PHILADELPHIA – Tim Murray made it clear he doesn’t want the Sabres to be the worst team in the NHL next season. The general manager is also well-aware Buffalo is far, far away from being a Stanley Cup contender.
So when the NHL approved changes to the 2015 Draft Lottery, he wasn’t thrilled.
“Greedily, I’m upset because I think we have more of a chance of next season being one of the lower teams, which I don’t like, but it’s just reality,” Murray said Friday. “I just think it affects the teams you see at the bottom now, so you know who you’re affecting. I’m not sure that’s fair. I think if you did it three years out, you know you’re affecting somebody, you’re affecting a bad team, but you’re not sure who that team is.”
If the Sabres follow up this year’s 30th-place finish with another one, their chances of winning the lottery and getting the No. 1 overall pick will fall from the current 25 percent to 19 percent or 20 percent. That’s a big thing with franchise talent Connor McDavid available in the top slot.
The good news for Buffalo is a bigger change won’t take place until 2016, when the top three selections will be subject to the lottery. Under that system, the last-place team could pick as low as No. 4. For 2015, the 30th-place club will pick no lower than second overall.
“They made a compromise,” Murray said. “They did change the odds, but they did say the last-place team can only move to two.”
The Sabres have an oft-stated goal of rebuilding by picking at the top of the draft, so it’s easy to assume the league made the changes with Buffalo mind. After talking with Commissioner Gary Bettman, Murray doesn’t believe that’s the case.
“I don’t think it was changed for us,” Murray said. “I think we made it clear that we’re not tanking. We don’t intend to pick No. 1 four years in a row. I said I actually didn’t care about ’16 as long as ’15 stayed the same.”
The NHL Players’ Association still has to approve the changes.
While the draft is at the forefront, the selection show coincides with the free agency discussion period. General managers and agents can discuss the broad parameters of contracts for this year’s crop of unrestricted free agents. It allows both sides to get a jump on the July 1 signing frenzy.
While Buffalo isn’t expected to make a splash in free agency, Murray has been taking advantage of the discussion time.
“I had meetings with agents noon till 7 yesterday, so I think I’m doing what everyone else is doing,” Murray said Friday. “It’s no different. It’s just talking in generalities, ‘Would you have interest in our client?’ We’ll find out on July 1.”
Murray said he’s talked with the agents for Steve Ott and Matt Moulson, who played for the Sabres this season before being traded.
“I have talked about them up to this point,” the GM said. “I have talked to both of their agents.”
The Sabres need to hand out big contracts in order to get to the salary cap floor of $51 million next season. The salary cap is $69 million.
“I can’t imagine that each guy I talked to that all their clients want to come to Buffalo, but they’re doing their job,” Murray said. “Where are we from team one to 30 on their list as far as wanting to make Buffalo a destination? I don’t know.”
Bettman earned a long, loud boo the moment he stepped on stage for the draft. Accustomed to the jeers, Bettman was unfazed.
“Isn’t this supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love?” said the commissioner, who repeatedly thanked the fans for their passion and warm welcome.
The NHL welcomed a new team to the league, sort of. The Phoenix Coyotes officially changed their name to the Arizona Coyotes.