Murray’s makeover moves forward with aggressive draft day moves

It was a whirlwind of a weekend for Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres as Buffalo’s GM maneuvered to acquire a new starting goaltender, a legitimate top-six forward and a potential franchise defining talent with the first three picks at his disposal.

Oh, yeah, NOW you smile. – Terry Pegula.

The selection of Jack Eichel was all but guaranteed the moment the Oilers card was pulled during the draft lottery. But trading for Robin Lehner, David Legwand, Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn was hardly an expectation. The new acquisitions, coupled with this week’s signings, set the stage to push Buffalo’s rebuild forward significantly.

In January I wrote about the arsenal of assets Murray had at his disposal. At that time Murray held five of the first 60 picks in the draft along with a boatload of prospects at various levels of development. Today his roster is drastically altered. O’Reilly, Kane and Eichel are set to redefine the team’s top-six while Zach Bogosian and Robin Lehner will be vital pieces on the backend. Murray’s moves at the draft table completed a vital step of the rebuild and should push the Sabres firmly on the path back to competitiveness. Continue reading

Instigator Podcast Episode 40 – Lehner Acquired Ahead of Draft

Tune in for a final run-through of where the Sabres will go in this weekend’s draft along with a breakdown of how the Robin Lehner trade could work out for the Sabres.

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Hitting the floor will remain a breeze for Murray

For the second-straight season the Buffalo Sabres sit below the salary cap floor ahead of the opening of free agency. This is something I touched on last summer prior to free agency opening and my stance this year remains the same as it did last year; getting to the salary cap floor is the least of Tim Murray’s problems.

Buffalo’s journey to the cap floor likely won’t be a challenge for Tim Murray as the Sabres’ rebuild progresses.

Buffalo will likely hit the draft floor with a hair over $10m in space ($10,714,645 per General Fanager). Should Cody Hodgson be bought out, the figure will move to $13,922,979. Buffalo was right around $12m to the floor last year and since I’m betting on Hodgson being bought out, I’m going to proceed with the higher figure as my goal for the cap floor.

The biggest differentiating factor this year is that there isn’t a large RFA deal on the horizon for the Sabres to help carve out their gap to the floor. Tyler Ennis alone took care of $4.6m in space when his new deal was inked last summer. The Sabres are ripe with restricted and unrestricted free agents, but no one who will be re-signed are expected to carry a significant hit. In fact, it’s unlikely that any of Buffalo’s RFAs see anything more than a qualifying offer.

Mark Pysyk and Johan Larsson are the two most prominent RFAs who could potentially ask for a bridge deal, but I’d still bet on qualifying offers for each. All this means is that the RFAs Tim Murray chooses to retain won’t eat up a major portion of the cap. In fact, I’d be surprised if more than two current RFAs are with the big club next year.

Working under the assumption that Sam Reinhart will start the year in Buffalo along with Tim Schaller, Pysyk and Larsson, I come up with an estimated figure right in the $3.5m neighborhood. That may be a little light but I’d rather aim low than set unrealistic expectations. For example, Mark Pysyk could get a bridge deal that pays him two or three million a year which would account for an even larger chunk of cap.

Those moves put the organization just $10.2m short of the floor without accounting for any trades or unrestricted free agent signings. I expect Murray to follow a nearly identical path as he did last year in free agency. Two forwards will likely be brought in to reinforce the top and bottom-six, a veteran defenseman will be acquired and a goalie will be needed this year as well. Continue reading

Instigator Podcast Episode 39 – 2ITB Mock Draft Spectacular

We get together to discuss Tim Murray’s pre-draft press conference along with going through our own picks for 2015 NHL Draft.

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Shaping the Sabres Part 3: Free Agency and Beyond

Part three of the Shaping the Sabres series will put the finishing touches on our rosters. Whether via additional trades or free agency, this wraps up how we would build the team.

Chris: I’m feeling pretty good where my team is after the draft. I’ve improved in goal and Timo Meier could even flirt with some playing time this season. Despite that, my primary goal remains to find a quality veteran to fill a slot as a right winger this year. I’m also in need of a stronger veteran presence and a blueliner as well. Ideally one of those two players will fill the leadership quotient I’m lacking.

