Like their brethren in Buffalo, the fans in Rochester have been through a lot of losing seasons. Jason Botterill and Randy Sexton are moving quickly to ease their pain.
Botterill and Sexton, the general managers of the Sabres and Amerks, signed eight players Saturday as free agency opened. While goalie Chad Johnson and left wing Benoit Pouliot are ticketed for Buffalo, the rest could make a big impact in Rochester.
The most familiar name is Kevin Porter. The veteran center played for Buffalo and Rochester from 2012 to 2014, and he returns after two successful seasons in the Penguins’ organization. He played 41 games in Pittsburgh in 2015-16, then helped Wilkes-Barre/Scranton post the best record in the American Hockey League this year.
Porter had 11 goals and 46 points in 69 games and added six assists in five playoff appearances. He signed a two-year, two-way deal.
“He was a strong leader in Wilkes-Barre over the last couple of years,” Botterill said.
The most intriguing signings are Seth Griffith and Kyle Criscuolo.
The 24-year-old Griffith split last season between Florida and Toronto. While the right winger had no goals and five assists in 24 NHL games, he poured in 10 goals and 44 points in 38 games for the Maple Leafs’ minor-league team. He also had two goals and nine points in 11 playoff games, which helped him earn a one-year, $650,000 contract.
“Seth Griffith is a player that we think has an extremely high offensive upside,” Botterill said of the 5-foot-9, 191-pounder. “He’s been able to score extremely well at the junior level and at the minor-league level. We think in the right situation he can provide scoring at the National Hockey League level in the future.”
Criscuolo won the Calder Cup with Detroit’s minor-league team in his first season as a professional. A graduate of Harvard, the forward had 17 goals and 41 points in 76 games. The 25-year-old added five goals and nine points in 19 postseason appearances.
“A player that we think can play center, an area we wanted to strengthen in our organization, but just a young player who plays with a lot of pace and high compete,” Botterill said after delivering a two-year, two-way deal.
The Sabres signed center Jacob Josefson to a one-year, $700,000 contract. The 26-year-old has played 276 games with the New Jersey Devils, recording 18 goals and 60 points. He had one goal and 10 points in 38 games last season.
Defenseman Matt Tennyson signed a two-year deal. It’s a two-way contract next season, then transitions to a one-way NHL deal in 2018-19. He played 45 games in Carolina last season, recording six assists. The 6-2, 205-pounder also had three goals and seven points in nine minor-league games.
“He was one of the guys that can step in right off the bat in training camp and really fight for a position,” Botterill said of the 27-year-old right-hander.
The Sabres built their goaltending depth with the addition of Adam Wilcox. The University of Minnesota product split last season between Syracuse and Springfield of the AHL, going 7-4 with a .932 save percentage in 13 games for Springfield.
Wilcox will share the Amerks’ crease with Linus Ullmark, while rookie Jonas Johansson and Jason Kasdorf are penciled in for the new ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati.
“We just wanted to finish off with strengthening our goaltending situation throughout our organization,” Botterill said. “Wilcox had a really strong finish to his season, a competitor in the net, has really good quickness.”
Before acquiring defenseman Marco Scandella via trade Friday, the Sabres were serious suitors for free agent Kevin Shattenkirk. Still, they weren’t as serious as some believed.
Shortly after Shattenkirk signed a four-year, $26.6 million deal with the New York Rangers, a report came that Buffalo had offered the defenseman a seven-year contract.
“That’s certainly not the case,” Botterill said. “We never put a seven-year contract on the table. We had some good conversations with the Shattenkirk camp, but it was a situation as we discussed when we got Scandella in a trade, we felt we had shored up the defense there, and that certainly was not the priority.
“We continued to have some discussions, but we just felt our group was in a good spot right now.”
Cal Petersen decided Los Angeles was a better fit than Buffalo.
The former Sabres prospect signed a two-year deal with the Kings for the rookie maximum of $925,000 per season. Buffalo drafted the goaltender in 2013 and watched him blossom at Notre Dame, where he led the Fighting Irish to the Frozen Four.
Petersen decided last month not to sign with the Sabres and instead pursued free agency.
"We had a hole in our goaltending depth," Kings Assistant General Manager Mike Futa said, "and our scouting staff and our goaltending coaches strongly believe Cal stood alone at the top of our list. We are ecstatic as he is significant to the future of our organization."
Several other ex-Sabres found new homes. Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov signed a three-year deal with Winnipeg for $4.33 million per season. Goaltender Anders Nilsson got a two-year, $5 million deal with Vancouver. Defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer signed a two-year deal with Ottawa worth $650,000 per season. Center Derek Grant signed with Anaheim for one year at $650,000.
Niagara Falls’ Adam Clendening signed a one-year, $650,000 deal with Arizona.
Nilsson took the roster spot of former Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. The 36-year-old signed a two-year, $4 million deal with Anaheim.
“I do feel like I have a lot of hockey left in me,” Miller said in the Orange County Register. “Any chance you have to play in the NHL is really a blessing. I wanted to maximize my time and maximize my chances at chasing down a Stanley Cup.”