BUFFALO — Brad Boyes is trying hard not to sweat the upcoming NHL trade deadline. Having been dealt four times at the cutoff, including last season when St. Louis shipped him here, he’s used to experiencing the uncertainty.
“I try to turn my phone off, but they find ways to get a hold of me,” the struggling Sabres forward joked Thursday inside the First Niagara Center.
This season, though, Boyes, an upcoming unrestricted free agent, believes he won’t draw much interest.
“I have three goals, so I don’t know who’s coming running,” Boyes said bluntly.
Still, someone could take a flier on the 29-year-old before Feb. 27, perhaps offer the Sabres a low draft pick. He would only be owed about six weeks of his $4 million salary.
It’s easy to forget, but Sabres fans greeted Boyes’ arrival from the Blues 11 months ago like a superstar was coming to town. The trade, Terry Pegula’s first significant transaction, signaled the owner would spend for a winner as he had promised.
Boyes, a 43-goal scorer in 2007-08, immediately rewarded the Sabres, tallying five times in his first 10 games.
Counting the postseason, Boyes has four goals in his last 56 contests dating back to last year.
Boyes can’t explain it. He shakes his head while talking candidly about his meager output, the frustration visible in his face and evident in his voice.
“It’s not fun. You’re here for a reason, obviously,” Boyes said after finishing a long workout. “You got to chip in and (reach) your goal, and part of my goal is scoring goals at timely parts of the game. I haven’t been doing that. I don’t know what it is anymore. … Just keep going. Hopefully, they bounce. ... It’s just frustrating to say the least.”
Boyes, who still plays on the power play, missed some glorious chances in the Sabres’ 1-0 shootout loss Wednesday to the New York Rangers, a game he had five shots and hit a post.
Up a man with 1:04 left in regulation, Boyes couldn’t convert an opportunity alone in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
“I had a couple whacks at it,” Boyes said. “The way things are going, not finding daylight. It’s a play that changes the game. Those are goals that I got to score.”
In the shootout, Lundqvist’s glove stymied Boyes’ slick move at the goal line.
Moments like those make Boyes feel like he’s letting people down.
“A perfect example is I score that goal (in regulation) it’s a (different) game – we get two points as opposed to one. I got to roll the play. ... I got to do my job,” Boyes said. “ ... (My teammates) are doing their part. We’re a team that needs everyone going, and my goal, my part – I got a sense of what it is – and I got to start doing it.”
The Sabres acknowledged last year Boyes probably wouldn’t crack 40 goals again. But they felt they maybe had a 25-goal, 60-point performer.
Right now, he has zero goals in 13 games and one in his last 29. Overall, he has 12 points in 38 games.
Nonetheless, Boyes’ big assist Tuesday created Paul Gaustad’s game-winning score in a 3-1 win in Montreal. Some excellent work down low, where Boyes is at his best, set it up.
“His strength is basically from the hash marks down,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s got a quick release. I thought he did a great job on the Gaustad goal.”
Boyes has played the last two games at center beside Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta.
“These recent games have been as well as he’s played,” Ruff said about Boyes. “I know we wanted to get him the wing, but I think he’s played better in the middle. And, actually, I think Paul has played better on the wing. That line has been good for us.”
Boyes feels comfortable on the trio.
“It’s nothing too fancy, but they can make plays and they got skill, too. It’s good. I think we’ve had some looks, we’ve had some opportunities. … I think we could do some damage out there.”
If that happens, the Sabres might keep Boyes.
“Hopefully,” he said, “things go well and I stay, we become a better team.”
With their seven regular defensemen healthy again, the Sabres sent Brayden McNabb to Rochester on Thursday when he had fully recovered from the concussion he suffered Jan. 13.
The rookie played for the Americans hours later.
“He needs to play big minutes,” Ruff said.
The 21-year-old had one goal, five points and was a minus-2 in his first 20 NHL games.
In other news, the flu kept center Tyler Ennis from practicing Thursday. Ruff believes he’ll play Saturday.
Ennis has looked sharp since returning from his second ankle sprain Tuesday.
“I haven’t seen any indication that it’s bothered him at all,” Ruff said. “I think he’s really played well for us. His speed up front has been evident. He’s had real good tenacity. He’s been on the body in both games, and I think he’s done a heck of job at center.”