With a potential youth movement on the way, veterans of the Buffalo Sabres are preparing for leadership roles.
Four players that younger players may look up to are entering the final year of their contracts. Forwards Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott served as alternate captains last season. Goaltender Ryan Miller has been with the team full-time since the 2005-06 season, and defenseman Henrik Tallinder was brought back to provide some guidance on the blue line.
The team also has a captaincy void to fill after Jason Pominville was traded to the Minnesota Wild at the NHL Trade Deadline in March.
Both Vanek and Ott said they would happily serve as captain if asked by coach Ron Rolston.
“We’ve got great leaders on this team. We have a bunch of guys who are very, very capable of wearing that letter,” Ott told the media Wednesday at First Niagara Center. “Leadership-wise, I think, for myself personally, I’m going to continue to do what I do with it or without it.”
I may not be the most vocal guy, but if I have something to say, I’m saying it. I’m not afraid anymore of saying what I want. - Henrik Tallinder
Vanek said that he doesn’t think being in a contract year will have any effect on how he approaches his teammates – especially younger ones – or the role he can play in the locker room.
“I don’t think it changes. I think I’ve always been a good teammate and helped out guys,” Vanek said. “I think what changes is instead of talking to two or three guys, I’d want to help out six or seven of them.”
Rolston, who will make the final decision on the captain, said that any player with the team will have an opportunity to wear the “C” and lead the team. He plans on rotating the captaincy through the preseason.
General manager Darcy Regier said that he has had “conceptual” talks with Ott’s agent about an extension. In the cases of Miller and Vanek, all sides continue to evaluate the situation. Regier said both players have been “very professional” and he understands it is their right to test unrestricted free agency if they so choose.
“I think in their situations, they want to take a good look and [at] the opportunity they have by becoming unrestricted and they want to get a better sense of where they are, where the League is, where we are,” Regier said.
Ott, now a 10-year NHL veteran, cited players like Bill Guerin, Brendan Morrow and Don Sweeney as leaders he looked up to. Vanek, who has spent his entire eight-year career with the Sabres, said that former Sabres Chris Drury and Mike Grier were big influences on him.
“From Day One they helped me out,” Vanek said. “They understood the grind of an 82-game season. I was a good player, but at times, you just don’t have it and they were like, ‘We don’t have it for 82 games.’ And the nights you don’t have it, you still have to be effective, maybe in a different way.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from them and that’s the message I’m going carry on because I do think they’re right and I believe in that message.”
Tallinder was drafted by the Sabres in 1997 and played parts of eight seasons in Buffalo before signing with the Devils as a free agent in 2010. He was re-acquired by the Sabres in a trade with the Devils in July. Being a player who’s been in the league for so long, Tallinder said he’s naturally going to be looked upon to set a good example both on and off the ice.
“I think with my experience, whether I want it or not, they’re going to look to a more experienced guy,” he said. “When I think back when I got into the league, who do you look to? Not necessarily talking, but showing and just acting like the way I am, hopefully that helps them out a little bit."
Tallinder also won’t back down from speaking his mind.
“I may not be the most vocal guy, but if I have something to say, I’m saying it,” he said. “I’m not afraid anymore of saying what I want.”
For Miller, he said he sees the makings of a good foundation with the Sabres and that he would like to be a part of it for as long as possible.
“You start to see a situation here where you can build something good and you can build something that’s going to last,” Miller said. “That’s what I want to be a part of whether this is the last season I can make a difference or if it’s going to continue forward.
“I just want to make sure I’m a positive influence on this team moving forward and that Buffalo has a lot of success or a foundation to build success on in the future because I do care about this area and the people. I do believe they deserve to be cheering for a team deep into June and my hope is we can do that this year.”