When NHL free agency opens at noon Saturday, the focus will be on who’s leaving for where. The Sabres also have a couple of guys they don’t want to let go.
Star center Jack Eichel has one year left on his entry-level contract, but he can negotiate an extension starting Saturday. No. 1 goaltender Robin Lehner is a restricted free agent who needs a new deal.
General Manager Jason Botterill has been busy with the expansion and entry drafts, making trades, hiring coaches and filling out his staff, but he's made it clear to Eichel's agent that the center is important.
"Our conversations over the last month or so with Peter Fish have gone very well," Botterill said Friday. "It’s a situation of understanding we’ve had a lot going on in the organization, but we’ve clearly told Peter we understand how important Jack is to our organization here moving forward.
"When the time is right, I’m sure we’ll be able to get a deal done."
It should be a big one. Fellow second-year pro Connor McDavid could sign an extension with Edmonton on Saturday, and it’s reportedly for eight years and $106 million. That’s an average of $13.25 million per season.
While McDavid is coming off an MVP season, Eichel finished 11th in the NHL in points per game.
As for Lehner, Botterill said he's had a couple of conversations with the goalie’s agent, Craig Oster.
"I’ve spoken to Robin, too," Botterill said. "They understand our position. We’re looking forward to trying to find a way to get a contract done with him and move forward on the season.
"Obviously, it still continues to be a feeling-out process for myself and Robin trying to get to know each other, but we’ve had a good couple conversations, and Craig Oster and I have a very good relationship. We’ve worked on many a deal together, and I certainly have a firm belief that we’ll get something done here over the next month or so."
Phil Housley is back in Buffalo. Chris Taylor is back in Rochester.
The Sabres looked to the past while hiring coaches who can build their future.
After bringing back Housley earlier this month, the Sabres hired Taylor on Friday to coach the Rochester Americans. Taylor was a player or assistant coach in Rochester for 14 seasons.
“He has a proven track record of developing players in the American Hockey League, and there’s certainly no one more familiar with the organization than Chris,” Amerks General Manager Randy Sexton said.
Like Sexton and Botterill, Taylor was in the Pittsburgh Penguins' organization last season. The 45-year-old was an assistant coach for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which had the best record in the American Hockey League.
Taylor played for Rochester and Buffalo from 1999 to 2006, then returned to skate for the Amerks from 2009 to 2011. After serving as a development coach in Rochester in 2011-12, Taylor was an assistant coach for four seasons before joining the Penguins.
Yuri Khmylev has spent 21 of his 52 years in the Sabres’ organization. He received a letter that he was out, and the news obviously came hard.
As Buffalo continues to revamp its scouting department under Botterill, Khmylev is the latest to be let go. He had been in the amateur scouting staff since 2001.
Buffalo drafted Khmylev in 1992, and he spent four seasons playing for the Sabres. The winger scored 20 goals as a rookie in 1992-93 and had 27 goals the following season.