With the NHL Draft just one week away, Tim Murray has attempted to focus on the event. The Buffalo general manager would like to acquire another first-round pick to complement the second overall selection, and he’s trying to find trade partners.
Inevitably, however, his work gets interrupted by someone who wants to talk about the Sabres’ salary-cap dilemma. The team is approximately $16 million under the anticipated floor of $52 million.
“I hear about it all the time,” Murray said Thursday. “It’s just a distraction. You get in the middle of a meeting, and somebody walks in the door and talks about the floor.
“Very annoying to me.”
Folks want to talk about the situation because it appears to be a legitimate problem. In order to comply with the collective bargaining agreement, the Sabres are going to have spend money – lots of it. Their payroll for next season is $36 million for 17 players. If qualifying offers to restricted free agents Cory Conacher, Jamie McBain and Chad Ruhwedel are added, the Sabres are still more than $12 million from the floor with just Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno to re-sign.
“I don’t like spending money, but it’s easy to spend money,” Murray said in First Niagara Center. “It’s just are the right players or the guys that we like, are they going to approach us to take our money?
“There may be little bumps in the road on the way there, but no, I don’t foresee not being able to get to the floor properly.”
Long before Murray has to deal with the cap floor, which has to be reached by opening night, he has to determine which prospects belong in his organization.
There’s a “very good chance” one will be Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart or Leon Draisaitl. Murray expects defenseman Aaron Ekblad to be drafted first overall, either by Florida or a team that acquires the No. 1 pick.
“I believe that Ekblad is going to go one, and then we pick who we have left with the next guy on our list,” Murray said. “If he doesn’t go one, I’d be surprised, I guess, but then I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
After picking second, the Sabres are set to select three times in the second round. Murray hopes he doesn’t have to wait that long. Big-bodied players such as Nick Ritchie and Jake Virtanen have piqued his interest as later first-round selections.
“I’ve got a lot of potential deals out there that have a first coming back, whether it’s in the 20s or in the teens,” Murray said. “I have been trying hard to do that. The people I’ve talked to haven’t said no, but nobody’s called back and said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this deal.’ ”
One avenue Murray is exploring is accepting an inflated contract along with a first-round pick. Some teams are eager to rid themselves of cap-crunching deals, and the Sabres have salary cap room (plus owner Terry Pegula’s buyout power) to help out.
“I would make a trade for a large contract to get a first-round pick involved,” the GM said.
“Every trade that every team makes, money is a consideration. I’m not going to say that I would just make that trade to buy a guy out. If that happens, it happens. I may take a contract on to play here. It would depend on the player.”
While trades and the draft are at the top of Murray’s to-do list, there are other items on his agenda:
• Murray and coach Ted Nolan are evaluating assistant coach candidates. Nolan released his inherited staff at the end of the season.
“I talked to Teddy yesterday for a while,” Murray said. “We compared names, guys that have called him, guys that have called me. He’s talked to a lot of potential assistants in the last couple of weeks. He’ll talk to them. He’ll tell me what he thinks of them, then we have to come to a decision together on who the right guys are.”
• Former assistant Joe Sacco has accepted his reassignment to pro scout.
“I’ve given him our free agent list for July 1 even though he didn’t scout last year,” Murray said. “I think as an assistant coach and a head coach the last few years, he has some insight on some players on that list.”
• The coaching staff in Rochester – Chadd Cassidy and assistants Chris Taylor and John Wroblewski – will return. Randy Cunneyworth, who worked as a player development liaison between the Sabres and Amerks, has been offered an undisclosed job in the organization.
• Patrick Kaleta, demoted to Rochester after running afoul of the NHL disciplinary office, is recovering well from knee surgery and will be welcomed to Sabres training camp.
“Whatever happened last year happened,” Murray said. “I just expect him to come in here and act like a pro. Once we hit the ice, then I’ll start evaluating him.”
• The NHL will announce the 2014-15 home openers for every team Saturday. The entire schedule will be released Sunday.