Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Very few players in the National Hockey League elicit extreme emotions like the Buffalo Sabres' Patrick Kaleta.
Universally reviled and hated by the opposition, yet loved by many a Sabres fan, the 28 yr. old veteran of eight professional seasons in Rochester and Buffalo is entering the 2014-15 season on the last year of his contract. Despite a turbulent season that was cut short by an injury while in Rochester, it would seem as if he's headed into camp with a good shot of being with the big club.
That Kaleta was a victim of his own reputation is not to be denied. That he's also been targeted by the NHL and levied extreme penalties because of said reputation is the main reason the Buffalo, NY native ended up in Rochester after being waived by the Sabres.
“This was a move we thought was necessary to help Pat change his game and preserve his career,” former GM Darcy Regier said at the time. “We believe in Pat as a person and we hope he will continue his career, if the circumstances are right, with the Buffalo Sabres.”
Kaleta was hit with a 10-game suspension for "an illegal check to the head" of Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson in October. The league noted that this would be the third time in three years that he was hauled before the NHL's Department of Player Safety and would constitute the fourth time in six years he was either fined or suspended.
After his demotion to Rochester he played admirably with only two penalty minutes in seven games played. He scored one goal and had three assists during that short stint and his workman like, professional attitude had Sabres coach Ted Nolan looking to call him up before the injury ended his season.
It's not easy living on the edge of being a hard-nosed/hard-hitting pest and in Kaleta's case, too many times he fell on the dirty side of things, even when the league's radar was locked into every one of his moves.
Every move by Sabres players, and even the coach, was under a microscope and every misstep was amplified last season. Buffalo was a last place team who had one of the league's top pugilists in John Scott and they had two of the best agitators as well in Kaleta and Steve Ott.
It's a clean slate this coming season, though, as a huge turnover has taken place beginning with new GM Tim Murray.
Murray's philosophy seems to lean towards players who can contribute in more than one way. One of the themes he mentioned yesterday was having his bottom-six players score when the rare opportunity presents itself. Which is something Kaleta did more often than not even though he only has 27 goals in just over 300 NHL games.
Kaleta has had a 10-goal season in his career and in 12 playoff games he's registered two goals and five assists. He also is a key cog on the penalty kill.
When asked at his presser yesterday about the status of Kaleta Murray said, "[He] is on the final year of a one-way, NHL deal. He starts in camp here as a Buffalo Sabre and we'll see how he proceeds with that."
Kaleta has one year at a $1.25M cap-hit and despite Murray being "annoyed" at talk of the cap-floor, the Sabres will need salary to get there. Having a fourth-liner making that kind of scratch is a step towards the floor.
Notice was also taken of the strides Kaleta has made to rehab his injury. Murray said Kaleta's in good health then proceed to mention his dedication to returning from injury, "He's been in here every day since [the knee operation]," said Murray. "He's been in here everyday rehabbing. He was in yesterday. I saw him again. He doesn't miss a morning here. He's in the gym working hard."
Murray, in his very dry, factual kind of way looked as if he's pretty much made up his mind concerning Kaleta's status with the team. And from this perspective, it would look as if Kaleta will be on the team come October.
"I know," stated Murray matter-of-factly, "that whatever happened last year happened. I expect him to come in here and act like a pro. Once we hit the ice I'll start evaluating him."
Despite the hatred for Kaleta, he can play the game of hockey. He can score when given the opportunity and he plays a very strong defensive game. He's never been afraid to give up the body whether it was blocking a slapshot on the PK or getting smoked by the hated Milan Lucic in a fight. He's all-in.
Most teams have or would want a player like that, but the majority don't have a player like Kaleta who can get under the skin of the opposition like he can.
Yeah, he's gone too far in the past and it's certain that he'll be on a short leash. But he deserves a shot. And if he can keep it relatively clean and contribute like he has in the past, then his future will be in Buffalo.
When talking about Kaleta's future with the team, it might be worth noting that Murray came from Ottawa who had a similar, edgy player like that in Chris Neil. Murray's plenty familiar with what they bring to the table.
Both good and bad.