PHILADELPHIA – While he would like to go first overall in the NHL Draft, Sam Bennett isn’t going to lose much sleep Friday night if he ends up being selected a few picks later. He knows he'll face the same challenges as other prospects no matter where's he's picked.
“I think about it a little bit but I don’t think it’s that important in the end. It is just a number and everyone’s going to be in the same spot come training camp,” the Kingston Frontenacs center said Thursday afternoon. “You’re all going to have to still make the team. But obviously it would be pretty special to be that top guy.”
Bennett is NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater and has been very busy in the past month. He celebrated his 18th birthday on June 20.
Bennett said he’s been training constantly and has had more meetings with teams. He’s also taken part in special events with the other top prospects.
He, along with Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl and Michael Dal Colle attended Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals and on Thursday, some of the top prospects took a tour of Philadelphia. Stops included meals at Pat’s and Geno’s Cheesesteaks, a run up the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and batting practice at Citizens Bank Park.
He can’t believe that the first round of the NHL Draft is now only one night away.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “This year has gone so fast and to think that I could be drafted tomorrow night, it’s crazy.”
A lot was made at the NHL Combine at May when Bennett was unable to do an overhand pull-up during the fitness testing. However, he’s taken the criticism from some media in stride and has used it as a learning tool for how to deal with the scrutiny that will come with being an NHL player.
“It didn’t bother me too much. I guess I take it as I have more of an advantage over the other players because I got a chance to deal with some criticism at a young age where most people won’t experience that until they’re in the NHL,” he said. It was different, it was new and I took what I could from it.”
The 2014-15 regular-season schedule is out.
Here are some dates to keep an eye on:
- Buffalo has 25 home games on weekends – including Fridays – and holidays. Last season, Buffalo hosted only 16 weekend and holiday games.
- The Sabres open their season at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, Oct. 9 and then head out to Chicago for the Blackhawks’ home opener on Oct. 11.
- Buffalo will play Anaheim in a 3 p.m. home game on Columbus Day (Oct. 13).
- The Toronto Maple Leafs come to First Niagara Center on Nov. 15 and April 1.
- Before Thanksgiving, check out the Sabres and Jets on Wednesday, Nov. 26.
- Buffalo will face the defending Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings at home on Dec. 9.
- Celebrate New Year’s Eve with a match between Buffalo and Tampa Bay at 6 p.m.
- All-Star Weekend will be held on Jan. 24-25 in Columbus this season.
- Right after the break, Buffalo will head West for games in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. They then go right to Montreal before a five-game homestand from Feb. 7-15.
- The Sabres will then have five road games in a row from Feb. 28-March 11 with stops in Florida, Tampa, Ottawa, Washington and Toronto.
- Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks return to town on April 3.
- The home portion of the regular-season schedule ends on April 11 when the Penguins come to town.
- On Saturday, the NHL will announce the date of each club’s home opener.
- The full NHL schedule is set to be released Sunday afternoon.
- On Monday, the Hockey Hall of Fame will announce its Class of 2014. Former Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek is eligible for induction this year. Hasek was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in April and will have his No. 39 retired during the 2014-15 season.
- On Thursday, the NHL Board of Governors will meet in New York City.
- On Friday, June 27, the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft will begin at 7 p.m. at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
- Round 2 will begin on Saturday, June 28 at 10 a.m.
Stay tuned to Sabres.com for developments on all fronts.
The Buffalo Sabres are looking for new assistant coaches and general manager Tim Murray and coach Ted Nolan are getting closer to narrowing down their list of candidates.
“We compared names – guys that have called him, guys that have called me,” Murray said on Thursday. “He’s talked to a lot of potential assistants in the last couple weeks so he’ll talk to them. He’ll tell me what he thinks of them and then we have to come to a decision together – who the right guys are. So it’s in the process.”
Murray confirmed that Joe Sacco has accepted a job within the organization as a professional scout. Sacco was relieved of his assistant coaching duties at the end of the season but was then offered this new role.
He’s already been given the team’s list of unrestricted free agent targets and has been familiarizing himself with the software that the scouts use.
“I think as an assistant coach and a head coach the last few years that he has some insight on some of those players – not every player on that list – but some players on that list,” Murray said. “He’s excited and he’s ready to go.”
Murray is responsible for the management of the Rochester Americans as well. Chadd Cassidy has been retained as head coach and – for now – his entire staff is returning as well. That, however, doesn’t mean that circumstances could change.
“Today, yes. Things happen every day, right? I met with Chadd yesterday. We had a great meeting. The staff was back today,” Murray said. “That’s not to say if Jacques Lemaire called and said he’d love to be the third assistant in Rochester that we wouldn’t hire him, right? But the staff is back as is, yes.”
