With the Chicago Blackhawks hoisting the Stanley Cup for the third time in six years earlier this week, the NHL‘s offseason has officially begun.

And so has the season of the crazy rumors. 

The Buffalo Sabres have found themselves squarely in the middle of a ton of rumors this offseason, whether or not they have any basis in fact. 

But these rumors should be framed by comments made by the Sabres’ general manager Tim Murray this offseason.

The first comments, made in an interview with Buffalo’s WGR 550 during the scouting combine, detail Murray’s intention to “stay the course” and not sacrifice his young talent for a veteran that has a small window but could help put the team in win-now mode. 

The next comments that should be used to frame the discussion were made in Murray and new head coach Dan Bylsma’s pre-draft press conference surrounding the 21st overall selection in Friday’s NHL Entry Draft. There Murray stated he would consider a number of options with that pick, including trading up and trading for a “23- or 24-year old.” 

So what are the biggest rumors out there?

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The NHL has made some strides in recent years, but in some other aspects the league is still an old boys’ club. 

The league’s stance on restricted free agents is potentially the biggest example of this notion. 

As with every other major sports league, the NHL has two types of free agents: unrestricted and restricted. Unrestricted free agents are free to go anywhere, talk to anyone and sign any deal they wish. RFAs can sign any deal they want, but their current team has the right to match any offer, and if they do not, the offering team must send draft picks along as compensation. 

The system in and of itself is fair. A team needs to be given every opportunity to continue to build with its young talent, so providing a system that allows that to a certain extent is common sense. If the team decides to move on, they should be given some compensation for having their cupboards raided. 

So the issue is not the system—it’s the infrequency of any offers being made. 

In 2006, Ryan Kesler signed the first offer sheet since 1999 when the Philadelphia Flyers and their then-general manager, Bob Clarke, signed him to a one-year, $1.9 million deal, which the Vancouver Canucks matched. 

But the biggest splash in the realm of RFAs came in 2007 when the Edmonton Oilers and their former GM, Kevin Lowe, signed Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek to a seven-year, $50 million offer sheet that sent waves through the NHL. The Sabres matched, deciding to forego four first-round picks in compensation.

Since Vanek‘s offer sheet, only six other offer sheets have been signed, and only one has not been matched─Edmonton’s subsequent offer to Dustin Penner after Vanek‘s deal was matched. The Flyers again made a spectacle when they signed Nashville defenseman Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110 million deal in 2012, but the Predators eventually matched that after a week of public debate whether the small-market team could or not. 

And that’s the current environment surrounding RFAs: Not only will they most likely be matched, but they also tend to create a lot of bad blood among the other GMs of the league. TSN‘s Bob McKenzie acknowledged as much in a radio interview with TSN 1040 last week (h/t Today’s Slapshot).

So the Sabres won’t be extending any offer sheets this offseason, right?

This will be a hotly debated topic from now until the free-agent market opens in early July, but it doesn’t look like the answer will be as cut and dry as many think. 

The RFA market this year is deep, and the best players available all seem to find themselves on teams with precarious salary-cap positions. A run-of-the-mill, two-year, reasonable bridge deal could work for most of these teams, but anything more could prevent them from matching any offers. 

The names that seem to be coming up most in these conversations are Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli and Martin Jones, Chicago’s Brandon Saad, Boston’s Dougie Hamilton and St. Louis’ Vlad Tarasenko

It’d be next to impossible to sit down and convince anyone that Sabres GM Tim Murray would not jump at the chance to have any one of those players on the Sabres next year. The compensation likely wouldn’t even be an issue for Murray given the stockpile of picks the Sabres have in the next few years.

The issue is likely to revolve entirely around Murray’s goodwill around the league or, more accurately, the evaporation of said goodwill.

Now it can be argued that it’s likely that Murray’s goodwill around the league isn’t at it’s highest anyway given the tanking perception that many are sure to have. But as McKenzie’s comments highlight, the fear is not losing your reputation as much as it is retaliation. 

Murray will be in position to be retaliated on in a few years too. Not that the Sabres will find themselves in a cap position similar to the Kings, Bruins or Blackhawks, but they will have plenty of top-flight prospects coming off their entry-level deals. 

But when asked about the offer-sheet process, Murray took a somewhat unexpected stance by telling Buffalo’s WGR 550 that he didn’t care what other GMs thought about him offer-sheeting someone. And it doesn’t seem like it’s just him bluffing either, because he has no reason to say he’s considering it if he’s not. 

Yet this also doesn’t mean that Murray will immediately start throwing around offer sheets once free agency opens on July 1.

The more likely, and practical, approach for Murray is to wait a few days or weeks and assess where the current crop of RFAs stand. RFAs almost never get signed on July 1 by their current teams, and that’s because there’s almost no threat of another team signing them away. The priority goes to UFAs during the opening of free agency and then shifts to the RFAs once a good chunk of UFAs have been signed. 

