TORONTO – A coaching change in Anaheim and weeks worth of trade rumors could not prepare Brandon Montour for the phone call he received while sitting by a pool in Vancouver on Sunday afternoon.
That's when Montour, a 24-year-old defenseman, was told he was traded by the Ducks to the Buffalo Sabres on the eve of the trade deadline. He had less than 24 hours to join his teammates in Toronto, where he would not play Monday against the Maple Leafs.
Montour is not a restricted free agent until next summer, yet his former team chose to part with him for 21-year-old defenseman Brendan Guhle and a first-round draft pick. That didn't sit well with Montour, though he expressed excitement for joining a young, talented team closer to home.
"Nobody wants to get traded," Montour, who is expected to make his Sabres debut Tuesday in Philadelphia, said in Scotiabank Arena. "Obviously sad to leave friends. I was drafted there. ... It’s one of those things where I want to prove them wrong. I wanted to stay there for a long time, but it didn’t happen. This is home now."
Montour admitted he knew little about the Sabres' players – the Ducks lost to Buffalo both times this season – but knows their short-term plans differ from his former team's.
Ducks General Manager Bob Murray named himself interim coach after firing Randy Carlyle and is slowly overhauling a roster that proved to be too slow. The Sabres, meanwhile, are looking for young, talented players to add to a roster that includes Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin.
Montour ranked third on the Ducks in power-play ice time and averaged 22 minutes, 40 seconds per game while scoring five goals among 25 points this season. A second-round draft pick in 2014, Montour has already played in 21 playoff games, including 17 during the Ducks' run to the Western Conference finals in 2017.
He has scored 16 goals with 47 assists in 169 career NHL games, and is owed just $3.38 million next season. That skill set and contractual control were a perfect fit for Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill's plan and coach Phil Housley's system.
"He plays the game the way we want to play," Housley said of Montour following the morning skate Monday. He’s a highly skilled puck-moving defenseman that can join the rush, and that’s the way we want to play. It’s going to be a great fit for our team.”
Montour agreed, despite being unfamiliar with the roster. He is accustomed to the physical grind of the Western Conference. Additionally, Montour expressed confidence in his progress defensively.
He was minus-16 in 62 games with the struggling Ducks this season after posting a plus-27 in his first 107 NHL games. The Sabres need the latter type of production from Montour. After all, they have struggled defensively for much of the season and dealt defenseman Nathan Beaulieu to Winnipeg for a sixth-round pick after acquiring Montour.
Housley chuckled when a Toronto reporter asked if Montour would be paired with Dahlin, saying those decisions would not be made until their newest player arrived. Montour planned to speak to Housley and the coaching staff about his role.
The Sabres will not hold a morning skate Tuesday in Philadelphia, so Housley's plan won't be revealed until puck drop against the Flyers.
"A lot of people think I just have that offensive game, but over the years, I think, my defensive game has really come a long way," said Montour. "I think the two-way style, I like to play big minutes. When I get up there, I like to skate, get up there when I can. I’m focused on playing hard defensively, being physical for being a smaller guy."
Montour also was also happy to move closer to Brantford, Ont., where he grew up, and his parents live on the Six Nations reserve. His lacrosse background brought him to Buffalo for Bandits games in the past.
Montour did not arrive at Scotiabank Arena until roughly three hours before puck drop against the Maple Leafs and had little time to meet his new teammates. And as much as he did not want to be traded, he was hopeful he could help the Sabres snap their playoff drought.
"It’s huge," Montour said of joining a team in the playoff hunt. "This is the time that guys should be excited about. A young team that hasn’t really been in the playoffs the last little bit here so it’s new. … Everybody should be pretty amped up. Hopefully I can bring a positive boost to the dressing room and be vocal as much as I can, as well as on the ice."