The trade for Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitri Kulikov at the draft and the emergence of 22 yr. old Jake McCabe looks to have dropped Josh Gorges down the depth chart. All three are lefties which works well for the righty/lefty pairing Buffalo GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma favor and all three are considered top-four defensemen.
Gorges, who is the elder statesman of the defense corps, was acquired by the Sabres in July, 2014 as part of a trade with the Montreal Canadiens. Murray sent a 2016 second-round pick (one he'd received in the Matt Moulson to Minnesota trade) to the Canadiens for Gorges after he waived his no-trade clause to come to the Sabres. Buffalo was originally on his no-trade list but he changed his mind.
The circumstances surrounding Gorges' destination were of a familial nature as he and his wife Maggie were expecting their first child at the time of the trade. Gorges and Brian Gionta had spent five years playing for the Canadiens and there was a trust-factor when re-considering Buffalo in a trade. Gionta, a Rochester, NY native, had briefed Gorges on the area and what it has to offer for their family and Gorges waived his NTC to accept the trade to Buffalo.
Both Gorges and Gionta, who signed with the Sabres as a free agent that same day, were going from a Montreal club that had just reached the Eastern Conference Finals to a Buffalo team that was destined to be at the bottom of the league for the second straight year and the shockwaves hit Gorges pretty hard. He slogged through the 2014-15 campaign with over 22 minutes of ice-time in 46 games before being felled by a knee injury that he'd been playing with for a good chunk of the season.
Regardless of what transpired the prior season, Gorges had enough history to be placed on the Sabres top pairing next to young Rasmus Ristolainen last season as Buffalo's top defense pairing. Although miscast in that role he was still able to his own. Gorges ranked third in even-strength average ice-time/game, second in ice-time amongst defensemen on the penalty kill. He led the team in blocked shots and hits as well.
With 683 games under his belt, logging those minutes seem to be a bit much at this stage of his career especially when you consider that since the 2006-07 season he's blocked 1357 shots (3rd most for any defenseman during that period) and was credited with 824 hits (50th.) At the age of 32 Gorges is entering that portion of his career where it all starts catching up to a defenseman with his style of play and backing off his minutes to a mid/bottom-pairing role may do both him and the team plenty of good.
Gorges has a quiet overall approach to the game while being vocal on the ice. He was an assistant captain in Buffalo last season and he mentored the 21 yr. old Ristolainen while the two logged huge minutes for the club. A veteran leader like Gorges, who is defensively responsible and can anchor the penalty kill, is always welcome on a team and he has all that going for him.
With Kulikov and McCabe presumably in the top-two spots on the right side of the defense, Gorges slides down to the bottom-pairing. Which isn't a bad thing. Getting quality play from the third-pairing goes a long way towards success and Gorges can always move up and down the lineup as needed. Plus he and Ristolainen can still anchor the Buffalo penalty kill which ranked ninth in the league last season (82.6%.)
Having a defenseman with a cap-hit of $3.9M on the third-pairing is a little high in a salary-cap world but for the final two years of Gorges' contract, it's not an albatross. He's a good, solid defensive-defenseman and with the parade of youngins already rolling through Buffalo, having a veteran presence like Gorges helps immensely in the transition.
Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons/ RW, Justin Bailey
LW, Marcus Foligno / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Brian Gionta
D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe
D, Cody Franson / D, Josh Gorges
G, Robin Lehner