There may be a bit more of an accelerated timeline this season given the interest and speculation surrounding Hamilton and Saad in particular, but it seems unlikely anything will happen with these players in the first couple of days of free agency. In fact, given his relative inexperience, it may not be surprising to see an offer sheet signed and then Murray striking, simply to wait for someone else to do it first.

But no matter what the future may hold for Murray and his roster, he stands in an enviable position right now when it comes to the potential RFAs on the market. He’s dealing with plenty of cap room, especially if the Cody Hodgson buyout rumors come to fruition, per WGR 550’s Paul Hamilton. Plus, Murray has a ton of extra picks to soften the compensation blow, and he is building a team from the ground up.

Now, as it will be with any team that tries to sign one of these big names to an offer sheet, they are likely to get matched. But Murray is in the position to at least try. 

So to predict whether or not an offer sheet will be signed is tough, mainly because there is a long history of RFAs not being signed to them, with a few major exceptions. But if there are teams in the mix for these RFAs, expect Murray and the Sabres to be leading the pack.


Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all offseason: @mattclouden

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Buffalo Sabres fans can finally say they have a coach.

Last Thursday, the Sabres and general manager Tim Murray introduced Dan Bylsma as the 17th head coach in team history, succeeding the recently fired Ted Nolan, via NHL.com.

Bylsma inherits the reigning 30th-place team, the complete opposite of what he walked into when he took over the Pittsburgh Penguins a little over halfway through the 2008-09 season. That team was fresh off a loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final and found themselves beating those Red Wings in for the Cup later that season. 

So the test for Bylsma is transitioning from figuring out how to keep a team on top to how to build a team up from the ground.

But Bylsma is an excellent choice for the difficult task that lay ahead. 

Bylsma‘s Penguins were an offensive force, as one would expect when your roster includes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Yet Bylsma clearly created a system that allowed Crosby and Malkin to be the offensive dynamos NHL fans know.

So what system will Bylsma be bringing to this young Sabres roster?

In his introductory press conference on Thursday, Bylsma stressed defense. He stressed that good defense leads to good offense and praised the young defensemen in the Sabres’ pipeline while at the same time saying they needed to defend better.

Bylsma talked to WGR 550 on Friday about how his staff makeup will reflect his wish for the young defensemen to defend better, saying he wants to hire a former defenseman to head the defensive corps. He even alluded to hiring a recently retired player, which has led to speculation that he may want to bring in a guy like former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee. 

So if they’re able to turn the defense around, does Bylsma have the pieces up front to have as potent an offense as the Penguins did during his time in Pittsburgh?

Obviously, the Sabres do not have Crosby, but they will likely use the No. 2 overall draft pick on Jack Eichel, who has given every indication that he will be an elite forward in the NHL. There’s also Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons on the current roster, and Sam Reinhart is ready to compete for a full-time spot, too. 

Bylsma has made comments to SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman about potentially pairing Eichel and Kane together, but he also acknowledged their styles may not be a match. But even if they end up playing together or Kane sees more time with Reinhart or Girgensons, you’re essentially just pushing high-end talent down the roster.

In other words, there’s a lot of talent, and the Sabres may not currently have the two high-end guys the Pens had, but they could be a lot deeper up front than the Pens ever were, especially in a year or two. 

And that perceived depth is exactly what makes Bylsma such a good hire for the Sabres. Travis Yost of TSN wrote a piece last week that detailed how good Bylsma‘s Pens teams were without Crosby and Malkin. The verdict? They were still really good.

And the fact that the Sabres will likely have a deeper forward group—at least in a few years—means that Bylsma could be even more successful, which is likely the biggest reason he was the best choice available for Buffalo.

Now, that list does not necessarily include Claude Julien, who as of Monday afternoon was still the Boston Bruins‘ coach, and Dave Tippett, who may or may not have an opt-out clause in his contract with the Arizona Coyotes. Yet Julien wouldn’t lead many lists for the Sabres job anyway given his defensive style and ability to alienate offensive studs—see: Seguin, Tyler—and Tippett likely wouldn’t want to move from one rebuild to another. 

And Bylsma might have been a better option for the sole reason that he had a year off this past season. That may seem a bit odd, but in his latest “30 Thoughts,” Friedman highlighted Bylsma‘s motivation to scout the NHL this year, including the Sabres, whom he said he watched a lot of. 

That time off could be something that he uses to his and the Sabres’ benefit. 

Another benefit is the 44-year-old Bylsma‘s relative youth. With the New Jersey Devils hiring John Hynes (40), via Yahoo Sports, and the Detroit Red Wings seemingly set on Jeff Blashill (41) to replace Mike Babcock, Bylsma will be the fourth-youngest coach in the NHL. This may surprise some given the fact that Bylsma has been around for a while, but he will be given every opportunity to grow with this young team. 

So, overall, there will be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Sabres entering the offseason with extra draft picks and other assets to possibly use as trading currency and a bunch of restricted free agents Murray could be eyeing. But one thing that is certain is that the team is moving forward with Bylsma at the reigns, and he and Murray will try to captain this team through the growing years of the rebuild.


Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all offseason: @mattclouden

Read more Buffalo Sabres news on BleacherReport.com