GLENDALE, Ariz. — If anyone knows the importance of having a home, it’s Ryan O’Reilly.

As a kid growing up in the prairie town of Brucefield, Ontario, with parents who both served as social workers for the province, O’Reilly shared his house with 49 foster kids over the years. Making them feel welcome was naturally instilled in him by Brian and Bonnie O’Reilly.

O’Reilly lived in Denver for the first six years of his NHL career. But it always felt too much like a residence, not a home. While he loved the city and its people and still has nice things to say about the Colorado Avalanche, the fact is that things never worked out for the long term. Home to him now is Buffalo, where the seventh-year All-Star center has the kind of long-term contractual security (seven years, $52.5 million) he could never find with the Avs.

Almost as important, O’Reilly says, he feels he plays a bigger role in the Sabres dressing room than he ever did in Colorado, freer to be the kind of locker-room and on-ice leader he felt he never quite could with the Avs.

On Wednesday night, O’Reilly will play his first game at the Pepsi Center in Colorado since being traded by the Avs in a summer blockbuster, ending a successful playing career there but one marked by business turbulence off the ice.

“Since Day 1, we just always had our [business] issues,” O’Reilly said. “But I think the thing is, I did want a bigger role there, and in Buffalo, that’s what I got. I have a bigger role here, a bigger voice, which is nice to have. I’m happy with the change. The fans and people in Colorado were phenomenal, and I have a lot of good relationships with a lot of their players still, but now that I have longer-term security and stuff, I can just focus on hockey, and it’s easier to lead, to not get asked questions about contract stuff all the time.”

It all started going bad off the ice for O’Reilly and the Avs right after the last NHL lockout was settled in 2013. While everyone else was excited to get back to their NHL teams, O’Reilly still didn’t have a contract. Despite being one of the team’s most important players, including leading the team in scoring the season before, O’Reilly and Avs management bickered over the value of a new deal. Things were going nowhere when the Calgary Flames suddenly gave him a two-year, $10 million offer sheet, which included a back-loaded final year that carried a $6.5 million cap hit.

The Avs had to grit their teeth and match the offer, and while O’Reilly would play another two-plus seasons in Denver, it always felt too much like a shotgun marriage. The big contract he got from Calgary created tension in the Avs dressing room that O’Reilly and others tried to deny publicly. However, before the Sabres’ game against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, O’Reilly told Bleacher Report the offer sheet created tension after he had already missed several games in that 48-game, shortened season.

That tension was especially pronounced, O’Reilly said, with teammate Matt Duchene. The two were drafted in the same year (2009) and made the team as 18-year-olds. They were supposed to be the twin faces of the franchise for a long time to come, but the business side of the game took a toll on their relationship. Duchene signed a team cap-friendly two-year, $7 million deal previous to the lockout, and the Avs expected him to follow suit and for probably a little less. When he returned with a much bigger deal after essentially holding out, it created friction with Duchene.

“After the whole contract situation at first, the relationship with [Duchene] was a little bit rocky for a while,” O’Reilly said. “But I do think it started to grow back. He’s a great guy, and he’s a great player, too. I enjoyed being a teammate of his, and at least we got to win [the 2015 World Championships for Canada] together.”

While O’Reilly wanted a bigger role, which presumably meant getting the captaincy after Milan Hejduk relinquished it retired in 2012, or at least an alternate captaincy. The Avs instead gave the “C” to 18-year-old rookie Gabriel Landeskog, who remains the youngest player in league history to get one.

But O’Reilly, who will represent the Sabres at the NHL All-Star Game in Nashville later this month, said it wasn’t so much about getting a letter on his jersey as much as, again, feeling like Colorado was his home. By playing on short-term contracts his last few years, he felt too much like a rental player to be able to step up and really lead in the locker room.

Surprisingly, O’Reilly said being “passed over” for the captaincy in favor of a rookie was never the big deal some thought.

“I don’t think I was ready for that role at the time. Landy excelled right away at the role, and I think he deserved it, for sure,” O’Reilly said. “He’s a leader and does everything right. I wasn’t very vocal at that time, a little unsure of what to say. But now, I feel I’ve gotten more to that level in this room.”

O’Reilly has been, by all accounts, the Sabres’ best player so far. He entered Monday’s game with 17 goals and 38 points in 45 games, and he’s been phenomenal on faceoffs. His 660 faceoff wins lead the league, and he’s near the top with a 57.8 percent success rate. He has a high Corsi For Percentage at 52.6, according to

“I didn’t know a lot about him as a full player. I’d only seen the highlights and a little as an opposing coach,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “But his compete level is great on both sides of the puck. He has such a high work rate. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching a few good players, and Ryan is right up there with how hard he works. He drives our team in so many areas with his work level and talent level. That’s something I didn’t know about him.”

Does O’Reilly think he’ll get the kinds of boos in Denver that Evander Kane got in his first game back in Winnipeg recently?

“Well, I’m sure it’s not going to be a big welcome,” O’Reilly said. “It’ll be different playing against those guys. But it’ll still be nice to get back there for a couple days.”

After that, the Sabres will fly back to Buffalo. Where home is.


Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Adater.

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Buffalo Sabres left winger Evander Kane is reportedly the subject of an ongoing sex offense investigation after an alleged incident Sunday morning.

“We have an investigation ongoing,” a Buffalo police source told . “We are not naming the suspect, and we do not expect it to be resolved in the very near future.”

