very good change for me. I’m very excited.”
So are the Sabres, who consider Zubrus their key acquisition among four deals completed before the NHL trade deadline Tuesday.
“You look at Dainius, he’s a good playmaker. He’s a big man. He’s going to relish the opportunity to play in the playoffs,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think this is a heck of an opportunity. I think our players look at it that we made ourselves better.”
Besides adding a 10-year NHL veteran and a two-time 20-goal scorer, the Sabres addressed their most immediate concern. They bolstered an injury-ravaged lineup that is down eight regulars after co-captain Daniel Briere (flu) missed Buffalo’s 6-1 win at Toronto on Tuesday.
“We knew we had to have some help,” defenceman Teppo Numminen said. “Management really worked hard to do the right deal. I think everybody’s excited about it.”
Zubrus is scheduled to make his Sabres debut on Friday at home against Montreal.
At six-foot-four, Zubrus is a lanky, play-making forward, who has enjoyed a resurgence the past two years playing alongside young Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. Zubrus joins Buffalo with 20 goals and 52 points, five short of matching the career high he set last season.
His presence gives the already potent Sabres, who have scored a league-leading 240 goals, even more offensive depth. And that’s important to a team that relies on a balanced four-line attack, and began the season with the belief it was good enough to win the Cup.
Zubrus has quickly bought in.
“This is a great team,” he said. “I’m coming in to see where I can fit in and play my role and hopefully play a big part in winning the Stanley Cup.”
Ruff told Zubrus he’ll get a regular spot on the power play. What’s not clear, because of injuries, is what line he’ll join. Zubrus practised Wednesday with wingers Jason Pominville and Michael Ryan.
Ruff believes the number of injuries will help smooth Zubrus in his transition, because he’ll automatically get plenty of playing time.
Another newcomer in the mix is backup goalie Ty Conklin, acquired from Columbus after the Sabres dealt veteran backup Martin Biron to Philadelphia.
Ruff said Conklin will get a few starts to allow Ryan Miller to rest.
Zubrus, in the final year of his contract, proved expendable in Washington after the Capitals failed to negotiate an extension. Zubrus said he was seeking a five-year deal, while the Capitals were only offering three.
Zubrus isn’t looking beyond this spring, eagerly awaiting his first playoff appearance since 2003 with the Capitals.
“It’s been a while. But you know what? There’s nothing like it,” Zubrus said. “The level of hockey, the intensity, the atmosphere that picks up, it’s crazy.”
Notes: Co-captain Chris Drury (concussion) began working out on his own, but will miss at least Buffalo’s next two games.