BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The young, retooled Buffalo Sabres can rely on Kyle Okposo’s veteran presence for at least one more season after the team captain signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract on Wednesday.
The 35-year-old’s re-signing was anticipated after both the player and team expressed mutual interest in his return once Buffalo’s season ended last month. Okposo was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after completing a seven-year, $42 million contract, and gets an opportunity to continue leading a team finally showing signs of being competitive.
Despite extending an NHL-worst playoff drought to a 12th season, the Sabres fell two point short of making the playoffs and finished with 42 wins and 91 points — their most since last making the playoffs in 2011.
“I’m extremely proud to be a part of this group and to see how far we’ve come. We’ve become a team,” Okposo said after Buffalo was eliminated with two games left.
“And that’s the first time in a long time that I think we can say that about our squad here,” he added. “It was extremely gratifying in a way, but at the same time extremely disappointing with how it ended.”
Okposo was credited for providing guidance and serving as the voice of a team that began the season with the NHL’s youngest roster. He was appointed captain to start this season after serving as an alternate in 2021-22 when Buffalo stripped Jack Eichel of the captaincy before finally trading him to Vegas.
Where other players wanted out of Buffalo because of the Sabres' losing track record, Okposo expressed a desire to stay because of the promise he saw in a team that features young and up-and-coming stars such as Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power.
Okposo had 11 goals and 28 points in 75 games while playing more of a checking line roll. His best season in Buffalo came two years ago, when he had 21 goals — his fourth 20-goal season — and 45 points.
From Minnesota, Okposo spent his first nine seasons with the New York Islanders before signing with Buffalo in free agency in July 2016. At the time, Okposo viewed the Eichel-led Sabres as becoming contenders.
Though the team never played to its potential, Okposo eventually adopted Buffalo as a permanent home.
He’s continued playing despite having his career nearly sidetracked by several injuries scares.
Okposo endured a rash of concussions, experiencing four over a three-year stretch from 2017-’19. It’s a span that included such severe concussion-related symptoms that he spent nearly a week in Buffalo General Hospital’s Neuro Surgical ICU after he began losing weight and experienced difficulty sleeping following a routine hit in practice.
John Wawrow, The Associated Press