Brad Boyes had several hockey priorities in order long before he broke into the National Hockey League with San Jose in the 2003-04 season.
From a young age, Boyes was most productive when playing for teams with boys who played for each other, respected their coaches and received the same treatment.
"When everyone is in it for the same reasons," Boyes said by phone from his off-season home in Mississauga, Ont., "that's when you get winning teams and attitudes."
For the first time in seven years, following four NHL trades, Boyes can decide his hockey future. As of noon ET Sunday, he will be one of more than 300 unrestricted free agents to hit the open market.
The only certainty is that he won't be returning for a second full season with the Buffalo Sabres. The 30-year-old right-winger is fresh off his most disappointing NHL season that included a career-low 23 points, ankle and wrist injuries - the first time he missed games since junior - positional changes and reduced ice time
Between meetings this past week with the bargaining committee for the NHL Players' Association, Boyes talked to CBCSports.ca about a frustrating 2011-12 season, his search for a new NHL home and what type of coach he wishes to play for next season.
CBCSports.ca: Do you think you can sign with a team Sunday?
BB: I'm hoping, too, but it's tough because you don't have a lot of information [on the direction of teams] before that day. If not, [my agent Pat Brisson and I] will look at the next day.
CBCSports.ca: Many hockey observers believe it's a thin free-agent market this summer once you get past forward Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter. Can that only help a player like yourself who is coming off a disappointing season?
BB: It could be positive [for me] if there's not a ton of guys out there. If teams don't get their first or second choice then that's where I could fit in. It's all speculative to this point. It could be 10 teams calling or it could be two.
CBCSports.ca: After playing mostly on the right wing in your NHL career, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff had you on the left side and centre at times this past season as well as playing the penalty kill. How might this enhance your bargaining position?
BB: I got some comfort [playing those positions] so that might be a bonus being a little more versatile. But I think teams are going to be looking at me more for what I've done in the past as far as offence and scoring goals.
CBCSports.ca: Teams like Pittsburgh and Washington in the NHL Eastern Conference and Colorado and San Jose in the West have been rumoured as potential teams interested in signing you. Having played in both conferences, is the style of play in either more beneficial to your game?
BB: I've had better success in the West [career-high 72 points with St. Louis in 2008-09] and felt more comfortable but that doesn't mean I wouldn't mind still playing in the East. It's closer to [my off-season] home [in Mississauga, Ont.] and that's definitely a positive.
CBCSports.ca: When negotiating on your behalf, will your agent Pat Brisson speak to this past season as simply an off year and emphasize you have much to offer interested teams?
BB: Pat will probably say that I might not have been in the ideal situation [in Buffalo] playing in certain positions. I know what I can do and what I can bring [to a team].
It was a tough spot for me [in Buffalo] but next year I'm looking at wherever I go to get back to contributing [on the scoresheet], to having fun again, playing a more prominent role and to earn that again, not looking at anyone give it to you.
CBCSports.ca: What are the priorities in your search for a new team?
BB: One of the biggest is a coach that communicates well with me and is willing to give me an opportunity. There are no demands from my side but the biggest thing for me is a coach who gives me a sense of my role and what I need to do.
CBCSports.ca: There were reports late this past season that there wasn't a strong relationship between you and longtime Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff, that he had misused you and didn't play to your strengths such as giving you regular playing time. What qualities do you look for in a coach?
BB: Coming from coaches and having success with coaches that were yellers and screamers and hard on you, that's fine, as long as you get a pat on the back when you do something well. I want to play for a coach that I respect a lot and that'll go a long way in the way that I play.
That starts by communicating with off-ice stuff, saying hi, asking how the family is. Those things go a long way. I'm just looking for a coach that will do that to begin with. Once you get the personal side, then it's the hockey stuff, with the coach communicating what he likes or doesn't like about your play.
I don't need someone telling me every game, every minute or every shift if I've done something good or bad, but every once in a while it's nice to hear some communication either way to know you're part of the team and feel important.
I'll take what I can from last year but I'm looking at next year to really getting back to having fun and playing on a team that wants me there and I want to be a part of.
CBCSports.ca: What would be the ideal setting for you entering next season?
BB: In a perfect world, it would be a team that has room for me in the top six [forwards] or if it has depth in the top nine, a time where I'm put in power-play situations and a team that's going to win.
Unfortunately in seven years I've only been to the playoffs twice and never out of the first round. I'm getting to the point where age is creeping up. I want to play on a team that wins or a team that's going to play in the playoffs and is going to have success.
You always have fun when you win but I want to be an important part of a winning team, too. From there, I gotta control what I can. If I'm given opportunities the rest is up to me.
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