Zach gets his groove back

EDMONTON — Forget about being at a crossroads. Zach Bogosian’s once-promising career was teetering on the brink of extinction.

The original member of the Winnipeg Jets 2.0, who came over from Atlanta in the fall of 2011 and spent three-and-a-half seasons patrolling the blue-line at Bell MTS Place, was shuffled off to the Buffalo Sabres in the boldest trade of Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s career. (Bogosian, Evander Kane and prospect goalie Jason Kasdorf were shipped to Buffalo in exchange for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick that turned out to be Jack Roslovic).

While the deal worked out pretty well for Winnipeg, it didn’t go as smoothly for Bogosian with the Sabres over parts of six seasons, many of them spent on the injured list.

So when news emerged in February that Bogosian was being bought out of the remaining months of a seven-year contract he’d signed with the Jets in 2013 that paid him US$5.143 million per year — following a string of healthy scratches with Buffalo — it appeared the end could be near for the third-overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft who had never lived up to the lofty expectations.

Oh, what a difference a few months and another change of scenery can make.

Just look at Bogosian now, a fixture on the Tampa Bay Lightning defence corps that is about to compete for the Stanley Cup, starting tonight against the Dallas Stars.

It’s safe to say Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois’ decision to sign him to a US$1.3 million pro-rated contract for the duration of the 2019-20 season has paid off in spades. The return on that modest investment has been substantial, especially for a team that wanted to get harder to play against but had little financial flexibility to work with.

“Maybe the pause ended up being a big positive in that regard. It gave (Bogosian) more time to connect with new teammates, new surroundings. And then we got a training camp where we’re working on systems stuff and chemistry on the ice,” BriseBois said Friday of having a player who couldn’t cut it with the lowly Sabres now helping the mighty Lightning succeed.

Bogosian has averaged nearly 18 minutes of ice time in 18 playoff games inside the bubble, bringing a big, physical presence to a strong defensive group that includes studs Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev.

The fact Bogosian can take on a lesser role in a loaded lineup has helped his cause. He has four assists, 36 hits, 18 blocked shots and 12 penalty minutes while being paired regularly with veteran Ryan McDonagh.

“Bogo, when he got to our team, I actually had gotten injured and only played two games with him before the pause there. I was kind of watching from afar. You want to help a guy get used to the locker room, so I kind of missed those situations there early on. But him and I have grown really close over the pause,” McDonagh told the Free Press.

That includes spending time together training in Minnesota, where McDonagh is from and Bogosian and his family now call home. When the return to play began in late July, the bond only got stronger.

“Coming back to Tampa, he roomed up at my house. He’s just a guy who’s really focused and determined. We all play long careers, you have some injuries along the way. He’s had no shortage of that. But he knows that his abilities are still there. You’re seeing that here in these playoffs,” said McDonagh.

“A big, strong defender. Not afraid of anything, not afraid of anybody. He knows what he can bring to the table, knows he can help a team win a game, win a series. It’s been awesome to see him be a part of this run here. You play a long time, you want to get a taste of playoffs. He’s obviously getting the full taste of it here.”

Indeed, Bogosian had never skated in a post-season NHL game prior to this summer, a product of being on some poor teams in the past. The first two years of his career were spent with a weak Atlanta Thrashers squad, followed by plenty of growing pains in Winnipeg. Then it was off to Buffalo, where the Sabres have mastered the art of losing.

“He’s just as hungry as all of us to try and win this thing,” said McDonagh.

The timing couldn’t be better for Bogosian, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the playoffs. Where a new NHL contract may not have been guaranteed earlier this season, there’s no doubt this recent run has proven he’s still got some game left.

And perhaps he will be able to add Stanley Cup champion to his hockey resumé.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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