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Sabres ready to tackle next roster challenge

Tim Murray isn’t the kind of guy to sit around and bask in his successes.

“I’m not a very reflective guy,” the Sabres’ general manager said this weekend. “You just keep marching ahead. That’s all you can do in life is march ahead and get ready for the next challenge.”

After improving his forward and goaltending situations, Murray’s next challenge is rounding out Buffalo’s roster with a defenseman.

“I probably need a veteran UFA defenseman or I have to trade for one,” Murray said. “I’ve been talking to teams about a left-shot D.”

The Sabres are scheduled to enter the 2015-16 season with Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Rasmus Ristolainen, Mike Weber, Mark Pysyk and Chad Ruhwedel on the blue line, with Jake McCabe looking to graduate from the minors. Pysyk and Ristolainen are 23 and 20, respectively, while Ruhwedel has just 32 games of NHL experience.

Though this summer’s class of unrestricted free agents is underwhelming, a highlight is actually among left-handed defensemen. Here’s a look:

• Johnny Oduya: After winning two Stanley Cups in three years with Chicago, the 33-year-old would bring a championship attitude into the dressing room. He just completed a contract that paid $3.375 million per season.

A reliable defender, Oduya wouldn’t help the Sabres’ offense. He had two goals and 10 points in 76 regular-season games and recorded five assists in 23 playoff appearances. He averaged 20:17 of ice time and blocked 123 shots.

• Paul Martin: Though the Pittsburgh Penguins would love to keep the 34-year-old, a salary-cap crunch may not make that possible. He is coming off a deal that paid $5 million annually.

Like Oduya, Martin is more valuable in his own zone than the offensive side. He had three goals and 20 points in 74 games with 139 blocked shots. He’s a workhorse, averaging nearly 23 minutes of ice time but often skating close to 30 for the injury-depleted Penguins.

• Andrej Sekera: A familiar name after spending his first seven seasons with the Sabres, Sekera has blossomed since being traded away at the 2013 NHL Draft. He is hitting the market because the Los Angeles Kings added Milan Lucic and don’t have cap room to re-sign Sekera. He made $2.75 million.

The 29-year-old is one of the more offensively gifted defensemen available. He had only three goals and 20 assists in 73 games for the Kings and Carolina this season, but he had 11 goals and 44 points for the Hurricanes the previous year. He can skate all day and averaged 22 minutes per game this season.

• Francois Beauchemin: Anaheim wants to keep the 35-year-old and he wants to stay, but once again the salary cap may not make that possible. He made $3.5 million.

Despite his age, Beauchemin can still produce. He had 11 goals and 23 points in 64 games, then added nine assists in 16 playoff appearances. He skated 22:44 per night.

• Barret Jackman and Chris Butler: The Blues are likely to cut ties with both of them, though Butler would like to stay with his hometown team and make a manageable $650,000. Jackman made just more than $3.1 million.

On the downswing in his career, Jackman had two goals and 15 points in 80 games with St. Louis. He averaged 16:48 of ice time.

Butler, who played his first three seasons in Buffalo, would provide depth for the bottom pairing. He had three goals and nine points in 33 games.

• Eric Brewer: The 36-year-old is well-traveled, but he was a respected leader during his stays. He had three goals and 11 points in 44 games with Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Toronto this season, making $3.85 million.

Anyone who joins the Sabres will come to a team that is feeling good after acquiring forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, David Legwand and Jamie McGinn, plus goalie Robin Lehner during an eventful weekend.

A decision will come Monday on the future of Cody Hodgson, who must be placed on waivers before he can be bought out.

“We filled some holes, but there’s a lot of new,” Murray said. “I can tell you that our players back home are excited. If that excitement that they showed carries over to training camp, I believe we can improve by quite a bit. In saying that, we’ve got a long way to go to get to be competitive or a playoff team.”


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