Murray also said he's offered Randy Cunneyworth a new job within the organization but is waiting to hear back from him. Cunneyworth served as a special assistant and player development coach last season, with a focus on the Amerks.
While the 2014 NHL Draft is a week away, Sabres general manager Tim Murray also has free agency on his mind.
He told reporters on Thursday that he’s fielded calls from agents around the League to find out what areas the team would like to address come July 1.
“We have needs everywhere and when I talk to GMs or agents – more agents – [about] their potential free agent list, they ask, ‘What are your needs?’ And we have needs everywhere,” Murray said. “On this team and in Rochester, probably goaltending is what I say is not a pressing need. But everywhere else, we can use help throughout the lineup. ”
“…And when you get those calls, I assume that they have people in their stable that they feel this is the right spot. I don’t think they’re just calling all 30 GMs and asking that question.”
Murray is also exploring trade routes, not just for another first-round pick in this year’s draft, but for players that can help the team next season as well. He also said he’s looking at “late bloomers” – players hitting free agency that are 27 or 28 and feel they will have better opportunities with another club.
“What’s attractive to some players may not be attractive to other players. I think we’re attractive to a certain type of player,” he said.
He also didn't agree with the idea that the team would overpay for players with limited talent and upside.
“I don’t think they necessarily all have to be bad players,” he said. “I think they can be guys that need an opportunity that certainly see opportunity here.”
The salary cap is expected to go up, so that means it will also cost more to reach the floor. Murray doesn’t think hitting that number is going to be much of a problem for his club. The challenge is spending that money on the right players.
The cap floor is something he really doesn’t like talking about.
“I hear about it all the time. It’s a distraction. You get into the middle of a meeting and then someone walks in the door and talks about the floor,” he said. “It’s easy to spend money. I don’t like spending money but it’s easy to spend money. People want your money so it’s not hard to give away. It’s just, are the right players or are the guys we like, are they going to approach us to take our money?”
Murray then went on to address the front office’s decision to use a compliance buyout on forward Ville Leino’s contract. Leino signed a six-year deal with the team in 2011. He finished his three-year tenure with the Sabres with 10 goals and 36 assists in 137 games.
“If you’re talking in Ville’s instance, the alternative, to buy him out and keep him on the cap is six years. That’s not interesting to us,” he said.
If the Sabres had used a standard buyout on Leino’s contract, the payout would count against the cap for double the length of the term remaining. Murray expects the team to be increasingly competitive each year and he would rather be able to allocate that money elsewhere.
“Six years down the road is not suitable to have that cap hit. And to keep [Leino] on the team – after we had our internal meetings and decided that he didn’t fit going forward – that was not an option either,” he said. “So this was the only option and I don’t think that’s going to affect our ability to get to the floor.”
Two restricted free agents are going to have Tim Murray’s attention this summer. The Buffalo Sabres general manager said that he’s talked with Tyler Ennis’ agent and has had discussions this week with Marcus Foligno’s agent as well.
Ennis, in his fourth full NHL season, scored a career-high 21 goals in 2013-14 and he became more confident as the season wore on.
On Thursday, Murray shot down the notion that the term and value of Ennis' new contract will be tied to the necessity of reaching the salary cap floor.
“I like his approach to the game. I like his compete level. I like his speed,” Murray said of Ennis. “There’s a lot of things I like about him and if we can do a long-term deal with him then obviously the decision we’ve made is we’d go forward with him.”
The Sabres selected Ennis in the first round of the 2008 NHL Draft (26th overall).
ENNIS: "I'M GLAD I GOT 21 BUT I WANT TO GET 30. I WANT TO GET 40."
At his year-end press conference, Murray said that Foligno was contemplating surgery on his shoulder and he confirmed on Thursday that Foligno did in fact go through with a procedure. According to Murray, the injury affected the 22-year-old wing’s play last season.
Foligno finished the year with 19 points and 82 penalty minutes in 74 games.
“He had shoulder surgery which I think hindered his year a little bit this year. So there might be a philosophical difference on what they think he could’ve achieved versus what he did achieve,” Murray told SabresTV’s Brian Duff.
Because of that potential, Murray sees Foligno as a vital piece moving forward.
FOLIGNO STRIVES FOR CONSISTENCY
“I think that Marcus is somebody that we want to go forward with here. He’s a big body with skill,” Murray said. “When we’re looking at the draft or we’re looking at free agency, that’s the type of player we’re trying to acquire. We have him in the organization. We have to work with him.”
