UNIONDALE – There was no surprise when the Buffalo Sabres gave the official word on Jake McCabe on Monday.
The veteran defenseman's season is over after he tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee. The recovery time for the injury is expected to be six to eight months. McCabe was injured in the third period of Saturday's win at New Jersey and he was helped to the dressing room. An MRI exam Sunday in Buffalo revealed the scope of the damage.
"I had tears two nights ago already," coach Ralph Krueger said in his pregame briefing prior to Monday's game against the New York Islanders. "It was pretty clear on the doctor's first assessment we were dealing with a really serious setback. The confirmation just underlines the pain that we feel for the person first and foremost and then the player that we've lost for the season. It's an amazing setback in addition to what the group has gone through after Covid."
It's a tough break for McCabe on multiple levels. At 27, he was averaging 19 minutes, 11 seconds per game and playing some of the best hockey of his career while serving in a respected role as the team's alternate captain and its representative to the NHL Players Association.
Of bigger importance is the fact this was the final year of McCabe's contract and he is heading into unrestricted free agency this summer. McCabe likely was looking at a decent raise from his current $2.85 million salary and a good market for his services on a multi-year contract. Given the severity of his injury, McCabe won't be able to cash in this summer.
The loss of McCabe leaves the Sabres without both halves of their top defense pair. McCabe's partner, Rasmus Ristolainen, has been out since Jan. 31 due to a battle with Covid-19. McCabe also landed on the Covid list but said he had mild symptoms and returned to the lineup last week.
McCabe's injury also leaves the Sabres exceedingly thin of left-shot defensemen, with only Rasmus Dahlin remaining from previous seasons. Newcomers Matt Irwin and Brandon Davidson are also lefties and both went into the lineup Monday.
The top pair had Dahlin with Colin Miller. Irwin played with Brandon Montour and Davidson was paired with Henri Jokiharju, who returned to the lineup out of necessity after sitting as a healthy scratch Saturday in New Jersey.
Asked again about Ristolainen's status, Krueger had no new information.
"The way Covid works is there are no timelines," Krueger said. "There's no experience, no history because everybody's journey is different. The symptoms are never the same, the way back is not the same. He is struggling to get his energy to the level where he would be able to play. I think it's still going to take a while."