Record: 52 – 20 – 10
BUFFALO — Life is good for healthy family man Zach Bogosian right now — although he, like the rest of his Buffalo Sabres teammates, had anticipated savouring a lot more victories this NHL season.
They'd managed to collect a paltry 10 wins through 42 games prior to their battle Tuesday night with the visiting Winnipeg Jets.
That puts them in bottom-of-the-barrel territory in the NHL's Eastern Conference, and just three points north of the league-worst Arizona Coyotes to the west. That's something that sits none too well with the 27-year-old defenceman who hails from Massena, N.Y., about a five-hour drive from the Sabres' home at KeyBank Center.
"Obviously, we'd like to be in a better position, hockey-wise. This year has been frustrating," Bogosian said after Buffalo's morning skate. "We haven't really seemed to find our game... we've shown spurts of playing good hockey but, obviously, still not good enough.
"I think coming into this year we had big expectations. If you'd have asked us in September if we'd be in this position, I don't think we would have thought that. I think we would have thought we'd have been much higher up."
A year ago, the Sabres failed to crack the post-season for the sixth straight campaign, yet, at times resembled a team on the rise, finishing four games below .500 (33-37-12). But another sub-par season cost general manager Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma their jobs.
A familiar face in Buffalo — and in Winnipeg — former NHL all-star defenceman Phil Housley was hired to coach the club while former Winnipegger Jason Botterill was handed the GM reins. With another year of seasoning for sensational youngster Jack Eichel, the resurgence of scorer Evander Kane, and the additions of blue-liner Marco Scandella and forward Jason Pominville to a squad that also has talented skaters such as centre Ryan O'Reilly and defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen, there was belief around the league the organization had taken a step forward.
That hasn't materialized to date, although hope hasn't been lost.
"There's a lot of good players in the organization, whether it's with us or with Rochester (Buffalo's AHL affiliate). You look at a franchise player like Jack (Eichel), he's a great guy to build around. He's a hell of a player and he's an even better person, and that goes a long way in our room. He's the driving force of this team," said Bogosian, who has been with the Sabres since shuffling off to Buffalo with Kane in a blockbuster trade from Winnipeg in February 2014.
"I think the future's bright here. You'd like it to be a little brighter right now. In all reality we knew coming in it was going to be a process, but I think a lot of guys wish it could be sped up a little bit. You want to be in a better position than we are right now."
Winning aside, there's a contentment to the oft-injured former first-round draft pick (third overall in 2008 by Atlanta), now playing fairly big minutes for the Sabres, in all situations, but with just one assist in 17 contests. Bogosian and his wife, Bianca, a former U.S. soccer star, are enjoying every day with their 18-month-old daughter, Mila.
"It's been a lot of fun, definitely a change, a change for the good," he said.
He's healthy again after an injury that occurred in the last period of the Sabres' final pre-season game — thought at the time to be just a day-to-day thing — that lingered for two months.
In his ninth NHL season, Bogosian's two healthiest campaigns were the first two of his career (2009-11) with the Thrashers. The year before the trade (2013-14), the Jets were without his services for 25 games. Last year in Buffalo, a serious knee injury sidelined him for six weeks.
The physical, mobile blue-liner said he's so ready to shake that rather unfortunate label.
"I thought I had a great training camp, a good pre-season. I liked where was my game was going and then it gets cut pretty short," he said, adding the league hasn't seen enough of him since the Thrashers' relocation to Winnipeg and the subsequent move to Buffalo.
"Every time I've gotten a head of steam, I've run into some injury problems. But I still believe in myself and my abilities, and I really want to keep getting better every day. It's something that I won't be satisfied until I reach that level and I'm going to keep working until I get there."
Nearly three years after the deal that forced him to swap his blue-and-whites for blue-and-golds, Bogosian said he still has a soft spot for Winnipeg and the Jets organization.
I looked at (the trade) a few different ways. It was a hard team to leave because I was close with a lot of guys over there and had a lot of respect for the organization and the city that treated me very well. On the flip side, I got a chance to come home and play close to my parents and be around my family more," he said. "Those guys still mean a lot to me. Hockey is one thing but you take hockey out of it and there's a lot of good people in that organization, that locker room, that I'll be friends with the rest of my life."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).