Buffalo’s other restricted free agents include forwards Cory Conacher, Luke Adam and Shawn Szydlowski, defensemen Jamie McBain, Chad Ruhwedel, Nick Crawford and Matt MacKenzie and goaltenders Matt Hackett and Connor Knapp.
Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray said at his pre-draft press conference Thursday that he expects defenseman Aaron Ekblad to be off the board by the time his team is on the clock.
The Sabres hold the second overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, which begins on June 27 in Philadelphia. Florida is slated to pick first, but is reportedly fielding offers from other teams.
Ekblad is the top-ranked defenseman in the draft by NHL Central Scouting. For Murray, it’s really a just question of which team picks him.
“I believe that Ekblad is going to go one and then we pick who we have left – the next guy on our list,” Murray said. “If he doesn’t go one, I’d be surprised I guess, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
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Reinhart and Bennett have been regarded for some time now as the top two draft-eligible centers, but Draisaitl has recently worked his way into the discussion. Murray said that Draisaitl is “right there” among this year’s top forwards.
“There are guys that aren’t being talked about that are potentially part of that,” Murray said. “It’s a copycat league, so LA wins the Cup again and the terminology is ‘They’re heavy.’ So you’ve got guys like [Nick] Ritchie and [Jake] Virtanen that are good players that are heavy. Teams are looking for heavy.”
As to whom the Sabres will take, the pick won’t be based on any perceived need.
“We’re taking the best player available,” Murray said, noting that the team has a lot of needs.
And what are some of Murray’s expectations for this draft, his first as a GM?
“The perfect draft?” he pondered. “Our first pick is going to be what we consider a very good player. Use assets to get back into the first round and pick a player we feel down the road […] can play. Hit on one or two of your seconds and hit somewhere later in the draft. I would consider that a very good draft.”
If Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray has his way, the team will have multiple first-round picks in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Buffalo Sabres currently holds the second-overall pick and right now, he plans to use that pick on June 27.
However, Murray said at his pre-draft press conference at First Niagara Center that he’s looking to move some assets to get back into the middle of that first round.
The Sabres are slated to pick three times in the second round at 31, 39 and 49.
“I have been trying hard to do that and the people I’ve talked to haven’t said no, but nobody’s called back and said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this deal,’” Murray said. “But I’ve got a lot of potential deals out there that have a first coming back involved, whether it’s in the 20s or the teens.
“I just feel if I can get something in the 20s or teens, that maybe you can do something with that too. But I’m trying. I guess we’ll see come Draft Day if I have more than one.”
He’s also not against taking back a player with a large contract if it means receiving a first-round pick in the deal. That player wouldn’t necessarily be acquired for the sole purpose of buying him out, either.
“I would make a trade for a larger contract to get a first-round pick involved, yes. It’s still a trade. Every trade that every team makes, money is a consideration,” he said. “So I’m not going to say that I would just make that trade to buy the guy out. If that happens, it happens. I may take a contract on to play here. It would depend on the player.”
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NEW YORK – The Buffalo Sabres have earned at least a point in seven of their last eight road games against the New York Rangers and will look to avoid a season sweep on Thursday.
Faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. from Madison Square Garden.
Stafford and Tallinder, who both serve as alternate captains, have each missed the past four games due to injury.
Tallinder, 35, is the oldest player on the team and is happy to be able to play in the team’s final three games of the season.
“I think it’s just trying to finish what you started. I’m just looking forward to playing again,” he said after the team’s morning skate at MSG. “You never like to be sitting out or being hurt and stuff like that, so I’m just happy that my body feels healthy again.”
He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and he said he wants to keep playing hockey, preferably in the NHL. He said he isn’t going to close the door on any potential opportunity and that includes returning to Buffalo next season.
“I love hockey more than ever almost even though it’s been a tough year,” he said. “But when you get older, you kind of learn to appreciate what you have. This is what I love to do so I’m going to keep playing as long as I can.”
The Sabres have a lot of young players in the lineup, particularly on the blueline. They dressed three rookies last game but sent Mark Pysyk back to Rochester of the American Hockey League on Thursday because of Tallinder’s pending return.
Tallinder said he hasn’t had to change his game much as he’s gotten older, but has learned that it takes a little bit longer for older players to warm up to the speed of the game.
“I don’t have the jump that I used to have, maybe, but you know what? I always try to explain this to people. It’s tough to explain, but when you get older, you’re kind of like a diesel engine,” he said. “It takes a while to get going, but once you get going, it’s OK. Then you can compete with these – I don’t know, what do you say – jet fuel that they have. Once you’re in and you get going, you can compete with anyone.”
Zenon Konopka worked with the assistant coaches after practice and looks to be one of Buffalo’s healthy scratches. Nolan said that John Scott would take warmups just in case Tallinder faces a setback.
