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Sabres notebook: New salary cap figures give Murray room to roam

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Here are the numbers to commit to memory: The NHL’s salary cap for the 2015-16 season will be $71.4 million and the cap floor will be $52.8 million.

The NHL and the NHL Players Association jointly announced the maximum and minimum payroll figures Tuesday, on the first day of the general managers meetings taking place in Las Vegas in conjunction with the NHL Awards. Rest assured those meetings will kick-start plenty of talking as the GMs head here for Friday night’s draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise. They’ll all be in town by Thursday.

Sabres GM Tim Murray will certainly be working from a position of strength. Sites like GeneralFanager.com as well as Buffalo News calculations list the team’s current cap payroll at about $42 million, leaving them roughly $29 million shy of the cap – and nearly $11 million shy of the floor.

That’s before a possible buyout of Cody Hodgson, which would shave nearly $3.2 million off the team’s cap payroll. The Sabres have until June 30 to make their decision on Hodgson.

The Sabres are one of three teams more than $5 million shy of the floor. Arizona is nearly $19 million away while Nashville is more than $12.4 million shy.

Buffalo will certainly add some payroll this offseason, be it through trades or free agency, so that floor figure is hardly daunting. And remember, teams have through the preseason to be in compliance to the cap or the floor, so this is hardly a summer-only project.

Signing presumptive top pick Jack Eichel to his entry-level deal won’t add much to the Sabres’ cap as he’ll be limited to the CBA-mandated $925,000 salary, plus bonuses. Big names like Rasmus Ristolainen, Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart and Nikita Zadorov are all still on their entry-level contracts, although the deals for Girgensons and Ristolainen both expire after the 2015-16 season.

The cap will be tight for teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins – although not as tight as it could have been if it had stayed mostly flat at the ’14-15 level of $69 million.

Still, those teams will still have to maneuver their roster and the Blackhawks – who will now pay identical $10.5 million cap hits to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews going forward – are definitely going to have to shed payroll. The Hawks had to go through a similar purge following their 2010 Stanley Cup championship, and players like Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell could be dealt.

“All of a sudden, it does feel a lot like 2010, where it’s imminent,” Toews told reporters Tuesday in Las Vegas.

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Getting a leg up on an expected merchandising bonanza, the Sabres have announced “top pick jerseys” can be pre-ordered at Shop.OneBuffalo.com and will be shipped as soon as the first-round draft pick’s name and number are finalized. Prices run from $180-$204.

The team’s announcement, of course, does not refer to Eichel by name. He hasn’t been drafted and has yet to fully commit to leaving Boston University.

Eichel would not wear No. 9 in Buffalo like he did in college, because that number is taken by Evander Kane. He has declined to say what he would wear but the Sabres are believed to have brought the topic up to him when they interviewed him at last month’s NHL Scouting Combine in HarborCenter.

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Eichel, Connor McDavid and a few other top prospects are expected to take their swings Wednesday at Marlins Park, partaking in some batting practice prior to the Miami Marlins’ game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

It’s become a bit of tradition at the NHL Draft to have the prospects taken out to the ballpark two days before the draft. Before the Sabres picked him last year in Philadelphia, Sam Reinhart took his cuts at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies. Players also visited PNC Park in Pittsburgh in 2011.

The Bisons have been working with the International League to make sure they’re home next year in late June with the 2016 draft in Buffalo. A ballgame would not only give visiting fans and media an event to attend, but the prospects could also take their cuts at Oak Street during the week as well.

email mharrington@buffnews.com

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