By John Vogl
The Sabres' brass has been on the hunt for hard-working veterans. They added one this afternoon by claiming Zenon Konopka off waivers.
The tough center from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., has played 323 games for Anaheim, Columbus, Tampa Bay, the Islanders, Ottawa and Minnesota. He has 12 goals, 29 points and 1,049 penalty minutes.
Konopka is in the final season of a two-year deal and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He has a cap hit of $925,000 and a salary of $1 million, some of which will be spent on tickets now.
"He’s a local guy," agent Kevin Epp told The News by phone. "I said, 'It might cost you a little more than you make to play back there now. You’ve got too many family and friends. I’m sure you’re going to have an extra 50 fans a night there now.'
"He was growing up with the Sabres, so it’s pretty exciting for him."
The Wild waived the 33-year-old Thursday prior to their 4-1 win over the Sabres. While Konopka doesn't add scoring for a team that desperately needs goals, he does help in one area of need. He has won 65.7 percent of his faceoffs this season and is regarded as one of the top faceoff centers in the NHL.
The Sabres are tied for 28th in the 30-team league with a 46.4 percent faceoff percentage.
The 6-foot, 213-pounder was undrafted but worked his way to the NHL. Pat LaFontaine, the Sabres' president of hockey operations, is familiar with Konopka through their time on Long Island.
The Sabres are need of players after injuries have claimed Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford and Ville Leino, among others. The team is scheduled to practice this afternoon and host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.