Matt Hackett will start in goal against Henrik Lundqvist.
Chris Stewart and Marcus Foligno were two Sabres forwards that returned from injury in the team’s last game. Sabres coach Ted Nolan tried them together on a line with Tyler Ennis at center. After the game Nolan said he was hoping for a little bit more from them.
With a few extra days of practice in, Nolan said some of the rust should be shaken off.
“I was hoping but then reality checks in. Stewart, you have to give him full marks for the work and effort he put in to get back in the lineup. We didn’t think he was going to be in at all. But he’s worked extremely hard to get back in,” Nolan said. “Marcus, the same thing. We thought he was done for the year and then he worked to get himself back in.
“But then I forgot about the timing aspect of the game and a little rustiness and your timing’s off a little bit. So, hopefully tonight they’ll be a lot better.”
At practice on Wednesday, Stewart was on the left wing with Ennis and Stafford while Foligno was on a line with center Brian Flynn and right wing Matt D’Agostini. The Sabres did not do any line rushes during their morning skate on Thursday.
Nolan said after the skate that he’ll mix the lines up to try and find a balanced four-line attack.
Ennis has 12 points (4+8) in 13 career games against the Rangers, including two of his six career three-point games, which came on April 6, 2010 and on March 23, 2012. Stafford has seven points (6+1) in his last seven games against the Rangers.
Cody Hodgson has recorded consecutive multi-point games for the second time in his career entering the game against the Rangers. The last time he’d done that was on March 19, 2012 at Tampa Bay and March 21, 2012 against Montreal.
He has never had three straight multi-point games. In 69 games played, Hodgson has already set new career highs in assists (24) and points (43). He’s also matched his career high in goals with 19.
At forward, the Buffalo Sabres are close to full strength.
Drew Stafford is set to return to the lineup when the Sabres take on the New York Rangers on Thursday at Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m. He’s missed the past four games due to injury, but practiced with the team at First Niagara Center on Wednesday and said he feels like he’s ready to go.
Stafford has battled injuries in the second half of the season, but when he’s been on the ice, he’s been productive.
Stafford has averaged 20:04 of ice time and posted 20 points (11+9) in 26 games since the season’s halfway mark. In the 41 games prior to the midway point, Stafford had 13 points (4+9) in and averaged 17:36 per game.
He’s hoping to finish the last three games of the season off strong.
“It’s been like that for a while. With us being out of the playoffs, we’re playing for pride, playing to just get a little bit of respect and hopefully finish the year strong,” he said. “Have a healthy, productive summer and just get ready for next year. It all starts with just trying to have a good finish.”
On defense, the Sabres are without Tyler Myers, Alexander Sulzer and Chad Ruhwedel. Henrik Tallinder has also missed the past four games, but hopes to play on Thursday as well. He and Sabres coach Ted Nolan have deemed him a gametime decision.
“You can still feel it a little bit, but it’s not pain so that’s good,” Tallinder said. “…If it’s going to be worse tomorrow then I’m not going to play, but we’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”
Once Tallinder is ready, the team will send Mark Pysyk back to the Amerks. Nolan said they haven’t decided if Rasmus Ristolainen will play out the season in Buffalo because it depends on the number of healthy bodies they have available.
Nolan also said that with only three games remaining and with Myers not practicing with the team, that it’s likely the defenseman’s season is over. Myers got hurt on March 25 when he crashed into the goal post after getting tripped up on an offensive rush.
The team would rather see him condition in the offseason than rehab.
“We’re going on the road for two games and we come back for one and he hasn’t stepped on the ice for a week so, I’m a betting man, he’s not going to see any more game action until next season,” Nolan said.
In goal, Nolan plans to start Matt Hackett the rest of the way out.
Andrey Makarov has been recalled to back him up, but he’ll return to the Amerks to play Friday night. The Amerks play games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week as they try to clinch a playoff berth.
Makarov has been solid for the Amerks since he was called up from the ECHL on March 17. In six games with Rochester, he’s posted a 3-3-0 record and registered a 2.70 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.
“I’ll just enjoy my moment right now and be on the bench and help my teammates and just support my teammates,” Makarov said. “I think it’s a great feeling.”
The Sabres will have to find another back-up goaltender for their games on Saturday and Sunday once they send Makarov back to Rochester.
80 Chris Stewart – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford – 88 Cory Conacher
19 Cody Hodgson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 17 Torrey Mitchell
82 Marcus Foligno – 65 Brian Flynn – 27 Matt D’Agostini
37 Matt Ellis - 24 Zenon Konopka – 23 Ville Leino