Johnny Oduya had a few rough seasons in the NHL before joining the Chicago Blackhawks. He now must decide if he wants to go back to the old days.
Things didn’t start off badly once Oduya came to North America from his native Sweden, where he remained for five campaigns after being selected in the seventh round of the 2001 draft by the Washington Capitals. The defenseman signed with the New Jersey Devils and played three seasons with the club, helping it win the Atlantic Division regular-season title twice and finish second once.
Oduya enjoyed the most productive offensive season of his career with the Devils in 2008-09, recording highs of seven goals (four game-winners) and 29 points. That apparently drew the attention of the Atlanta Thrashers, who made him the key piece of the package they received when they traded superstar Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey in February 2010.
The 6-footer finished the 2009-10 season with the Thrashers, as well as the following campaign – their final one in Atlanta, missing the playoffs both times. He remained with the franchise for its move to Winnipeg but was saved from a third straight season on the outside of the postseason picture when the Jets dealt him to the Blackhawks on February 27, 2012.
That date likely will go down as the most important one of Oduya’s career. The Stockholm-born blue-liner reached the promised land in his first full season in the Windy City, helping Chicago defeat the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Final to win the Stanley Cup for the first time.
Oduya and the Blackhawks nearly returned to the Final the following year but fell to the Los Angeles Kings in seven games in the Western Conference final. But the 33-year-old finished on top again this past season, playing an integral role as Chicago defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning for its third championship in six years.
A veteran of 664 NHL games, Oduya became an unrestricted free agent on July 1 but has yet to sign a new contract. The Blackhawks still are interested despite re-signing David Rundblad and Trevor van Riemsdyk and acquiring Trevor Daley in a deal with the Dallas Stars.
However, another team has its hat in the ring for Oduya — the Buffalo Sabres.
Whether or not he would be willing to join a team that has finished at or near the bottom of the league the last few seasons is the multi-million dollar question. He may not have much of a choice, though, as the Blackhawks would need to get under the salary cap in order to re-sign him.
The Sabres may not be as bad a choice as some would think. Buffalo will have defenseman Zach Bogosian for a full season after acquiring him from Winnipeg in February along with talented forward Evander Kane, who has yet to lace up the skates for his new team.
Buffalo also addressed some of its needs this offseason, acquiring forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn from the Colorado Avalanche, as well as veteran center David Legwand and goaltender Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators. It signed free-agent blue-liner Carlo Colaiacovo and obtained backup netminder Chad Johnson from the New York Islanders while selecting 2015 Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Eichel with the second overall pick in this year’s draft.
Reports by several Chicago newspapers say Oduya is likely to make a decision about his future this week. Barring a clearance move by the Blackhawks, he’s unlikely to maintain his current address and could be part of a turnaround in upstate New York.