Murray was not surprised the Sabres didn’t make the playoffs. He knew everything would have had to fall in place perfectly for that to happen. That said, he is hopeful for next year. Murray noted his goal and expectation for next year is to make the playoffs. “If that’s not coming from the manager and the coach, what kind of message does it send to the players?”
Murray stated at the top of his wish list is “a quarterback defenseman” for the power play, though he doesn’t think that’ll be possible with the 8th pick in the draft. He’s definitely interested in discussing a trade or two and knows there are GMs who are interested.
Murray also noted that the Sabres have cap space and have all kinds of options available to them, be it during free agency or through the draft. He’s also really excited about some of the young guys… prospects Justin Bailey, Casey Nelson, and Hudson Fasching. He thought Evan Rodrigues looked outstanding in his debut.
MOMENTUM – With so much turnover in personnel, coaching and staffing, it took time to define roles and let players know what to expect. Both Bylsma and Murray referenced the last half of the year when things started to come together. And though they don’t think momentum carries over from year to year, they both agree next year the team will be starting from a different point than this year.
The team made a whopping 27-point improvement in 2015-16, morphing from the NHL’s basement dweller into a legitimate team again. “I’d like to start game one right now,” added Byslma.
The topic of winning games at the end of the season vs. getting a higher draft pick came up. Murray boldly stated the importance of young players learning how to win, noting the Sabres had seven third period comebacks, second only to Los Angeles’ eight. The culture and experience gleened from these games are invaluable to a young team.
GOALIE TALK – It’s clear that Murray still has high hopes for Robin Lehner to be the starting goalie next year, noting he moved well for a big man with an ankle that was probably 80%. “He’s highly competitive, young, athletic and showed he had the potential to be our hardest working player.”
Murray spoke of Chad Johnson having a great year with good numbers. He hopes to have Johnson around next year, competing for a job in net, but added it only takes one team to be interested in him as a starter, offering starting goalie kind of money to change things.
EICHEL – Both Murray and Bylsma remarked that Jack showed them the dominant player he can be. Byslma noted, “He was a guy who had the puck on his stick more than anybody in the league. He showed he can be dangerous every time he touches the puck.” Murray added that as a dynamic young center who could be one of the league’s best the next few years, Eichel is also he a recruiter. He can attract some top level wingers who want to play with him.
REINHART – They both commented on Sam’s huge improvement from last year to this year, as he’s made great strides in strength and skating. Bylsma was not only impressed that Sam notched 23 goals but from where he scored them-often in front of the net.
Bylsma also noted the chemistry between Eichel and Reinhart and has them penciled in for next year.
RISTO – The Sabres have yet to have talks about re-signing Ristolainen but expect them to happen at some point. With Jack and Sam on entry-level contracts, a bridge deal may be beneficial. They need to start discussions and find out expectations.
KANE – Upon meeting Kane on his first day, Bylsma was quick to say the perception of Evander was far different than what was out there. His work ethic, leadership talents and battle level all fueld his strong desire to win all season.
ENNIS – Murray stated the team takes concussions very seriously and that the Sabres never pushed Tyler Ennis to get back on the ice. He expects Ennis to come back 100 percent next year, and in fact, thinks the time away from the ice may actually make him a better player. Ennis says he now practices with more purpose.
MOULSON – Murray said the team has no interest in buying out Matt Moulson. “He knows he has to work hard this off season. He’s very disappointed in himself and his own season. It was a tough season for him and for us to watch.”
ROR – Murray was excited about Ryan O’Reilly’s year. “He leads by example and plays the game the right way. He doesn’t talk enough and I told him that.”
McCORMICK – It’s unlikely Cody McCormick will play with the Sabres again, but he may have a role within the organization.