Its July 1st, and NHL unrestricted free agency begins today at Noon. General Managers across the league will start filling out their NHL rosters, and the more aggressive ones will also start targeting AHL free agents. Former Sabres GM Darcy Regier rarely jumped into minor league free agency too quickly, waiting for things to settle down before building the Amerks roster.
But Regier is no longer GM of the Sabres. That job has been handed over to Tim Murray.
What will Murray-styled Amerks look like? Here are some things we know, and some predictions on how things will proceed.
Things we DO know:
Luke Adam and Matt Hackett are restricted free agents, but have been tendered offers. They are all but guaranteed to return to Rochester.
Defensemen Matt MacKenzie and Nick Crawford were not tendered offers, and probably will not be back. The Sabres are somewhat deep on the blue line, but these are two decent depth defensemen that would have been nice to have around. They will be missed.
Goaltender Connor Knapp was also not tendered an offer. The Sabres already have several goalies competing for playing time in Rochester this season, and Knapp seemed to show the least progress of any of them. This wasn’t a surprise.
Jamie Tardif and Kevin Porter are two veterans who have not been re-signed and have become free agents. This opens up 2 veteran spots in the Amerks lineup.
Things we have to assume:
The Sabres currently have just 8 forwards under contract (plus two more restricted free agents that they will re-sign). Assuming guys like Brian Flynn and Matt Ellis stick in Buffalo, and nobody in Rochester takes a roster spot, Murray needs to find 3 more NHL caliber forwards.
On defense, Buffalo has only four players signed (plus one more RFA). Popular opinion is that one of them (Jake McCabe) will come to Rochester for big ice time, but Nikita Zadorov may take his place on Buffalo’s roster (he cannot play in the AHL this season). If this all holds true, Murray will need at least 2 more NHL caliber defensemen.
Altogether, this means Tim Murray’s immediate focus will likely be on trying lure 5 free agents to Buffalo. Considering the outlook for the Sabres this season, it will be a tough sell. Will he work on constructing an AHL roster while also talking to NHL free agents? Or will Murray look at just the Sabres at first, and when they are in good shape, THEN start looking for Rochester?
That’s the million dollar question for Amerks fans. Hopefully his stint as GM for the Binghamton Senators taught him the importance of a competitive farm team.
One things we do know about Tim Murray: He seems committed to letting players develop in the AHL and not rushing them to the NHL. This should be very good news for Amerks fans, as the team seems to have a lot of very good prospects coming up thru the system right now. If Murray can augment those prospects with the right veterans, Amerks fans could be quite happy this season.