By John Vogl and Amy Moritz
The Buffalo Sabres filled a need for veteran leadership on defense, acquiring blue-liner Josh Gorges from Montreal for a second-round pick in the 2016 draft.
The 29-year-old Gorges also fills a major need on the Sabres' payroll chart. He has four years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of $3.9 million per season.
Montreal had been trying to trade Gorges to Toronto, but the Habs-loving defenseman nixed the deal. He originally had 15 teams on his modified trade list, but he reportedly expanded it to include Buffalo.
"It’s tough when you first hear the news because I’ve really loved every moment that I’ve had here in Montreal," Gorges said on Sportsnet. "It’s become my home over the last eight years, and I’ve made a lot of friends in the city and on this team. That’s the hardest part is knowing you have to say bye to all that, but that’s the nature of the beast and part of the business we’re involved. You move on, and I’m excited about the opportunity to go to Buffalo and help that team out.
Gorges knows the main job in Buffalo this season is to develop young talent, but he's not ready to admit he'll play only 82 games this year.
"I still think as much as Buffalo has a lot of good, young players that they’re trying to develop, I think at the end of the day the mind-set still has to be to make the playoffs," Gorges said in the TV interview. "I think anything can happen, and as long as the team and the group of guys are committed and buy into what the coach is preaching and play as a team, it’s not impossible. That shouldn’t be our mind-set, just hoping to have an OK year and have guys get better. The mind-set still has to be, ‘We’ve got to find a way to get into the playoffs.’"
Gorges went to Buffalo partially because he heard his close friend and former Montreal teammate Brian Gionta was close to signing with the Sabres. About an hour later, Gionta signed with Buffalo.
"I think he sees they're going in a different direction and he's heard good things about the place," his agent, Kevin Epp, told The Buffalo News by phone. "He heard his good, close friend Gionta could be signing there. I think he sees a lot of good things in Buffalo."
Gorges is a stay-at-home defenseman who had one goal and 14 points in 66 games this season. He is 6-foot-1, 201 pounds.
Gorges, speaking on Sportsnet, said he vetoed the trade to Toronto because he could not envision himself going to such a rival. He'll continue the rivalry when Maple Leafs fans invade Buffalo two or three times a year.
"It’s hard to realize after being in Montreal for such a long time that you can switch over and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs," Gorges said. "Nothing against that organization or that team, but when you build a rivalry it’s hard mentally, emotionally to think, ‘Wow, I’ve grown to hate this team, to play against them. How could I really go and put my heart and soul into it?’
"So I just wanted to take some time before I made a decision. I’ve been thinking about waiving it to go there over the last few days, and then this came up here today."