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Optimism, realism finally mingling for Sabres as GM, coach wrap up year

When the Sabres’ season started, Tim Murray thought everything – and the general manager means everything – would have to go right for Buffalo to make the playoffs. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Enough did happen, however, to make him hopeful for next year. Murray said during his season-ending address Monday the playoffs are a realistic goal and expectation for next year.

Realism and optimism are finally mingling in First Niagara Center. Murray and coach Dan Bylsma took stock of the year and see good things ahead for a franchise and fan base that have been through a lot of bad times.

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In other notable moments from the news conference:

*Murray said his “Christmas present” this summer would be to get a defenseman who could act as a quarterback on the power play.

*While Robin Lehner didn’t play enough games, Murray was pleased with how well the goaltender performed on an ankle that functioned at 80 percent. Murray also thinks the upcoming rule changes regarding goalie equipment will benefit the Sabres because Lehner can still wear extra-large gear because of his size.

*Bylsma has Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart penciled in as linemates for next year. The rookie duo established special chemistry at the end of this season.

*The coach and GM feel that next season will start better because there will be fewer changes and less of a feeling-out process among players and coaches.

*Murray and Bylsma get along well and have honest, passionate discussions about the team. They spent the last portion of the news conference joking about their relationship.

*Murray has not yet started contract discussions with the agent for Rasmus Ristolainen, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. Murray has not heard from Ristolainen’s camp about whether it would like a short- or long-term deal. Murray said short term has advantages because Eichel and Reinhart are still on entry-level deals and the Sabres have money to add other impact players in the coming years.

*Tyler Ennis continues to figure in the Sabres’ future. While there will always because concerns because concussions are fickle injuries, Murray believes the time away from the game has helped Ennis dedicate himself to hockey more.

*Murray is not planning to buy out the contract of Matt Moulson, who scored just eight goals and has three years left on a deal that pays $5 million per season. During their exit meeting, Moulson told the GM he plans to work hard to return to goal-scorer status.

*Murray says the Sabres’ top prospects are growing at the right rate and will contend for playing time.

*Murray said the Sabres remain an option for college free agent Drake Caggiula.

*Murray would like to keep Chad Johnson but wouldn’t be surprised if a team offers the goalie starter-type money.

*Murray said the day-to-day dealings with Oliver Finlay didn’t coincide with the organization’s needs, which is why the former director of player performance was fired last month.

*Cody McCormick, who didn’t play because of blood clots, likely won’t play again. He has one year left on his contract, but no financial discussions have taken place.

*Cody Franson still has vision problems from his concussion but is otherwise returning to health.

*Cal O’Reilly was waived Monday in order to play in Rochester during the Amerks’ final three games.

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