OTTAWA -- It's that time of year.
The Ottawa Senators made a huge trade Tuesday with the Los Angeles Kings, offloading expensive defenseman Dion Phaneuf and getting veteran winger Marian Gaborik and center Nick Shore in return. Gaborik and Shore made their debuts here Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres, whom most NHL observers also expect will be busy in advance of the NHL's Feb. 26 trade deadline.
First-year Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill is expected to trade pending unrestricted free agents Evander Kane and Benoit Pouliot prior to the deadline, and starting goalie/restricted free agent Robin Lehner is also a good bet to go.
"We're on alert and Jason and I talk every day about situations," coach Phil Housley said prior to the game in Canadian Tire Centre. "About lineups, different things, what's going on in Rochester. It's a day-to-day thing. We're getting closer to the trade deadline and we're continuing to evaluate our guys."
Housley said Botterill has been in Plymouth, Mich., scouting the Under-18 Five Nations Tournament featuring the best players from the U.S., Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic. But the GM is obviously continuing his talks about moving players at the NHL level as well.
"We talk about it every day," Housley said. "He's still trying to scout and watch players for the draft but certainly it's in the back of his mind coming up here. We'll have more conversations as we move closer to the date."
Trading away Phaneuf and Nate Thompson for Gaborik and Shore saved the Senators about $2 million as they look to create more cap space to sign captain Erik Karlsson to a long-term extension before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July, 2019.
Gaborik, 36, may be flipped by the Senators at the deadline or he could be a candidate to be bought out at the end of the season as Ottawa tries to move to a younger, prospect-filled roster. Gaborik has a cap hit of $4.875 million per season over the next three years but is only owed $10.8 million of actual salary. So a buyout would cost the Senators about $7.2 million spread over the next six seasons. Phaneuf had a monstrous cap hit of $7 million a year for three more seasons.
Gaborik is fourth on the active career goal list with 403, behind only Washington's Alex Ovechkin (591), Toronto's Patrick Marleau (527) and Rick Nash of the New York Rangers (433). He had only seven goals in 30 games for the Kings this year. Gaborik is also one of 18 active players to have skated in 1,000 games, as Thursday was No. 1,020. The Senators are his fifth team.
"Honestly I was surprised but that's the way it goes. It's a business," Gaborik said here Thursday. "I had four unbelievable years with LA. We won a Cup and I have nothing but good things to say about the organization and the guys. Obviously it's a new chapter and I'm looking forward to it and to the challenges of new teammates, new team, new system, new city."
Gaborik was unable to mask his disappointment about being traded from a 65-point Los Angeles team that entered Thursday in a wild-card slot to a 47-point Ottawa club whose playoff hopes were snuffed weeks ago.
"Every player wants to compete in playoffs and play for the Cup," he said. "LA is in pretty good position compared to Ottawa but there's 27 games left. You just have to go game by game and you never know what's going to happen. It's just to create good habits and make sure the team gets back on track and be ready to play every game and compete."
Gaborik started the game on the Senators' top line with center Matt Duchene and winger Mike Hoffman. He was told about the trade after the Kings' game Tuesday in Carolina. Phaneuf, meanwhile, was pulled in the middle of Tuesday's Senators game in Pittsburgh when the trade was struck -- just like Matt Duchene was in November by Colorado when he was in Brooklyn and was traded to the Senators.
"All of us at the other end of the bench had no clue," Duchene said Thursday. "A lot of times if a D-man gets hurt, you don't know it at times. We found out in the room right before the third period. Same thing happened to me this year against the Islanders. I don't think the D-man knew then either. Pretty crazy to see it happened twice in one year involving the same team."
"I haven't seen that. I know Duchene was the same thing and it's weird," Housley said. "I've never seen it when I was playing or when I was coaching. Look at the trade and both clubs improved their team and it will be interesting what their lineup will be."
Former Sabres goalie and current Buffalo broadcast analyst Martin Biron will be inducted into the Rochester Amerks Hall of Fame Friday night in conjunction with the Amerks' 7:05 game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Blue Cross Arena.
Biron played for the Amerks for parts of four seasons (1997-2001), posting a 59-32-9 record with a 2.36 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. The goals-against mark ranks 12th in franchise history.
His best season in Rochester was 1998-99, when Biron went 36-13-3 while setting the franchise mark for the lowest goals-against average (2.07) and highest save percentage (.930). He tied the AHL record for save percentage while earning the Bastien Memorial Award presented to the AHL's best goalie and the Holmes Memorial Award for being part of the team with the lowest GAA in a season. Biron played in the '99 AHL All-Star Game and was named a first-team AHL All-Star after the season.
Biron, 40, went on to post 230 NHL victories for five teams in a career that stretched to 2013. He's fourth on the Sabres' all-time list with 134 victories, second to Dominik Hasek in GAA (2.53) and third in shutouts (18) behind Hasek and Ryan Miller.