It was evident during casual chats with the Buffalo Sabres that Mike Grier was exactly what they needed. The veteran forward would pop up in conversations whenever players started talking about doing things the right way. It was unprompted, and it was continuous.
It will also continue.
The Sabres re-signed the right winger to a one-year contract today, about six weeks before Grier was set to become an unrestricted free agent. Terms were not available. The 35-year-old expressed his desire to return moments after the playoffs ended, and he got his wish.
It’s quite a turnaround from the last time his contract with the Sabres expired. He expressed doubts about the direction of the franchise during the summer of 2006 and signed a three-year deal with San Jose. He returned last season and liked what he saw from the Northeast Division champions, who fell in the first round of the playoffs to Boston.
"I know when I was younger, when you go through a tough playoff series and you don’t come out on top, sometimes you learn from it," he said. "You go home and you feel like you’re a better hockey player. You want to get back at it, you know what you have to work on, and I think it will be a good experience for a lot of guys."
Grier’s experience helped this season. The 13-year veteran brought an instructive, calming influence to the dressing room and the ice. Most of the Sabres have grown through the organization together, and Grier’s presence showed them new steps in the maturation process.
"I’ve learned a lot from a guy like Mike Grier," Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta said on locker clean-out day. "Having him around helped out a lot more than people might have thought."
Grier showed his worth during the playoffs, as well. He tied for the team lead with two goals in the six-game loss to Boston while taking 19 shots, second most on the Sabres. He led Buffalo with 33 hits and tied for second in blocked shots with 12.
"They cherish the opportunity to be in the postseason and the chance to win it," coach Lindy Ruff said during series while discussing Grier and Bruins veteran Mark Recchi. "I think they realize at this point in their game that they are not going to have many more chances. It’s a great lesson for the younger players."
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Grier finished the regular season with 10 goals and 12 assists in 73 regular-season games. He was a key member of the NHL’s second-ranked penalty-kill unit.