Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
It's not an earth-shattering move for the league-leading Washington Capitals, but then again, with the team loaded for bear, a big move wasn't necessary.
The Capitals have amassed 92 points already this season and are 17 points ahead of the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference. They lead the league in goals/game (3.29) are second in goals-against/game (2.28) and their +61 goal-differential is 33 better than the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.
They have Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Niklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and TJ Oshie up front, one of the top goalies in the league in Braden Holtby and a solid mix of scoring and grit on the blueline lead by Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen. But, as all good teams do, they needed to add depth and about the only thing they didn't have was a lot cap-space to do so. That's where the Buffalo Sabres and Mike Weber came into play.
Sabres GM Tim Murray's mantra from the time he came on board is that he doesn't want to see an unrestricted free agent leave without getting a return, and true to his word, he did that with Weber. Murray found a nice fit for the 6'2" 212 lb. stay-at-home defenseman who's cap-hit for the season was $1.67M, a figure right in line with Washington's needs.
In order to really make it work the Sabres agreed to take on half of Weber's salary ($833K, pro-rated) and in return the Capitals gave Buffalo a 2017 third-round pick which was much higher than anyone expected. The Caps got what they wanted and the Sabres got more than what was expected and now Weber has the opportunity to ride the Washington Express as deep into the playoffs as it will take him.
Weber has been with the organization since Buffalo drafted him with the 57th pick in 2006 and was the longest tenured Sabre on the roster. He played in 341 regular season games for Buffalo and seven playoff games as well. Although his 53 career points in Buffalo was nothing really to speak about, he brought plenty of crease-clearing grit to the ice and was well-respected by his teammates yet over the course of the last two seasons he became a fan whipping boy.
Not to be confused with a Niklas Lidstrom, Weber was prone to errors, some most egregious, in his own zone and during the last two seasons with the Sabres in the midst of a scorched-earth rebuild, his plus/minus was minus-22 in 2013-14, minus-29 last season. But he turned that around this year in what could be his best season yet and leaves Buffalo with a plus-3 rating on a Sabres team that has a minus-22 goal differential.
Maybe most unsettling with Buffalo fans is how he called them out for rooting for the team to lose against Arizona last season. With the Coyotes and Sabres in a fierce battle for last place, fans decked out in their Sabres regalia were openly cheering on Arizona at the First Niagara Center, saving their loudest cheer for the Coyotes' Sam Gagner after he scored in overtime.
A distraught Weber spoke with the media after the game. "I've always spoken highly of our fans," he said from the Sabres locker room post-game. "I don't even know if disappointment's the right word. I don't even know what to say. It's extremely frustrating for us. We don't want to be here. We understand where we are, we understand what this team's doing, what the organization's doing and the place we've put ourselves in.
"But I've never been a part of something like that where the away team comes into a home building and [the fans] are cheering for them."
Yet being the honest professional he's always been, he left a gracious goodbye to the city he's become a part of. “I can’t express the life-changing thing the city of Buffalo and the organization has been able to provide me and my family," he told the Buffalo media yesterday. "I really feel a part of the community. I tried to do everything I could when I put that sweater over my head to bring whatever I had. There’s been a lot of great teammates I’ve had. ... I wish the organization and especially the boys in the locker room the very best going forward. Hopefully they get a chance to do something extremely special here in the future.”
There was an honesty about Weber and how he approached the game. Kinda reminds me of former Buffalo Bill, Don Beebe.
Beebe was drafted by the Bills (1989, 82nd overall) and was with the team during their glory years in the 90's. He showed his true character in a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVII. With the Cowboys up 51-17 late in the game Leon Lett picked up a fumble and was showboating his way to a touchdown until Beebe ran him down and knocked the ball away. It was a meaningless play in the game but in the grand scheme of things good karma would reward him as he won the Super Bowl with Green Bay four years later.
It would be fitting if Weber was rewarded that way too.
With Weber moving on, forward Tyler Ennis is the longest tenured Sabre and one of only two homegrown players remaining that pre-date the rebuild. Ennis was drafted with the 26th pick in 2008 and played in 140 games for the Sabres prior to the 2012-13 season. Marcus Foligno was selected in the fourth round in 2009 (104th overall) and had a 14-game stint for Buffalo in 2011-12, the season the Sabres went all-in in free agency, but fell short of making the playoffs thus triggering a full rebuild.
Rumor has it that one or both might be available between now and the beginning of next season.
Ennis had been the team's most consistent scorer up until this season when his production fell off. Part of it could be attributed to injuries, part of it could be the new system head coach Dan Bylsma installed, but regardless, the "greazy" jitterbug just hasn't been able to get untracked. Ennis has three years remaining on the 5yr./$23M contract he signed in 2014 with most of it ($12.05) being paid out in the first two seasons.
Foligno will be a restricted free agent this off season. He had a $1.875M cap-hit over the last two seasons.
The rugged forward came into the league guns ablazing as he scored 13 points (6g+7a) in his first 14 games and visions of Cam Neely were dancing in the heads of Sabres fans. But he's tailed of since scoring only 27 goals in his next 231 games.
The remaining UFA's up for grabs are:
--F, David Legwand, $3M cap-hit
--F, Jamie McGinn, $2.95M
--D, Carlo Colaiacovo, $900K
--G, Chad Johnson, $1.3M
In addition to Foligno, other RFA's on the Sabres roster include forwards Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Nicolas Deslauriers as well as defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe. There are 12 RFA's presently in Rochester with the Amerks.