The Buffalo Sabres head into the 2015-16 NHL season with a giant question mark surrounding the entire franchise. While many throughout the hockey world would see that as a bad sign, that most certainly is not the case, at least for this group of guys.
Since the last time we saw this team on the ice at the First Niagara Center, April 11th vs. Pittsburgh, many things have changed.
To put things into a nutshell, what a strange trip is has been in the last 146 days.
For those not keeping score at home, it is easy to say that Tim Murray is having the best offseason ever.
Buffalo Sabres fans know, as the Tim Murray regime has progressed, one thing is evident to even the most casual of fans: Murray has a plan in place, one in which he follows with pinpoint accuracy.
Buffalo Sabres General Manager Tim Murray took no time in identifying his team’s needs and going directly for them this offseason.
This franchise was in dire need of offensive talent, a stronger goaltender, veteran defensive depth and better coaching.
The changes began almost immediately, when Murray announced the firing of head coach Ted Nolan less than 24 hours after the Sabres concluded their latest disappointing season.
“It was never about that he wasn’t my guy,” Murray told Buffalo media following Nolan’s termination. “We decided to go with young guys in a rebuild and surround them with some high-character veterans and we’ve done that. We still finished in 30th place.”
The writing was on the wall for Nolan, who had a record of 40-87-17 in his second stint as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
How would Tim Murray improve the voice behind the bench? The answer would turn out to be a simple and brilliant one.
On May 28, Murray announced the hiring of ex-Pittsburgh Penguins head coach, and Stanley Cup winner, Dan Bylsma.
“We improved today by hiring him,” Murray told Buffalo media after Bylsma was officially introduced.
Fortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, improvements did not stop with a new head coach.
Fast forward to the NHL Entry Level Draft, where the Sabres held the 2nd overall pick. Hours before the draft, the talk in Buffalo was forward Jack Eichel. That talk quickly got brushed aside, thanks to a shrewd move by Tim Murray.
Chatter picked up about an hour before the Draft began, with the move being confirmed on Twitter, by multiple sources, minutes before the Draft began.
Tim Murray would pull the trigger on one of the bigger blockbusters we’ve seen in recent years, even bigger than the ever-so-recent Evander Kane/Zach Bogosian deal with Winnipeg.
Sabres win Ryan O'Reilly sweepstakes, acquire him from Colorado in a deal for Zadorov, Grigorenko, Compher, No.31. McGinn also a Sabre. .
— Kevin Allen (@ByKevinAllen) June 26, 2015
A massive deal that a considerable amount of Sabres fans had not imagined possible, unless they found themselves playing the latest NHL game on the video game console of their choice.
Tim Murray finally did what he often spoke of. He took a mix prospects and young players, and then turned them into NHL-ready talent. What a novel concept, one which finally came to fruition.
This bold move instantly solidified a top line that was much in need of a versatile and talented forward.
Even better news for Buffalo? Just two days after acquiring O’Reilly, the team announced a 7-year contract extension for him. O’Reilly’s role will definitely change over those 7 years, but there is no doubt that the Sabres are better off with him on their team.
Moving over now to the original man of the hour at the Draft, Jack Eichel. This move was an absolute no-brainer, slam dunk, whatever you may call it, it was “the easiest decision of my career,” according to Tim Murray.
A handful of days after the Draft drew to a close, Jack Eichel signed his entry-level deal with the Buffalo Sabres, officially forgoing the remaining three years of his college career.
Eichel is slated to start somewhere on the top three lines with the Buffalo Sabres, his current role obviously in the air. We all know what role Eichel is expected to work his way up to, that being the role of top line center.
Tim Murray made some major moves for Buffalo, but he certainly did not stop re-molding the franchise there.
Since becoming the General Manager of the Sabres, Murray has often lamented how he badly wants the Rochester Americans to be a better farm team to the Buffalo Sabres.
“Winning is important to development,” Murray told Rochester media back in February. “We have to go out and find a couple top-end guys, spend a little more money.”
Murray doubled down on his previous comments a handful of months later.
“I’m confident we can develop and win there,” Murray told Rochester media in June. “I hate losing down there.”
As free agency was barely in the stages of infancy, Murray backed his previous money-spending statements with a few signings.
The Buffalo Sabres signed four American Hockey League veterans, Jason Akeson, Matt Donovan, Cal O’Reilly and Bobby Sanguinetti, all of of whom have played a combined 1,199 games.
These four players represent a changing of the guard in Rochester, and in the Buffalo Sabres organization.
O’Reilly and Sanguinetti come from the Vancouver Canucks organization, the Utica Comets to be specific. These two players represented two-thirds of the Comets’ captains last AHL season, O’Reilly was team captain, Sanguinetti an alternate captain.
Both of these players also know what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the American Hockey League, as they played for the Calder Cup last season.
With a new crop of prospects rolling, Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste included, coupled with the aforementioned veteran AHL signings and head coach Randy Cunneyworth returning to the Americans’ organization after a 7 year absence, it appears to be a safe bet to pencil the new-look Rochester Americans in the playoffs.
Moving back to over to Buffalo now, this is where things stand looking towards the quick approaching season. 8 players and the starting goaltender on the 19 man roster from last season’s final game are no longer with the franchise. Head Coach Ted Nolan is no longer employed by the organization.
The faces of the franchise remain the same, with a few more fresher pieces added to the foundation.
As Murray has told the media as of late, “you must trust the process”. Fans have certainly begun to not only trust the process, but have began buying into the reconstruction and facelift of the Buffalo Sabres.
From here on out, the Buffalo Sabres move onward and upward toward their ultimate goal of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Keep it locked to BLTD Sports for the latest NHL news, including a Buffalo Sabres season preview later this month.