Chad Johnson always knew he could be a dependable goaltender, the kind who could go out 45 times a season and give his team a chance to win. He finally got a chance to prove it two years ago in Buffalo.
Still, he was unsatisfied at the end of the season. He felt there was more in store for him and the Sabres.
It’s part of the reason he signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal Saturday to return to the team.
“I see the organization going in the right direction,” Johnson said. “They’re committed to winning. That’s what I want to be part of.”
Johnson was one of two goaltending signings for the Sabres. They also agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with Adam Wilcox. He will add to the minor-league depth.
The 31-year-old Johnson comes back to a team that voted him its Unsung Hero after he stepped in for injured Robin Lehner. By going 22-16-4 with a .920 save percentage, Johnson kept the Sabres afloat and proved his worth.
“It was probably statistically one of my better years, but I think being able to get in 45 games really established myself as an elite sort of 1B,” Johnson said. “Getting into that role was huge for my career in taking those next steps.
“I think the fans really embraced me by the end of the season. They got to see what kind of goalie I was. I won a lot of games and had good numbers. To be able to come back and be a part of the organization again and have that drive to win and get back in playoffs is special for me.
“I always felt like there was unfinished business.”
While many of the players are the same, the Sabres have a new general manager in Jason Botterill and a new coach in Phil Housley. That’s fine by Johnson, who was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2006 while Botterill was working for the Penguins.
“That was a positive knowing that there was a change there,” Johnson said. “Anytime there’s change, there’s always opportunity for new people coming into an organization. For me, seeing the changes there was a positive.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of players that are still there in Buffalo that I know and have a lot of trust and respect for. Looking at the roster and breaking different teams down going through this process, it made sense for me to come back there.”
Johnson is also anticipating a reunion with goaltending coach Andrew Allen, who is expected to return despite the overhaul of the coaching staff.
“I hope he is” there, Johnson said. “I had a good relationship with him. He understands my game, and he really took my game to the next level the season I was there. It was a really good fit for me.”
Johnson spent last season in Calgary, going 18-15-1 with a .910 save percentage in 36 appearances. It gave him a chance to see fellow signee Benoit Pouliot, the left winger who played in Edmonton.
“He’s a skilled forward,” Johnson said. “He’s got a big body that can skate really well. You can kind of put him anywhere in any situation, really with any player. I think he brings some size, some speed, really the ability to kind of be in any kind of role that you need him in. He’s played with all kinds of different players, so I think that’s a good signing for us in depth and character, too.”
Wilcox split last season between Syracuse and Springfield of the American Hockey League. The 24-year-old posted a 25-13-7 record with a .906 save percentage. The 6-foot, 189-pounder played at the University of Minnesota. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2013-14.