Tim Murray’s heavy lifts of the offseason seem to be complete.
The draft and free agency brought resoundingly positive reviews to the Buffalo Sabres’ first-year general manager. The team’s summer development camp – highlighted by more than 8,700 fans coming to First Niagara Center for a July scrimmage – was a showcase for its cadre of high-end draft picks.
And Murray got his top returning goal scorer back into the fold Thursday when he signed Tyler Ennis to a five-year, $23 million contract. Ennis was coming off a 21-goal season and was the team’s most prominent restricted free agent.
He’s the No. 1 center for this year, pretty much by default. But Murray said Ennis could be looking at different roles over the life of the deal.
“He’s a part of the team,” Murray told reporters Friday after the camp’s final session. “Is he a center, is he a winger? We’ve talked about that with his agent and where he fits. He fits somewhere on this team.
“I have to look down the road when I feel we’re going to be a competitive team. Is he the No. 1 center on that team? He may not be. He may be this year, and next year he may be a No. 2 left winger. It depends on what we bring in here, depends how we surround him. That’s going to dictate how he fits.”
Largely because Cody Hodgson got a six-year deal last summer, it seemed like this was Ennis’ turn to get paid. But Murray said he was prepared to simply offer Ennis his one-year qualifying offer if terms amenable to both sides were not reached.
“It certainly wasn’t straightforward,” Murray said. “The day we signed him, we were calling back and forth every 10 minutes. Then we got to a point that we thought both sides moved. At the end we got to a point where we thought our last offer was very credible and in line with a lot of players of his caliber in the league.”
Ennis is only 24 and agent Eustace King told The Buffalo News on Thursday he can envision 30-goal, 70-point seasons for his client. The contract is front-loaded, paying $7.3 million this season and scaling down to just $3.65 million in the last three years. Translation: It will be a very tradable deal down the road if the Sabres opt to move Ennis. Right now, they’re going full speed ahead with him as a core player.
“He had 21 goals this year on a not-very-good team playing as a No. 1 center getting the bad matchups,” Murray said. “I thought considering his slow start that I wasn’t here for and keep being told about that he had a pretty successful year individually. Hopefully that translates into having a better year with better players around him.”
As for development camp, Murray said he was pleased with his first look at the bulk of the team’s young players.
“I thought it was a good camp,” Murray said. “I thought it was intense. We set it up to be … a type of a battle camp that effort and work ethic will be rewarded and be noticed. I think we got that.”
The team’s likely next order of business? Having coach Ted Nolan finish lining up his staff of assistants.
“That’s in Teddy’s court,” Murray said. “But I think he’s getting to the point where he is talking contract to a couple individuals.”
No. 1 pick Sam Reinhart participated fully in Friday’s three-on-three tournament that closed camp, scoring a particularly nifty backhand goal in one game. He sat out Thursday’s power skating drills for maintenance of an undisclosed ailment.
“It was great to see him in the uniform,” Murray said. “To me, this is the start of team building.”
“It was really good to get in, get familiar with the organization and all the facilities here and get comfortable on the ice,” Reinhart said.
Reinhart said he could have skated Thursday but team trainers took a cautious approach. Next up for him is the Team Canada selection camp for the World Junior Championships, to be held Aug. 3-8 in Brossard, Quebec.
Sabres prospect Nick Baptiste, a 45-goal man last year at Sudbury of the OHL, will join Reinhart at the camp. Center Connor McDavid, next year’s likely No. 1 pick, was on Team Canada’s roster for the tournament last year and will also attend.
The prospects were split into seven teams for the three-on-three event, which ended with the Gray team hoisting a trophy dubbed “The French Connection Cup” after a 2-1 win over the Gold, with Mikhail Grigorenko scoring the tiebreaking goal. The winning team was Grigorenko, Mark Pysyk, Justin Kea and camp invitees Drake Caggiula and Liam Pecararo.
Around 2,000 fans were on hand Friday, and the Sabres announced the four days of workouts drew more than 15,000, the most they’ve had since moving camp in 2011.