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Draft Notebook: Sabres walk away from Lehner, Bylsma joins Wings

DALLAS -- Two key members of the Buffalo Sabres under former General Manager Tim Murray learned Friday they will have a new home next year.

Goaltender Robin Lehner's three-year run as Buffalo's No. 1 man in the nets ended when the team confirmed they will not submit a qualifying offer to him by Monday's deadline. Meanwhile, former head coach Dan Bylsma has signed on to be an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings.

Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill confirmed a TSN report late Thursday night that the team will not be extending a qualifying offer to its No. 1 goaltender. It's a move that Western New York media has been chattering about for weeks in wake of Lehner's rough third season with the team.

Lehner, who would have been due $4 million, will thus become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The deadline to retain the restricted free agent is 5 p.m. Monday and the team will let it pass.

"It was a difficult decision," Botterill said during a media briefing at the W Hotel adjacent to American Airlines Center. "When you finish 31st, you have to make some difficult choices and we have informed Robin that he's not coming back next year. Part of it that was so difficult about it was that I know Robin is passionate about the city of Buffalo and passionate about helping this organization but we felt we had to make some adjustments and that's one of the areas we decided to make an adjustment in."

Lehner, 26, was 14-26-9 last season with a 3.01 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in a season that saw him try to play through injuries before finally getting shut down by hip problems in late March. On the whole, the campaign ranked as quite a dropoff from his 2016-17 season, when he posted a career-high in wins (23) while compiling a 2.68 GAA and .920 save percentage.

Lehner was a lightning rod for criticism during his three years in Buffalo, largely because former GM Tim Murray spent a first-round pick on him (No. 21 overall) at the 2015 draft in Florida. Murray scouted and drafted Lehner for the Ottawa Senators and Lehner had helped Binghamton win the AHL's Calder Cup while in the Ottawa organization.

That made no difference to most fans. While the first-rounder the Senators got at No. 21 in the '15 draft was used on Boston College forward Colin White, who has yet to emerge as an NHL regular, it always came back to Lehner that his play didn't stack up to the price.

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Bylsma, 47, spent this season doing television work for NHL Network after he was fired by the Sabres 14 months ago following just two seasons at the helm. He worked with Jeff Blashill for an assistant with Team USA during last month's World Championships and the two clicked.

"The experience in Denmark gave me a firsthand knowledge of Dan as a coach, specifically as an assistant coach, and I thought he did an excellent job for us over there," Blashill said. "I thought our interaction was excellent and he really at that point went to the top of my list for assistant coaches."

"I really have a mind to say I wanted to get into a situation I felt comfortable with, with the staff, with the coaches, I find that in Detroit, I find that with Jeff at the World Championship," said Bylsma, a Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh in 2009. "That experience we had, the 4-5 weeks coaching together, really made me want to come to Detroit and want to get on Jeff Blashill's coaching staff."

Bylsma had not worked with Blashill until the Worlds but he had inside help chirping in the head coach's ears.

"Adam Nightingale, our video coach, worked for Dan his last year in Buffalo," Blashill noted. "Adam is a really bright young coach who has a great mind and Adam and I would talk lots about the experience in Buffalo and talked lots about Dan as a coach and his strengths."

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The NHL announced that the Humboldt Broncos have been named the recipient of the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence, given to the prospect (s) who who exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.

Team president Kevin Garinger accepted the engraved crystal from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on behalf of the club, which suffered the devastaing loss of 16 members -- including 10 players -- during an April 6 bus crash in Saskatchewan while en route to a playoff game.

The announcement was greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd at American Airlines Center, including all club personnel on the draft floor. The league had hockey sticks out for Humboldt on the stage, mimicking the gesture that spread across North America in the wake of the crash.

McGuire, a Buffalo native who was the league's Director of Central Scouting, died of cancer in 2011. He was the brother-in-law of longtime Sabres equipment manager Rip Simonick.

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