Back in 1995, the National Hockey League instituted unrestricted free agency throughout the league.
As years have gone by, the Buffalo Sabres have made their fair share of signings – as has every other franchise in the league.
All teams have hit those home runs in free agency and all teams have also had those absolute duds in free agency.
Looking throughout the years, there are certain players who stand out for the Sabres for the good, the bad and the ugly contracts.
Best Free Agent Signings:
Signed: Two-year deal in 2005
Played: Two seasons - 154 games with 69 points (4 goals, 65 assists)
On August 4, 2005, the Buffalo Sabres signed free agent defenseman Teppo Numminen. What the franchise did not realize is that they would be getting one of their steadiest leaders and a very reliable defensemen.
Numminen came over after the full season lockout and his presence was integral during the highly-successful 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, which saw the Sabres collect 110 points and 113 points and a Presidents’ Trophy, respectively
Following his original contract expiring, Numminen would play parts of two more seasons with Buffalo after undergoing heart surgery, before retiring in August 2009.
Signed: Three-year deal in 2006
Played: Three seasons - 205 games with 98 points (22 goals, 76 assists)
Another signing to solidify Buffalo’s blueline that turned up to be way more boom than bust.
Spacek’s stint with Buffalo began with a run at the President’s Trophy. While the Sabres came up short in the Eastern Conference Final, their regular season success would go unmatched.
While Spacek recorded the sixth-lowest time-on-ice (19:09) among qualifying defensemen, this speaks volumes to how deep those Sabres squads actually were.
Following the expiration of his deal, Spacek headed north of the border to Montreal.
Signed: Three-year deal in 2010
Played: Two and a half seasons - 174 games with 67 points (25 goals, 42 assists)
Wrapping up the best free agent signings is one more solid defenseman for the top-six.
Jordan Leopold rolled into town with a reputation as being a reliable defenseman. Throughout his two-plus seasons in Buffalo, he merely confirmed that reputation.
In his first season with the Sabres, Leopold led all defensemen with 23:20 time on ice, despite his even-strength numbers being slightly subpar.
Leopold’s second season saw him bounce back, between the first and second pairing, while still remaining relevant on the Sabres blueline.
The final year of his deal brought 24 games with Buffalo before being dealt to the St. Louis Blues on March 30, 2013 for a 2013 second-round pick (became Justin Bailey) and a 2015 fifth-round pick (became Anthony Florentino).
Worst Free Agent Signings:
Signed: 10 year deal in June 2011
Played: Three seasons – 192 games with 87 points (16 goals, 71 assists)
When Terry Pegula famously said he would “drill another well” if he wanted to make more money a few months prior, fans knew it was about to go down in Pegula’s first go-around in free agency as owner of the Sabres.
The money party began with the announcement of a 10 year, $40,000,000 contract right before the first day of free agency.
While this list is about free agents and Ehrhoff’s rights were acquired before signing a deal, semantics can be thrown out the door here - Ehrhoff was headed to unrestricted free agency.
In his first season with the Sabres, Ehrhoff was electric:
Ehrhoff improved throughout his second year with the Sabres:
The third season provided the fall back to Earth for Ehrhoff, which raised a handful of red flags – seven years left on a contract will do that.
On June 30, 2014 – three years to the day of signing with Buffalo – Ehrhoff was bought out by the Sabres, using a compliance buyout.
While the cap hit does not count against the cap, due to the compliance buyout, Ehrhoff’s seven year deal turned into a 14-year deal worth $12,000,000.
Each year, Ehrhoff finds himself on the Sabres books for $857,143. This will continue to occur until the end of the 2027-28 season.
It almost feels wrong to categorize Ehrhoff as one of the worst ever, but it has to be categorized somehow because of that long-term portion of the deal.
Signed: Five-year deal in July 2014
Played: Four seasons – 253 games, 94 points (35 goals, 59 assists)
Prior to re-signing with the Buffalo Sabres in July 2014, Matt Moulson was electric for the Sabres in a short stint.
After coming over in a deal for Thomas Vanek, Moulson racked up 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 44 games and took Buffalo by storm.
There had been rumblings around the hockey world that then-general manager Tim Murray had a handshake agreement to bring Moulson back to Buffalo in the following offseason, when Moulson officially became an unrestricted free agent.
With hindsight being 20/20, Murray should have let Moulson walk into Sabres lore and not back onto the ice in a Sabres sweater.
Moulson would go on to play 253 games with the Sabres in his second stint, only tallying 94 points.
While this would not hurt too bad in most situations, Moulson carried a cap-hit of $5,000,000 a season.
For a player who had clearly lost a step in a game where speed is key, this was bad news for the Sabres.
Things finally came to a head when on December 4, 2017, Moulson was waived.
After clearing waivers the next day, Moulson was subsequently assigned to the AHL, where he was loaned to the Ontario Reign.
Moulson would go on to play 117 games for the Los Angeles Kings’ affiliate, while putting up 108 points (46 goals, 62 assists) – all while being paid by the Buffalo Sabres.
The original five-year deal expires on July 1, 2019.
Signed: Six-year deal in July 2011
Played: Three seasons – 137 games with 46 points (10 goals, 36 assists)
July 1, 2011 was supposed to be a joyous day in Buffalo. With the aforementioned signing of Christian Ehrhoff, along with the signing of Ville Leino, everything was coming up Millhouse in Buffalo.
For Leino, his best day in Buffalo was his first day - Leino struggled badly through his tenure with the Sabres.
In 137 games, Leino scored 10 goals.
Granted, Leino was pushed into a role that he had not played in the National Hockey League but the big contract puts the unwanted spotlight on another player.
Less than three years after signing a six-year deal, Ville Leino was bought out using a compliance buyout.
This buyout pushed Leino’s final three years of his deal into a six-year deal that ended up being worth $7,333,333.
Leino found himself being paid $1,222,222 until the end of the 2019-20 season.
For a person who once referred to the city of Buffalo as jail, getting paid to not be here is not such a bad thing after all.