When reports surfaced in December that Zach Bogosian had requested a trade, it seemed, one way or another, his time with the Sabres would come to an end this season. But few would have expected his tenure in Buffalo to end like this.
Placed on waivers by the Sabres last week, and subsequently passed over by the rest of the NHL's franchises, Bogosian was suspended by Buffalo earlier this week for failing to report to the AHL’s Rochester Americans. But the Sabres went one step further Friday, placing the 29-year-old rearguard on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract. Currently in the final season of a seven-year, $36-million pact with a $5.14-million cap hit, Bogosian will become an unrestricted free agent upon the termination of his deal and be free to sign with any club.
It’s an odd final chapter in what has been a turbulent time for Bogosian with the Sabres. Once one of the main pieces in the blockbuster eight-player swap that brought him and Evander Kane to Buffalo and sent Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Joel Armia, among other pieces, to the Winnipeg Jets, Bogosian failed to really become the effective top-pairing replacement he was projected to be. To be sure, the Sabres gave him the minutes. He averaged more than 26 minutes in the 21 games he played in Buffalo after the trade in 2014-15 and remained a 20-minute-plus player in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
But repeated injuries led to stops and starts. Take the 2017-18 campaign. After missing 44 games across the two prior seasons, Bogosian missed all but 18 games due to a hip injury that later required surgery. He was back the following season, but missed 17 games with a variety of lower-body ailments. That led to this season. Bogosian started on injured reserve and has missed more games than he’s played.
The result is that Bogosian, who was on the fringes of the Calder Trophy conversation as a rookie and had some highs during his time in Winnipeg, not least of which was a career-best 30-point season in 2011-12, wasn’t able to discover that same form in Buffalo. He exceeded 20 points only once, his ice time fluctuated regularly and his underlying numbers were hardly sparkling. This season, he had the worst expected goals against per 60 minutes mark (2.48) of any Sabres defender. Granted, he logged heavy own-zone minutes and his starts leaned heavily towards the defensive side of the ice, but that can only go so far in explaining his poor advanced stats.
The question now, though, is what comes next for Bogosian. It’s clear his intention wasn’t to stay in Buffalo beyond this season and, if he had his way, it seems he wouldn’t even have been with the Sabres this long. But what is also clear is there’s not a single team in the NHL who believed he was worth picking up at his $5 million-plus cap hit, nor seemingly a team who wanted him at half that price. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported the Sabres tried “hard to trade (Bogosian) and was willing to retain 50 percent” of his cap hit.
But the interest in Bogosian should pick up now that he's a free agent.
With the trade deadline on the horizon, there will be teams seeking blueline depth and most will be looking to do so on a budget. And despite his injury struggles, Bogosian is certainly an NHL-caliber defender, even if only on the third pairing with a contending team. When teams swing and miss on those they’re after – or if they balk at the prices – Bogosian will be an available option. The bonus? He can ink a deal at a reasonable cap hit and any team signing him won’t need to give up an asset to bring Bogosian aboard. It seems incredibly unlikely that he goes unsigned through the deadline. For teams that can afford it, which should be every single contending team, Bogosian stands to be the lowest of low-risk additions.
Playing for a cut rate can be beneficial for Bogosian, as well, if for no other reason than giving him the chance to finally experience the post-season. He’s played 636 NHL games, but not a single one in the post-season. He wasn’t going to get there in Buffalo, not this season. Now that he might have the chance to pick between a few clubs, though, maybe he finally gets a taste of playoff action.
When colleague Steven Ellis wrote Thursday about struggling players who could benefit from a change of scenery at the deadline, Bogosian didn’t land on the list. But he very well could have. He’s relatively young. Though injuries have slowed him, he moves fairly well for a 6-foot-3 defender. He can shoot. He can move the puck. In the right situation, he could become a versatile and useful fourth, fifth or sixth defenseman. And assuming he signs somewhere prior to Monday’s deadline, Bogosian could have the opportunity to showcase that before the season is through.
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