Last January, the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers swapped prospects, with Justin Bailey heading to Philly and Taylor Leier going to Buffalo. The duo had remarkably similar numbers at both the NHL and AHL levels and were each headed to restricted free agency, but the teams hoped a change of scenery might help to push them into NHL roles. However, when the time came for qualifying offers, both players found themselves as free agents rather than sticking with their new teams. The reasons however were very different.
Bailey got an immediate tryout with Philadelphia last season, skating in 11 games with the Flyers down the stretch. Unfortunately for the big winger, he failed to impress with just one point in that span and was not much of a difference-maker in the AHL either. The Flyers let him walk and he signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Vancouver Canucks this summer, which has so far paid off with immense minor league production and even a pair of NHL appearances.
Leier, on the other hand, spent the remainder of last season with the AHL’s Rochester Americans and was a valuable asset. By all accounts, the Sabres had planned to re-sign him. However, the young forward suffered a freak accident while training in May that completely changed the status quo. While practicing his stickhandling on rollerblades at a local tennis court near his Saksatoon home, Leier fell and put his arm out to break his fall. His shoulder popped out, tearing his labrum. Suddenly, his future was in doubt. With a long road ahead of him, including surgery and rehab, Leier knew that an extension with Buffalo was likely no longer an option. Yet, finding employment anywhere else was likely even more unlikely. The team and player agreed that staying where he was, that being AHL Rochester, was the best course of action, and so Leier signed a one-year AHL deal with the Americans.
Leier returned to game action in late December, finally having healed from his accident. In the 17 games since, the skilled forward has recorded seven goals and eight points, among the team’s scoring leaders. Regardless of whether they need him this season or not, the Sabres have decided to reward Leier’s hard work and dedication. The team announced today that they have signed him to an NHL contract for the remainder of the season. While it is a two-way deal worth the minimum $700K, the move is more of a symbolic gesture anyhow that shows Leier that the club continues to support him. It will also keep him under team control into next season as a restricted free agent.
Of course, Leier will have to clear waivers today before he can be re-added to the Rochester roster. If he continues to produce in the AHL, the Sabres could finally give him an NHL look down the stretch as well, especially if they move out current roster pieces at the trade deadline. Leier has 55 NHL games and seven points under his belt and after working hard to return from injury and earn an NHL contract, the hope is that the young forward will have the chance to build upon those totals moving forward.