Veteran Brian Gionta is expected to help a young and developing Sabres team. He signed a three-year, $12.75 million deal. (Charles Lewis / Associated Press)
Buffalo, N.Y. — Sabres general manager Tim Murray couldn’t get through explaining how popular Buffalo is as a free-agent destination without his cellphone ringing.
Stopping in mid-sentence after making a flurry of moves in opening the NHL’s signing period Tuesday, Murray checked his phone, smiled and said: “I should take that call.” He didn’t. But the timing was perfect in emphasizing Murray’s point.
Whatever laughingstock reputation that Sabres established in being the league’s worst team last season certainly didn’t reflect in how popular they were among established free agents.
“It just shows you that there are quality players that want to come here,” Murray said. “I’ve thought that all along, but you’re never sure until the clock hits 12. And there were more (interested) than what we got done.”
Overseeing his first free-agency frenzy since taking over in January, Murray added depth and experience to a young patchwork roster that contributed to one of the Sabres’ worst seasons in franchise history.
Buffalo (21-51-10) set a franchise record for losses and established a post-NHL-expansion-era low by scoring just 150 goals.
In a matter of four hours, Murray changed the team’s outlook by committing a combined $46.375 million in salaries to fill leadership and offensive needs by signing four free agents, including former Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta. He also acquired veteran defenseman Josh Gorges, who adjusted his no-trade clause to add Buffalo, in a deal with the Canadiens.
And he also re-signed forward Marcus Foligno, a restricted free agent, to a two-year $3.75 million contract.
“This changes the mindset is what it changes,” Murray said. “I still don’t consider us a contending team by any means. But now the players may think differently. And that’s good.”
Though forward Matt Moulson, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract, was the priciest addition for the Sabres, Gionta was the centerpiece.
At 35, Gionta is a consistent two-way forward and respected leader, whose presence is expected to resonate on a young and developing team.
From nearby Rochester, Gionta signed a three-year, $12.75 million deal.
Gorges, a nine-year NHL veteran, also has leadership potential and is regarded as someone capable of grooming Buffalo’s young crop of blue-liners.
“He’s heart and soul,” said Murray, who gave up a 2016 second-round pick for Gorges.
The Sharks signed free-agent forward John Scott to a one-year, $700,000 contract. He played for the Sabres last year.
... Defenseman Kyle Cumiskey agreed to a one-year contract with the Blackhawks after two years in Sweden.
... The Rangers agreed to a contract with forward Chris Bourque, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque. The 28-year-old Bourque played in Russia and Switzerland last season. The Rangers also beat other suitors for highly coveted defenseman Dan Boyle.
... The Devils re-signed two of their own free agents, fourth-line linemates Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta.
... The Ducks signed goaltender Jason LaBarbera. LaBarbera joins his sixth organization.
... The Flames signed longtime Ducks starting goaltender Jonas Hiller.
... The agent for Olli Jokinen says the center has signed a one-year deal with the Predators.