BUFFALO, N.Y. – Given the number of Buffalo Sabres players being mentioned in trade talks, interim coach Ted Nolan has established a running joke with captain Steve Ott.
“You don’t want to make light of it, but every day when I walk in, I say, ‘Steve, you’re still here,'” Nolan said, with a chuckle after the team’s pre-game skate Friday.
The question remains, for how long? And the buzz leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline Wednesday hasn’t been limited to Ott, who is in the final year of his contract and eligible to become a free agent this summer.
Goalie Ryan Miller, forward Matt Moulson and veteran defenceman Henrik Tallinder are also being shopped because their contracts are coming up, too.
And add defenceman Christian Ehrhoff to the group after confirming he recently complied with the Sabres’ request to submit a list of eight teams that would make up the no-trade clause of his contract.
Though the submission of the list doesn’t guarantee Ehrhoff will be dealt, it suggests the 10-year veteran has been the subject of trade conversations.
Ehrhoff was not caught by surprise.
“No, not really because obviously, we are in 30th place and they have to be prepared,” said Ehrhoff, who declined to reveal what teams were on his list. “It’s just part of the business. I’ll keep focusing on hockey.”
The Sabres (17-34-8), who host San Jose on Friday, are bracing for a shakeup under newly hired general manager Tim Murray, who continues to drop major hints that he’s eager to make big splashes in a bid to rebuild the NHL’s worst team through youth.
On Tuesday, Murray confirmed he’s shopping Miller, adding he’s fielded calls from more than two but fewer than 10 teams.
On Friday, during an interview with Toronto’s FAN 590, Murray narrowed the number of teams interested in Miller to about five, while adding that much of his entire roster is available.
“There’s no untouchables,” said Murray, who took over in early January. “It’s a rebuild.”
The Sabres are in the midst of an overhaul that began under Murray’s predecessor, Darcy Regier, who was fired in November.
Buffalo will likely miss the playoffs for a third straight season and hasn’t won a playoff round since 2007, when the team reached the Eastern Conference finals before losing to Ottawa.
The roster purge began last season, when the Sabres traded numerous high-priced veterans, including captain Jason Pominville.
And it continued into October, when Thomas Vanek was traded to the New York Islanders for Moulson and a first-round draft pick.
The Sabres, as a result, have stockpiled draft picks. They could have as many as two first-round and three second-round selections in this year’s draft.
Buffalo also has a solid group of prospects in its farm system, including defencemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, who were both drafted in the first round in June.
Murray’s objective is to add more draft picks or young prospects.
Ehrhoff has value because he’s a dependable two-way defenceman who leads the team averaging 24:02 of ice time per game, and leads Sabres blue liners with 28 points (six goals, 22 assists).
He’s in his third season with Buffalo after signing a 10-year, $40 million contract on June 30, 2011.
Miller, who is set to start against San Jose, has already spent much of this week reminiscing about his 11 seasons in Buffalo, and making sure to thank fans for their support.
“It’s a great place to play hockey. You feel part of something. You feel appreciated,” said Miller, who holds franchise records with 284 wins and 540 games played. “With the uncertainty, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to say, ‘Thank you.'”
Miller recalled with a laugh the time a fan approached him at a local grocery store to provide pointers on how to hold his stick. And then there were the times when “sweet old ladies” would come up and hug him and suggest he needs to eat more.
“I always got a kick out of the people who wanted to get me more to eat because they thought I was a little thin,” said Miller, who is 6-foot-2 and 168 pounds. “It’s good that people care.”