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Sabres add future assets during four trades on deadline day

Regardless of your view on tanking, it's the path the Sabres chose years ago. They moseyed merrily down the lane Monday.

They hope it leads them toward the next road: respectability.

Buffalo General Manager Tim Murray entered the trade deadline hoping to move as many pending unrestricted free agents as possible. He didn't want to let the players walk away for nothing this summer, especially when Buffalo's goal is to maximize every asset it has to get out of the NHL basement.

Murray dealt three UFAs, sending Chris Stewart to Minnesota for a 2017 second-round draft pick; Michal Neuvirth to the New York Islanders for a 2016 third-rounder and backup goalie Chad Johnson; and Torrey Mitchell to Montreal for a 2016 seventh-round pick and low-level prospect Jack Nevins. The Sabres also sent Brian Flynn to the Canadiens for a 2016 fifth-round selection.

"We're in 30th place," Murray said. "Our time is the future, and we added assets for the future."

The present obviously took a hit, which is a plus when losing equals winning. The much-watched race for 30th place and a ticket to Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel has gotten close. Edmonton is only three points ahead of Buffalo in the standings while Arizona leads by four with 19 games remaining.

The Sabres helped their last-place cause by getting rid of their hottest player (Neuvirth), fourth-leading scorer (Stewart) and two forwards who kill penalties and have played on the top line (Flynn and Mitchell).

"Was it a good day? It's never a good day trading good people away," Murray said in First Niagara Center. "I talked to them all, and they all understood. ... When you are at the bottom or near the bottom, you trade out guys that can help other teams for future assets."

Over the next three years, the Sabres' future includes nine first- or second-round draft picks. They have two of each in June, one of each in 2016 and one first-rounder and two seconds in 2017.

As the Evander Kane trade showed, Murray can swap those picks for players. That's what the GM would prefer.

"Teams out there certainly know the young players that I like and would like to acquire," Murray said. "You just continue to work hard every day to try and do that and get it done. Do you get it done every time? You don't.

"We do have a lot of draft picks that can be used for something other than selecting players on draft day. That's why I believe they're valuable assets."

One of Murray's prime objectives will be to acquire a goaltender. With Johnson (.889) and Anders Lindback (.875), the Sabres have goalies whose save percentages rank 71st and 78th in the NHL.

"We have some good young goalies that aren't ready to step in next year and start," Murray said. "There are some potential free agents. I think there are a couple potential trades in the summertime.

"I've talked to a couple teams about young backup/maybe co-starters in this league this year that may come available in the summertime. It wasn't the right time or we couldn't come up with the right assets to make those deals today, but I know from my talks that we have a broad plan."

The future promise won't help the players who face Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Buffalo's roster is in shambles.

Johnson, however, is hoping to make the best of the situation. The goalie is in the opening season of a two-year contract that pays $2.6 million. The 28-year-old wants to make a good first impression to earn playing time next year.

"Their eyes are obviously set on one of those two picks there at the draft this year, but for myself I'm just going to go in there and try and win hockey games," Johnson said during an interview with Canada's TSN. "Regardless of where you are in the standings, you're there to play hard and win hockey games.

"There's an opportunity there. There's no starting goaltender there. For a guy like myself or any goalie, that's what you want to be. You want to be a starter."

Johnson earned his multiyear deal with a quality season in Boston. He went 17-4-3 with a .925 save percentage as Tuukka Rask's backup, but he went just 8-8-1 with the Isles this year. Although he has the chance to be a starter, he's leaving a Stanley Cup contender.

"It's going to be tough," he said on TSN, "but as a player you have to be optimistic about everywhere you go."

The Sabres have assigned the 21-year-old Nevins to Rochester. The forward has no goals and one assist in 35 minor-league games. The 6-foot-2, 199-pounder has 52 fights during four seasons of junior and professional hockey, according to

"Is he an NHL player? I don't know the answer to that," Murray said. "He's a prospect. At the very least, he's going to help Rochester. He's a competitive, tough kid who plays the game properly."

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