Before I get into my decision to sign with the Sabres, I want to share a story about Ralph Krueger.
It was 2013, and we were on a flight back to Edmonton. Ralph was in his only year as head coach of the Oilers, a season that only lasted 48 games because of the lockout.
Ralph called me to the front of the plane. I automatically assumed we were going to go over the video or talk about the game. What he actually asked sticks with me to this day.
How are you doing?
That is who Ralph Krueger is: the kind of guy who wants to know how you are doing as a person during the grind of a shortened season. That was my third year in the league and it truly was a breakout season for me. I've often wondered how things might be different if Ralph had stayed head coach in Edmonton.
In a way, I guess I'm about to find out.
People seemed surprised when it came out Sunday that I had signed with the Sabres. I don't think they should be. Before free agency even began, my agent and I assessed every organization in the league and considered what it might be like to play there.
When I looked at Buffalo, I saw a coach whom I respect and who knows how to get the most out of his players. I saw young, elite talent that will only get better. I saw owners in Terry and Kim Pegula and a general manager in Kevyn Adams who are committed to success.
I told my agent that, should the opportunity arise, Buffalo would be a place I could see myself playing.
Talks with the team cemented that feeling. They assured me it is a win-now situation. I know the fanbase there is ready for success and I'm sure the players are as well. They just kept reiterating to me that this is a team that could take strides and really do some damage if I came on board.
I think this deal gives me a chance to prove myself. Everyone knows the marketplace for UFAs was unique this year due to COVID and the salary cap. I can't rule out anything beyond this season, but I truly have a good feeling about the potential in Buffalo.
I already heard from a bunch of the guys last night. I have been around Jack Eichel and know the type of person and player he is. Obviously, that was a big draw. I have a ton of respect for Eric Staal and feel he has a lot of game left. I work out during summers with Jeff Skinner and know the work he puts into his craft.
I just want to be one of the guys and hopefully contribute to a good year for us. It was a whirlwind couple of days, but I was finally able to land somewhere where I feel wanted. The feeling is mutual.