Panthers fill hole on defence; acquire Montour from Sabres

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Florida Panthers addressed losing Aaron Ekblad to a season-ending injury by acquiring defenceman Brandon Montour in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.

For Buffalo, the last-place Sabres continued selling off assets by acquiring a third-round draft pick in what is not expected to be their final move before the NHL’s trade deadline on Monday. The Sabres traded veteran Eric Staal to Montreal last month, and are in negotiations to trade forward Taylor Hall, who is completing a one-year, $8 million contract.

At 9-25-6, Buffalo is all but mathematically out of contention, and in position to match the NHL playoff drought record of 10 seasons.

Montour is a pending unrestricted free-agent completing a one-year, $3.85 million contract.

The Panthers add a two-way defenceman to a lineup that lost its top blueliner in Ekblad, who will miss 12 weeks after having surgery on March 30 to repair a broken left leg.

The trade was announced as Florida took the ice to play at Dallas, and with the Panthers in a tight race for first place in the Central Division standings.

Florida fell from first place to a tie with Tampa Bay for second after back-to-back losses to Carolina this week.

“Brandon is a capable and talented right-shot defenceman who will have an immediate impact on our club,” Panthers GM Bill Zito said in a statement released by the team. “His two-way acumen and ability to play important minutes make him an exciting addition to the Panthers.”

The Panthers opened salary cap space on Thursday in a trade that sent forward Brett Connolly and defenceman Riley Stillman to Chicago for forward Lucas Wallmark and defenceman Lucas Carlsson.

Montour, who turns 27 on Sunday, is in his fifth NHL season and has been with Buffalo since the Sabres acquired him from Anaheim on Feb. 24, 2019. He has five goals — four coming in his last seven games — and 14 points in 38 games this season.

Overall, the 2014 second-round draft pick has 29 goals and 76 assists for 105 points in 281 career games.

Sabres interim coach Don Granato praised Montour for not allowing trade discussions to affect his performance over the past few weeks.

“Through this, Brandon was incredible. He played hard last night. He kept this out of his mind when the puck dropped,” said Granato, referring to the Sabres' 4-3 loss to Washington on Friday.

“He was a lot of fun to be around. He’s competitive. Brings a lot of energy, a lot of life,” Granato added. “Of course, you don’t like losing guys like that, but we all understand and it’s part of our game."

NOTES: Granato said barring a setback, rookie centre Dylan Cozens is scheduled to return for Buffalo’s game at Philadelphia on Sunday. Cozens has missed six games with an upper body injury. ... Granato said D Will Borgen isn’t expected to resume practicing until Buffalo returns from its three-game road trip, which ends at Washington on Thursday. Borgen has missed 26 games with a broken forearm.

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John Wawrow, The Associated Press