Tim Murray joked that it was bizarre to be doing a news conference in July but the Sabres general manager had a full house to listen to him Sunday afternoon. Development camp has been front-page news all week and raised eyebrows around the NHL when more than 17,000 fans showed up for Friday’s scrimmage.
All the talk this week has been about prospects and there was plenty more Sunday. But the most interesting nugget from the GM was this one: Don’t sleep on the Sabres landing Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya.
Buffalo still needs another quality left-shot blueliner and there’s plenty of chatter they put in a big free-agent offer to Oduya on July 1. To this point, it seems like Oduya, 33, would prefer to stay with the Blackhawks. But even after Friday’s big trade of Patrick Sharp to Dallas, the Hawks are still jammed by the salary cap.
At some point, you would think Oduya would tell the Hawks, who already unloaded Brandon Saad to Columbus, to make a firm decision about keeping him or he’s moving on. Chicago, however, seems intent on taking care of forward Marcus Kruger’s deal first. Outside Chicago, Oduya’s most likely landing place is Buffalo or perhaps Boston.
Oduya’s last deal with Chicago was for three years and $10.125 million, so he’s going to expect a raise to at least $4 million a season, and maybe closer to $5 million. Murray isn’t big on free agency and is very picky about the ones he goes after. For him to flat-out say Sunday he had not moved on from Oduya was significant.
Oduya played three years with Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian in Atlanta and Winnipeg. Think there’s been some conversation there about what’s going on in Buffalo? Uh-huh.
If Murray can’t land Oduya, the bet here is he scours rosters as training camps wrap up. There is going to be someone on some cap-strapped team who will become available. Garth Snow was a dope for years but became a genius for the Islanders for pulling off late deals for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk last fall when the Blackhawks and Bruins couldn’t keep them.
• Murray has been mysterious about his plans for a new coach for the Rochester Amerks, indicating the Sabres were playing some sort of newfangled scenario. He finally admitted Sunday it might be time to just go get a coach. Assuming he wants it, the job should simply go to Randy Cunneyworth.
Cunneyworth currently is the organization’s head of development and perhaps would prefer that job over more bus rides. But the longtime NHL player is a coach, and a very good one. He led the Amerks for nine years from 1999-2008, spanning affiliations with both the Sabres and Florida Panthers. The 2004-05 lockout team, featuring many of the Sabres’ solid core of 2006 and 2007, helped make him the AHL coach of the year.
Without the frugality of former owner Tom Golisano and without Darcy Regier in his ear, it might make sense for Cunneyworth, 54, to give it another shot in Rochester. The organization would clearly benefit.
• Sunday’s 3-on-3 tournament is usually a gimmick, a way to get players to battle for the puck more. But this year’s was played with a certain specter of seriousness to it. The NHL, remember, is moving to full 3-on-3 for all overtimes this season. Players like Kane, Jack Eichel and Tyler Ennis would seemingly thrive in such an environment.
“It should be interesting, definitely an adjustment,” Eichel said. “I’m sure you’ll see more goals in overtime, which will be exciting.”
• Murray likes defenseman Brendan Guhle’s athleticism and skating and it’s easy to see why when you watch the club’s second-round pick. Guhle was also physical, going hard with Eichel along the wall at one point Sunday during a head-to-head matchup. Guhle was easily the most impressive of the 2015 draftees, non-Eichel division.
Who else caught my eyes? Justin Bailey and Jake McCabe certainly look like they will be strong Amerks this season and will push the door in Buffalo, especially McCabe. Goaltenders Jonas Johansson, Jason Kasdorf and Cal Petersen all had good moments.
Another big story in this view was the play of some of the non-Sam Reinhart division of the 2014 draft class, Murray’s first with the team.
You saw some slick skating and hands from second-rounder Vaclav Karabacek and seventh-rounder Victor Olofsson and one of the intriguing forwards in camp was fifth-rounder Max Willman, who had just one goal in 30 games last season as a freshman at Brown. But the 6-foot former Massachusetts high schooler showed some nifty moves and it should be noted he led his high school and a prep school in scoring in the previous three seasons.
• Disappointments? There were a few but a disclaimer here. You’re on a slippery slope making many judgments off what you see in July, especially since some guys haven’t played since April. For instance, Nick Baptiste didn’t do a whole lot at times in this camp but his record in junior hockey still says you should expect good things from him in Rochester this season.
After praising the ‘14 draft class, have to throw some arrows its way too. Second-rounder Eric Cornel, who had 52 points at Peterborough and got in six games at Rochester, and third-round defenseman Brycen Martin were both pretty invisible for the most part.
• In hindsight, you wonder if the Sabres will try to separate testing day from scrimmage day in the future. The testing on Thursday was arduous, with players skated tethered to parachutes or the boards, among several drills and players were clearly spent at times by Friday night. Murray said the hockey department accommodated the business side a few weeks ago by switching the scrimmage to Friday night.
There were lessons in that too, notably showing the new players the support in the market and seeing how they would react under that kind of spotlight.
It was some really good synergy on the part of the organization to work together in creating one of the most memorable summer sporting events around here in quite a while.