Josh Gorges showed up at Buffalo Sabres training camp eager for a ”fresh start” after spending seven seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.
”It’s an opportunity and a challenge this year,” the defenseman said Thursday.
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The Sabres are looking for improvement after one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
Buffalo finished last in the standings (21-51-10) and set a franchise record for losses. The Sabres also established a post-NHL-expansion-era low of just 150 goals.
They’ve committed a combined $46.375 million in salaries to fill various leadership and offensive needs during free agency and drafted 18-year-old center Sam Reinhart with the No. 2 pick.
Buffalo signed four free agents, including former Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta and forward Matt Moulson, and acquired Josh Gorges. He adjusted his no-trade clause to add Buffalo in a deal with Montreal.
Coach Ted Nolan hired a new staff of assistants, including former NHL players Bryan Trottier and Arturs Irbe, and general manager Tim Murray has shuffled the hockey department.
It’s among the changes made since Nolan and Murray took over midway through last season.
”We want people who compete and work and battle,” Nolan said. ”As a coaching staff, we talked about structure and discipline. We have to have structure and we have to have discipline.”
Nolan is also looking forward to picking his own roster and shaping the team from the start of training camp.
”That to me is the most exciting part,” he said. ”Last year was what it was. You deal with what you have.”
The Sabres have spent much of the past year rebuilding. But a rebuilding team doesn’t have to be a losing team, Gionta said.
”I didn’t come here to lose,” Gionta said. ”I think your goal is to make the playoffs and if you are not looking at doing that coming into camp, you don’t have the right mindset.”
Gionta said the Sabres have a good mix of veteran leaders and talented young players.
”You have to believe in the guys in the room,” he said. ”There are some new guys, obviously. We need to come together as a team, and I think the biggest thing is getting comfortable with each other.”
Nolan has favored veteran players in the past, but said Reinhart and other young players will be given the opportunity to earn their spots.
”We’re going to do it the old-fashioned way,” he said. ”We’re going to earn it. And Sam’s going to earn it. But there’s some special players that come around once in a while that don’t have to wait until they’re 22.”
Nolan is not concerned with the long-term rebuilding prospects of next year’s draft class.
”Prospects are great,” Nolan said. ”Then some of them turn into suspects. Then some of them turn into rejects. You never know with the drafts.
”The one thing I know as a coach, as a player, is to compete and to battle and to work and to try and win.”
Nolan said goaltenders Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth will compete for the starting job, and he expects to select a captain early on in training camp.
Players and coaches expressed enthusiasm for the Sabres organization, along with owner Terry Pegula’s purchase of the Buffalo Bills, and finishing construction on the hockey-themed, mixed use $170 million HarborCenter next to First Niagara Center.