Sabres winger Evander Kane sent out a quick tweet saluting the work of his general manager following last year’s NHL Draft in Sunrise, Fla. It said simply “Tim Murray” and was followed by four applause emojis.
The players in the Buffalo locker room believe in the gumption Murray shows in trying to build this team, and there’s huge anticipation for what might happen here starting Friday morning and into the evening’s first round of the draft in First Niagara Center.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be here by tomorrow, so we’ll see what happens,” a smiling Kane joked after a youth clinic with the top draft prospects Thursday in HarborCenter. “Tim is a very unique character and it’s served him well. He’s done a great job so far of building our team, and I’m sure he’s looking to add and make us better. As a player, it’s really all you can ask for, and it’s up to us to use what he brings in to the best of our advantage.”
“You’re excited to see what happens here with trades, free agency, the draft,” center Jack Eichel told The News later in the day at (716) Food and Sport following a Bauer hockey event with presumptive top pick Auston Matthews. “You want the best for the team and you really never know. That’s what makes free agency and trades and things so appealing and exciting. But it’s out of my control, and that’s why Mr. Murray and everyone up there does their job so well.”
There’s a heightened sense that things are growing around the Sabres, who made a 27-point jump last season and have to be gunning for the playoffs next season. On Saturday, Murray can enter the interview process for free agents and is almost certain to express his interest in Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos and Islanders winger Kyle Okposo, among others.
But the real item to watch Friday is a move for Anaheim’s Cam Fowler, the left-shot defenseman Murray craves. Talks with the Ducks, which could include Buffalo’s No. 8 overall pick, are heating up. Sources say Murray will be speaking to Anaheim GM Bob Murray again Friday morning.
As for No. 8, that’s the best the Sabres are going to do in spite of their GM’s best efforts to hit a home run and get higher in the draft.
“Right now I can’t move up into the top three. So I don’t see a point of moving to four or five or six,” Murray told The News Thursday evening after emerging from the NHL GM meetings at the Hyatt Regency. “There’s three guys I’ve said all along we like. We may have a choice but I doubt it, and one will be there. That’s how we read the draft. We’re happy with those three guys. There’s no point in moving to four or five. We don’t see that big a difference to pay a big price.”
The Sabres are believed to covet two defensemen out of the trio of London’s Olli Juolevi, Windsor’s Mikhail Sergachev and Sarnia’s Jakob Chychrun. And while Murray would normally be loathe to part with a top-10 pick, he may have no choice if Fowler is what he wants.
Murray, of course, isn’t talking specifics on trades but did say “things are getting clearer and there are players available” now that the salary cap for next year is set at $73 million.
While working the draft with his left hand, Murray is pondering trades and free agents with his right. What he might learn Saturday about Stamkos could go a long way to determining his plan for the next two weeks.
“The agents are in the building. Between picks I can take a stroll over to a potential free agent’s agent and say, ‘Is there any reason for us to talk or not talk?’” Murray said. “If they don’t want to come to Buffalo, they’re not going to say, ‘Yeah, let’s have a talk.’ We don’t want our time wasted, and they don’t want to waste theirs. If a guy legitimately wants to come here, I think we’ll hear and we’ll get an interview.”
Murray said he had his first meeting with Jimmy Vesey’s agents Friday morning. They will return to Boston to speak to their client about negotiating with the Sabres after Buffalo acquired the rights to the Hobey Baker winner on Monday. “They are going to relay the message we gave them to Jimmy,” Tim Murray said. “I think we’ll go there or try to get Jimmy in here and see exactly where they are.”
Eichel, of course, is close friends with Vesey and playing summer league hockey with him in Foxborough, Mass. He said he’s not using any pressure tactics on him.
“I don’t want to get to him too much,” Eichel said. “I’m sure everyone is asking where he’s signing, and everyone wants to know what he’s going to do. We work out together and more than anything we’re friends. He’s going to make whatever decision he wants and whatever he thinks will best suit him. I wish him the best.”
What would Kane’s pitch to Vesey include?
“We have great ownership and that’s very important,” Kane said. “We’re very lucky in that regard. We have really good management and a real tight group in the locker room. I see us going in a big direction moving forward here, something to really look forward to. For me, that’s why I’m here and what makes me excited.”
In other words, the motto is In Tim They Trust.