By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — The conversations, the first overtures into acquiring Steve Ott, the gritty Dallas forward the Sabres coveted, began last season. General manager Darcy Regier, who held struggling center Derek Roy as a key chip, had been keeping a dialogue with counterpart Joe Nieuwendyk for months.
At times, Regier said he didn’t want to pull the trigger. Other times, Nieuwendyk wasn’t willing.
“Either the timing wasn’t right or the people weren’t right,” Regier said Monday inside the First Niagara Center.
However, on Monday, despite a stalled NHL trade market, both sides finally agreed to a deal.
The Sabres sent the underachieving Roy, once the Sabres’ top offensive threat, to the Stars for Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy.
“I’ve never been traded before,” said Roy, who compiled 161 goals and 427 points in 549 games since 2003-04. “It’s weird. It’s emotional. I’ve been playing here my whole career, so it’s a very emotional day for me.”
With Ott, who has 85 goals and 1,170 penalty minutes in 566 NHL games, and 6-foot-8 tough guy John Scott, who was signed Sunday, the Sabres got a whole lot tougher in about 20 hours.
The Sabres, a team light on physicality in recent seasons, have been targeting toughness this summer, Regier said. Ott and Scott “move the needle over to a grittier, more physical hockey club.”
“We needed to move the balance of skill versus the physical nature of our game, being a tougher team to play against,” he said. “Steve can play as a compliment to the higher-skilled guys and contribute in a lot of different ways. I think he’ll be very valuable for us.”
Ott, who’s so close with Sabres defenseman Mike Weber he calls him a brother, believes his new team has “the right pieces, a lot of great pieces of being a phenomenal team.”
“I don’t think they’re a (ninth-place) team by any means,” Ott told the Gazette by phone from his offseason home in Ontario. “I think they’re a top contending team from the owner on turning that organization into a first-class organization. I’ve only heard phenomenal things about Buffalo and about the Sabres.
“That’s something I’m excited for, to have that ownership, to have that backing to just want to win every single night.”
Prior to tearing his quadriceps before Christmas two years ago, the diminutive Roy was the Sabres’ best player many nights.
The 29-year-old hasn’t been the same player since, though.
Roy hurt his hamstring so badly last summer he stopped working out, and then endured his worst season, compiling only 17 goals and 44 points in 80 games while becoming the fans’ top whipping boy. He had averaged 27 goals and 71 points in full NHL campaigns.
“He did have some injuries and was coming back from a pretty serious injury the year before,” Regier said. “I thought he was getting better. He had some good spots in the second half of the season. I honestly think he’ll have a very good year this upcoming season.”
In April, Roy said he didn’t like Sabres coach Lindy Ruff’s public criticism, something Regier said wasn’t a factor in the trade.
Regier and Ruff spoke to Roy and thanked him for his service.
“Outstanding player for this organization,” Regier said. “A terrific person as well.”
Regier said he talked to Roy about the possibility of a trade following the season.
The emergence of Tyler Ennis, an elite center after moving over from the wing during the winter, and the acquisition of pivot Cody Hodgson in February, made Roy, who’s entering the last year of his contract, expendable, Regier said.
Now, Regier wants to add size at center.
“We will … see if we can get a little bigger in the middle to compliment those guys,” he said.
Regier thinks that would be through a trade. Right now, though, little is happening with top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter still unsigned.
“It’s a little bit like bad weather over O’Hare or JFK (airports),” Regier said. “There’s quite a holding pattern right now in the league.”
Regier said the Sabres “have been involved in free agents.”
“We continue to have offers outstanding,” he said.
Adding another defenseman now, at least without shedding one first, seems unlikely.
The Sabres have eight NHL defenders with Pardy, nine if you count Brayden McNabb, a strong rookie last season.
“We need to pencil him in the American League for now,” Regier said about McNabb.
What do the Sabres have in the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Pardy?
“Big defenseman, good reach, stay at home, still young and improving,” Regier said. “We liked him in Calgary, struggled a little more in Dallas. But we think he can be someone who can give us some options.”
The 28-year-old Pardy has four goals, 29 points and 157 penalty minutes in 183 NHL games.
Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Ott, 6-feet and 194 pounds, is versatile. He plays left wing and center, although he’s played on the side about “90 percent” of his career. He scored 22 goals two years ago. He also ranked 14th in faceoff percentage last season (55.5 percent).
“I love being physical,” Ott said. “I love being hard to play against. I love trying to challenge the other teams’ best players to compete and drawing them to a compete level, and I also love scoring goals and being offensive as well. It’s every night trying to be a complete player.”
Ott has a $2.95 million cap hit and two years left on his contract. Pardy has a $2 million hit and one year remaining.
The moves put the Sabres $10,995,447 under the $70.2 million salary cap, according to gapgeek.com.
Notes: Ott on leaving the Stars after nine seasons: “There’s a bit of mixed emotions. I put a lot of blood sweat and tears into the Dallas organization. I’m very thankful for what they’ve done to me. … I’m very excited for this new opportunity. I’m kind of a guy that loves a new challenge.” Weber began living with Ott’s parents in Windsor, Ont., as a 15-year-old. Weber took Ott’s mother, Debby, on a road trip for parents last season. … Regier on what Scott adds: “It’s a message to other teams. I think in certain situations when you have him on the bench he gives some comfort to your own team as well.”