When Randy Sexton arrived in Buffalo two weeks ago, the first thing he saw out his hotel window was a trailer in Canalside. On the top was the slogan, “Let’s go, Buffalo.”
“I don’t think there’s any greater chant in our league,” the Sabres assistant general manager said. “As soon as I saw that, I knew I made the right decision.”
Sexton was absolutely ebullient Saturday as he talked about his roles with Buffalo and Rochester, where he’ll serve as GM of the Amerks. He sees a chance for greatness working alongside General Manager Jason Botterill and Steve Greeley, his fellow assistant GM.
“I’m a passionate guy and I’m passionate about hockey, but I’m really passionate about Buffalo and Rochester,” said Sexton, who worked with Botterill in Pittsburgh. “We’ve got an opportunity here to do something that is very unique. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup or two, and I want nothing more before I retire than to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo.
“I did it as a Penguin. I’d really like to do it again as a Sabre.”
The 57-year-old is aware it won’t be easy. The Sabres and Amerks have gone a combined nine seasons without the playoffs. He’s been GM of Rochester before, holding the title in 2009-10 when the Amerks were affiliated with Florida.
“We have some work to do there,” Sexton said, “but therein lies the opportunity. It’s a wonderful hockey market. We’ve got a good facility there that needs some work. We have an organization that needs some work, but we are not going to rest until we restore the Americans to what I think is their rightful place among the elite teams in the American Hockey League.
“It’ll come one day at a time. It’ll come one person at a time, but we will be relentless in our pursuit of that success.”
Sexton and Botterill got to work right away, signing established AHL players such as Kevin Porter, Seth Griffith, Matt Tennyson and Kyle Criscuolo. They’ll mentor the Sabres’ young prospects.
“Some people think development means you go with a young team, you get your head caved in every night, you lose a lot of games, but – by God – the kids are learning,” Sexton said. “We don’t subscribe to that.
“We think that you need to surround these young players with quality veterans, character people that will show them the way, show them how to be good pros. We need to surround them with a coaching staff that is going to push them every day to get better, but is also going to support them in the difficult times that they will have because there are lots of difficult days in development.”
As former general manager of Ottawa and Florida, Sexton can help Botterill with any tough days as a first-time GM. They worked together for seven years in Pittsburgh, where Sexton served as director of amateur scouting.
“When Jason asked me to come aboard, I thought this was just a perfect opportunity to start to rebuild another championship team,” Sexton said. “I know it’s kind of an old saying, but it’s too good of an opportunity to pass on.”
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Buffalo will be home to Johan Larsson for two more years. The Sabres and the center agreed to a two-year, $2.95 million deal Saturday. That’s a salary cap hit of $1.475 million.
Larsson skated in just 36 games last year after dislocating his wrist and elbow Dec. 31. He had six goals and 11 points while serving as the checking-line center.
Larsson was a restricted free agent. The 24-year-old filed for arbitration earlier this week. The Sabres' remaining restricted free agents include Robin Lehner, Nathan Beaulieu, Zemgus Girgensons and Evan Rodrigues.
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Unless Colorado improves its contract offer for Nikita Zadorov, it appears the Ryan O’Reilly trade could become even more lopsided in the Sabres’ favor.
One day after Mikhail Grigorenko signed to play in Russia, a report from that country’s Sport-Express on Saturday said Zadorov has an agreement to play with CSKA of the Kontinental Hockey League. It is the same team that signed Grigorenko.
Zadorov is reportedly not happy with the length of the Avalanche’s contract offer and is waiting until the end of July for it to improve. The 22-year-old defenseman is a restricted free agent who made $832,500 last season.
Zadorov had no goals, 10 assists and a minus-20 rating in 56 games for the Avs. He split the 2015-16 season between Colorado and its minor-league club, recording no goals and two assists in 22 games with the Avs. He had 10 goals and 29 points in 52 games for San Antonio.
Buffalo selected Zadorov with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. He totaled four goals and 16 points in 67 games with Buffalo from 2013 to 2015. His most noteworthy moment was returning late from the All-Star break in 2015 and getting benched for two games.
At the NHL Draft in 2015, the Sabres sent Grigorenko, Zadorov, forward J.T. Compher and the No. 31 pick to Colorado for O’Reilly and forward Jamie McGinn.
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The Sabres had six coaches on the ice with their prospects: Amerks head coach Chris Taylor and Rochester assistant Gord Dineen; Sabres development coaches Adam Mair and Krys Barch; and Buffalo goalie coach Andrew Allen and goaltending development coach Seamus Kotyk.
Buffalo coaches Phil Housley and Davis Payne watched from the stands, as did owner Terry Pegula.
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The four-day camp continues with two sessions Sunday. The first group will skate from 10-11:15 a.m., while the second group will take the ice from 2-3:15 p.m.