New Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma had a little argument with general manager Tim Murray about the team’s impressive moves at the NHL draft.
“I said, ‘Tim I think we got more than a little bit better,” Bylsma recalled. “And he said, ‘No we got a little bit better,’ and that’s certainly true.”
Let the tempering of expectations begin.
After and drafting Jack Eichel and trading for goaltender Robin Lehner and forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn, the Sabres are a much different, stronger team than they were last season or even last week. The moves Murray made in South Florida should fast-track their progression from the bottom of the NHL.
Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said his nephew’s team sure looks like a playoff team to him. Tim Murray doesn’t want that talk quite yet.
“We’ve changed our team a lot,” Tim Murray said Saturday in Sunrise, Fla. “We’ve improved a lot, but I’m just going to try to get better, a little bit better every day. We think we’ve done that.
“Our players are excited, but I’m not going to put pressure on our players or coaches and say that we’re a playoff team now.”
The Sabres don’t have to be a playoff team now, but with centre Sam Reinhart and winger Evander Kane added to the mix of talent picked up over the weekend, they’re starting to put the pieces in place.
Acquiring Lehner was a must, and the former Senators goalie being 23 years old gives him a chance to blossom into a good or great NHL starter. But trading for O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche as part of a blockbuster deal Friday night provides Buffalo with another top centre to go with all-star Zemgus Girgensons, Eichel and Reinhart.
“Down the middle they’re real strong right now, they’re one of the good teams down the middle, I would say,” Bryan Murray said Saturday. “That’s a pretty strong middle for them, and that’s the start of the building of an awful good hockey club.”
Bylsma has O’Reilly pencilled in as the Sabres’ No. 1 centre and acknowledged that one of Eichel, Reinhart or most likely Girgensons could move to wing. Buffalo even has its No. 4 centre in veteran David Legwand, who was part of the Lehner trade.
Tim Murray could see the excitement in Bylsma at the moves he made at the draft, saying it’s “Christmas morning” for a coach when he gets a proven, strong NHL player. Murray doesn’t want to label the Sabres anything but improving and said he won’t make any grand proclamations even once the season gets started.
“Everything’s new and let’s see how it all comes together in training camp,” Murray said. “I think we’ve taken big strides.”
There’s nowhere to go but up after 54 points last season and 52 the season before that — both league worsts.
Playoff expectations are still unrealistic. The defence could still use some work, and there’s plenty of uncertainty with how the mix will come together.
But there’s reason for true optimism in Buffalo for the first time in years.
“You get excited that three weeks ago you looked at our roster, it looked a lot differently,” Bylsma said. “We’re immediately a different team in a lot of ways and a better team.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press