Longtime Sabres beat writer Bill Hoppe of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com, will be writing about Sabres prospects, the Rochester Americans and related topics this season.
Following his best season, Rochester Americans defenseman Zach Redmond said he and his wife, Maggie, discussed every option for the next step of his career.
Redmond’s status as an elite AHL player would have made him an attractive option on the open market. If he did not want to wait until free agency and perhaps take another crack at the NHL, he could have joined a European team.
But the Buffalo Sabres wanted Redmond, 30, locked up before anyone had a chance.
After they acquired him from the Montreal Canadiens on the eve of last season’s opener, he quickly morphed into arguably the Amerks’ most valuable skater.
So while negotiating a new contract, Redmond asked for a term and a price.
“They met it,” he said last week in HarborCenter.
On June 13, Redmond signed a two-year contract that he described as “very generous.”
There was, however, one condition: Redmond, who has played 133 NHL games, including three with the Sabres, had to sign an AHL contract.
So unless they award him an NHL deal in the future, his big-league dream is over for the next two seasons.
“It was different for a little while there,” Redmond said of having an AHL contract. “It was kind of weird to settle into. I didn’t think necessarily I would do that. But for me, at this stage of my career, I think to be in a place that I love and to be a part of something, whether it be in the minors or up, it just kind of made sense financially and for my family.”
Still, Redmond possesses hope he can get back to the NHL.
“There’s always hope,” he said. “I hope that I can keep putting my best foot forward and jump on the NHL radar, regardless of the deal.”
Another season like 2017-18 could help Redmond. Helping lead the Amerks’ revival – they clinched their first playoff berth since 2014 – was special.
“It’s not every day you get to play for guys that you really enjoy, that treat you well,” he said.
Amerks coach Chris Taylor said: “What we did as a group last year, he felt really comfortable. He embraced the city, the fans embraced him, the city embraced him.”
Redmond’s teammates also embraced him. Taylor said the veteran’s mellow demeanor has a soothing effect on the other players.
“He’s vocal and he’ll express his feelings,” Taylor said. “But … when he does something wrong, he just goes back and makes sure he doesn’t do it again.”
Settling into one place last season felt different. For years, Redmond shuttled between the NHL and the minors. In 2014-15, he spent the entire season with the Colorado Avalanche, playing 59 games.
But after a few early-season appearances, the Sabres kept Redmond in Rochester all year. The Michigan native responded by becoming one of the AHL’s top defenders, compiling 15 goals and a team-best 47 points in 66 appearances. His eight power-play goals also topped the Amerks. He was also named an AHL Second Team All-Star.
“It’s just a little bit different,” Redmond said of staying in one place. “You can kind of settle into one place, you’re sleeping in your own bed a lot, you’re seeing the same faces, you’re living through all the changes just as a team. It’s definitely easier to get into the flow of it and get comfortable, especially on the power play, because those can change every day or week.”
Redmond, however, doesn’t always like feeling comfortable. He said he prefers the grind of trying to earn NHL games.
“I’ve always just taken my contracts, thought them over carefully and done what we think is best,” he said.
Taylor said Redmond could return to the NHL someday.
“Just because you’re on an AHL deal doesn’t mean you can’t sign an NHL deal, and he knows that and he’s going to play that,” Taylor said. “He wants to play in the NHL as much as anybody.”