ANAHEIM – It’s that time of year, and the first player out the door to a new address is the longest-standing member of the Buffalo Sabres organization.
Defenseman Mike Weber, one of five unrestricted free agents on the roster, was shipped to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2017 draft. Weber, who was drafted in the second round by the Sabres in 2006, instantly has a real chance at a Stanley Cup by getting moved to a Capitals club that has been atop the NHL’s overall standing all season.
The trade, Buffalo’s first of a pending UFA with the NHL trade deadline looming on Monday, was announced about 40 minutes after the team completed practice in Honda Center. The Sabres meet the Anaheim Ducks there Wednesday night to open their three-game Western road trip.
“It was a little surreal,” Weber told Buffalo reporters at the team hotel after the trade was made. “Obviously I was just with the boys after practice and we were going to have some lunch. It’s tough. It’s something that’s always talked about but until it happens to you, well, I don’t even know the feeling I’m feeling right now.”
An emotional Weber was red-eyed as he spoke at times about his tenure with the Sabres.
“I want to thank the organization, the management at the time and the management now for keeping me around this long,” he said. “I can’t express the life-changing thing the city of Buffalo and the organization has been able to provide me and my family. 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.”
Weber said he had already received some welcome texts from Capitals players and is thrilled with the potential of playing on a Cup team even though he’s likely to be a healthy scratch in the immediate future. Washington’s next game is Wednesday night at home against Montreal, and the Caps host Minnesota on Friday before traveling to Chicago on Sunday afternoon for a nationally televised game that could be a Stanley Cup final preview. The Sabres do not meet the Caps again this season.
“I’m excited to get to Washington and have a chance myself to do something that’s maybe only once in a lifetime,” Weber said.
As for any connections to anyone in the Caps locker room, Weber joked, “Other than probably some bloody faces and some bumps and bruises along the way, no.”
The Sabres retained half of Weber’s salary to complete the trade. He carries a cap hit this season of $1.67 million. General Manager Tim Murray is not on this road trip, preferring to work the phones from his office in First Niagara Center.
“It’s difficult to trade someone that has been a part of the organization for 10 years, but I think this is a good opportunity for the player and for our organization,” Murray said in a statement. “I would like to thank Mike for his time with the Sabres and wish him the best in Washington.”
“We are pleased to welcome Mike to our organization.” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “Mike is a stay-at-home defenseman who plays a physical game and is respected by his teammates. We felt it was important to add depth to our blueline by adding another quality veteran.”
Weber. 28, has one goal and four assists this season in 35 games for the Sabres. He has been having the best season of his career, as shown by his plus-3 rating – a major improvement from his minus-29 and minus-22 marks the last two seasons – and that clearly enhanced his value.
“I gave everything I had to give myself the best chance to prove to this Sabres organization and my teammates that I’m a solid player,” he said. “And to prove to the rest of the league that I can still do this.”
Weber said his favorite Sabres memory was the primary assist he earned on the team’s last playoff win, the 4-3 overtime victory in Game Five of the first round in Philadelphia in 2011.
Weber took a cross-ice pass from the late Steve Montador and unleashed a shot that was stopped by Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, but Tyler Ennis slammed home the rebound to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead in the series. Buffalo, however, lost the next two games and has yet to return to the postseason.
“All I can think of was that it was in Philly and the fans were going nuts,” Weber said. “ ‘Enzo’ went flying up and gave me the biggest hug ever and then ‘Monty’ came in, gave me an even bigger hug. It was pretty special and we had a chance to go home and close out the series. Obviously it didn’t go the way we wanted it to but that’s one of my favorite memories here.”
Weber is certain to finally get back to the playoffs this spring. The Capitals beat Arizona, 3-2, Monday night – becoming the first team in NHL history to post 44 wins in the first 58 games of a season. After years spent trying to stop Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin, Weber said it will be a thrill to be teammates with the Great Eight.
“It will be nice to only be doing ‘PK’ against him in practice now so I can kind of give him a side to shoot on. I don’t have to be in front of it,” Weber joked. “You’re playing with a guy who has the potential to score 50 goals again this year, one of the most elite players in the game. It’s just exciting to go to a team that has a chance to make a big push for it.”