BUFFALO, N.Y. – Resigned to the likelihood the Sabres would lose two veteran defenceman in free agency, general manager Darcy Regier made it a priority to get at least one back Thursday.
That player turned out to be Jordan Leopold, who agreed to a three-year contract hours after Buffalo lost out on re-signing Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman.
Leopold is a seven-year veteran, who will make US$3 million per season in Buffalo, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Sabres don’t release monetary terms.
“I started off with the expectation that we would have to acquire a defenceman,” Regier said. “So we feel as though we’re in a much better position now.”
Leopold is being counted upon to immediately step in and fill a top-four role on the team. He’s a mobile defenceman with play-making ability, who had a career-best 11 goals and 15 assists in 81 games last season with Pittsburgh and Florida. The Penguins acquired Leopold in a deal with the Panthers in March.
Selected in the second round of the 1999 draft, Leopold broke into the NHL with the Calgary Flames in 2002-03. He also spent three seasons with Colorado.
Leopold’s agent, Ben Hankinson, said his client was eyeing the Sabres as a possible fit as free agency approached. And the Sabres showed immediate interest shortly after the signing period opened at noon.
“It’s just a good fit,” Hankinson said. “Jordan was looking to find a team to play for, and to play a busy role.”
Tallinder, who ranked second on the Sabres last season in averaging 20 minutes, 36 seconds in ice time, signed with New Jersey. Tallinder had a particularly important role in Buffalo in playing alongside and helping tutor Tyler Myers, the NHL’s rookie of the year last season.
Lydman, who ranked fifth on the Sabres with an average of 18 minutes, 51 seconds of ice time, reached a deal with Anaheim.
Regier acknowledged he all but ruled out re-signing Tallinder, but held out hope of luring back Lydman.
With both gone, Regier is confident minor league defensive prospects Mike Weber and potentially Marc-Andre Gragnani are ready to play at the NHL level next season.
Regier said he’s not done retooling the Sabres, and will attempt to pursue a forward in free agency or through a trade.
The Sabres are attempting to rebuild after their season came to a disappointing end. Despite winning the Northeast Division title and ending a two-year playoff drought, Buffalo came up flat in the post-season, when it was knocked out in six games by Boston in the first round.
Regier is unsure which way the Sabres will go in filling the backup goalie spot behind Ryan Miller after allowing Patrick Lalime to become a free agent. Regier said he’s had discussions with Lalime, but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of promoting Jhonas Enroth, who has spent the past two seasons developing in the minors.