Cody Hodgson is out the door via buyout for both Chris and Tyler.

Prior to diving into unrestricted free agency, I must re-up those contracts the Sabres own until July 1. My very first move is will be to finalize the buyout paperwork on Cody Hodgson. There is no better time to execute a buyout on his deal and given how the depth chart is shaking out he’s likely going to be pushed out of contention for a roster spot. Anders Lindback, Andre Benoit, Andrej Meszaros, Tyson Strachan and Matt Hackett are all hitting the bricks as well.

I would re-sign Matt Ellis to another two-way deal that would pay him the same salary he received these past two seasons. He’s a terrific veteran to help lead the Americans and he can step in and play effective fourth line minutes when recalled. I’d hand along another offer to Pat Kaleta as well, although I’d have him penciled in to start the season in Rochester. A two-way deal that pays $1 million at the NHL level would be more than fair, I think. The best case scenario for each of those two is that they earn a spot out of camp. Worst case is they serve as veteran leaders in Rochester for the year.

Drew Bagnall would be another vet I’d toss a two-way deal to. He’s done a fine duty these past few seasons in Rochester and there’s no reason he can’t continue to serve as a mentor on the farm. Continue reading

Shaping the Sabres Part 2: Draft Day

Part two of the Shaping the Sabres series centers around the entry draft in Sunrise, FL.

Chris: With our predraft trades locked away, that brings us to the draft table in Sunrise. I’d love to manufacture a deal using Buffalo’s other high picks and a prospect or two to grab an NHL-ready right winger. However, I’m unsure that the 21st and 31st picks along with a combination of prospects could land the type of top-six talent the Sabres need.

For example, players like Nino Niederretier and Wayne Simmonds are highly valued assets who are vital pieces for their respective franchises. Even including a prospect like Hudson Fasching or Justin Bailey wouldn’t likely get such a deal done, and adding anything else would make the offer from the Buffalo end far too lopsided. But that would still be the first avenue I explore.

Assuming any wingers worth chasing are out of the question, there are two players in the draft not named McDavid or Eichel who I am very high on: Timo Meier and Zach Werenski.

Draft day trade
The proposal and players Chris would target at the Sabres’ draft table.

Meier was a late riser who posted 90 points with Halifax this year while Werenski was dynamic as a freshman at Michigan. Werenski will need to slip to at least ninth or tenth overall to be an option for the Sabres while Meier has been pegged anywhere from eight or nine to the mid-teens. I’d take the guess work out of the equation and ship a package including the 21st and 31st picks to Colorado to secure the 10th pick. I’d even include an additional pick – perhaps a 3rd in 2016 – to help grease the rails.

Picking between the two (specifically Meier and Werenski) would be a mighty challenge. The organizational need for defensemen is obvious and grabbing a swift skating, left handed puck mover like Werenski would see me drafting for need and talent.

However, Meier is lauded as one of the few players in the draft who are nearly pro ready. Even if he isn’t ready for game one, snagging someone who would be that much closer to an NHL role (on the right wing no less) would be a boon for the rebuild. Continue reading

Shaping the Sabres Part 1: Crease Crashing

This is the first part of a three-part project in which Tyler and Chris discuss the moves they make if they occupied the general manager’s role with the Buffalo Sabres.

The draft is two weeks away and the Sabres rebuild will truly be in full swing when Tim Murray walks to the podium and announces Jack Eichel as the second overall pick. With that in mind we thought it would be interesting to deviate from the typical GM for a day articles and offer up our own version. Tyler and Chris will be going back and forth with our own plans for how we’d go about building the roster as the draft approaches.

The rules are simple, free agency, trades (of players and picks) and buyouts are all on the table and nothing is assumed. So if either of us sees Dylan Strome as the preferred number two pick, so be it. The one thing we won’t be doing is mocking the entire Sabres draft. So short of noting which players we like at 2, 21, 31 and 51, don’t expect to see much more beyond that. Otherwise we have a blank slate and blank checks signed by Uncle Terry himself.

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