Kane has not been charged with a crime, and there are currently no details on the scope of the allegations. On Monday, Kane responded to the allegations, via John Hickey of the Buffalo News:

This is the second time this year New York police have investigated a potential sexual assault involving an NHL player. Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane was the subject of an investigation that stretched into the 2015-16 season before police eventually determined there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime.

A source told the News that the police would not be naming Evander Kane’s alleged victim publicly to avoid a similar circus-like atmosphere in this case.

The Sabres issued the following statement, via Michel and Graham: “We take the allegation made today against Evander Kane very seriously. We are gathering facts and have been in touch with the NHL and Evander’s representatives. Until we have more information we will not have any additional comment.”

It’s unclear if Kane will continue to play while the police investigation is ongoing. He was not at practice Sunday with what the team described as a personal issue.

Appearing in 25 games this season, Kane has scored eight goals and tallied five assists. He spent his first six seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organization.


Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner has been dealing with an ankle injury since the team’s Oct. 8 season opener and faces a return sometime in December after a reported setback in his recovery.

Continue for updates. 

Bylsma Comments on Lehner‘s Recovery

Wednesday, Nov. 25

Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma discussed Lehner’s status, via John Vogl of the Buffalo News:

I don’t think I would call it a setback. He got to a point where he started upping his rehab level, and that’s where he had to back off that a little bit. He kind of tried to take the next step, and the next step, he has to wait a little bit longer on that. …

It will take longer with a goalie than a skater just by the nature of what happens to a goalie virtually every shot he takes. He goes into crouch position or a butterfly position.

Lehner‘s Timetable for Return Pushed Back

Tuesday, Nov. 24

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun passed along an update on the 24-year-old, noting Lehner suffered a “little setback” that could push his first appearance back to “mid- to late-December.”

On Oct. 11, Bylsma announced Lehner—who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Ottawa Senators—would miss six to 10 weeks with a high-ankle sprain. 

Ullmark‘s Performance Eases Blow from Lehner‘s Absence

If there’s a silver lining for the Sabres, it’s that Linus Ullmark has been steady in goal so far this season. In nine games, Ullmark has notched a 4-4-1 record with a .925 save percentage and a mark of 2.28 goal-against average.

Ullmark has been particularly solid in November, posting a .930 save percentage in six starts. Until Lehner is healthy enough to man the crease, his fellow countryman should continue to pick up starts in net.

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Buffalo Sabres star Evander Kane was forced to leave the team’s Oct. 24 game against the New Jersey Devils after suffering an MCL injury that will keep him out for multiple weeks.

According to the Associated Press (via, “Kane collapsed after having his knee pinned to the boards in the right corner of the Devils’ zone on a check from David Schlemko.”

Continue for updates.

Kane’s Timeline for Return Revealed

Monday, Oct. 26

The Sabres confirmed Kane will miss four to six weeks as he recovers. Joe Yerdon of added Kane will not need surgery.

Kane Comments on Return

Sunday, Oct. 25

Kane sent a message to Sabres fans on Twitter following Buffalo’s 4-3 loss to the Devils:

Kane’s Absence a Major Blow to Struggling Sabres

In eight games this season, Kane has tallied one goal and two assists while posting a minus-five rating.

Kane signed a six-year, $31.5 million deal with the Winnipeg Jets prior to the 2012-13 season, but they dealt him to the Sabres in February after announcing he was set to have season-ending shoulder surgery.

Buffalo has started the season 2-6 with a minus-10 goal differential that ranks as the second worst in the Eastern Conference, so getting Kane back in a timely manner is of the utmost importance for a team that’s looking to make developmental strides.

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Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner is out for the foreseeable future after suffering a high-ankle sprain in the team’s season opener on Oct. 8 while attempting to make a save in the second period. 

Continue for updates.

Lehner To Miss 6-10 Weeks

Sunday, Oct. 11

Head coach Dan Bylsma announced Lehner‘s diagnosis a day after the team placed the goaltender on injured reserve.

What Lehner‘s Injury Means for Sabres

Buffalo acquired Lehner in June after trading a first-round pick to Ottawa with the hopes the 24-year-old would be their goalie of the future. The Oct. 8 game was his first since suffering a season-ending concussion in February.

Chad Johnson, whom the Sabres acquired via trade with the New York Islanders, will be Lehner‘s replacement. The sixth-year veteran has played in 56 games and has a .914 career save percentage. Nathan Lieuwen will serve as Johnson’s backup.

With Lehner out for an extended period, Johnson will have to step up until the starter can return healthy.

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The Buffalo Sabres have been among the NHL‘s most active teams this summer. General manager Tim Murray seems hell-bent on rapidly improving his team, and between trades and the draft, he has accomplished an impressive amount in a single offseason.

Apparently, he isn’t finished yet. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reported that the Sabres are in pursuit of defenseman Cody Franson, by far the biggest name left in free agency:

It’s an obvious play for Buffalo to make, particularly because it’s one of the few teams in the league with lots of cap space at its disposal. General Fanager lists the Sabres as having more than $12 million in cap space; that’s a little misleading because the team has rookie bonuses, and the projected roster is 26 names long. But it’s fair to say the team has more than enough to add a big-name defenseman.

They also have real need. Based on average ice time from last season, the team’s current defensive depth chart looks something like this:

  • Josh Gorges—Rasmus Ristolainen
  • Mike Weber—Zach Bogosian
  • Carlo Colaiacovo—Mark Pysyk
  • Matt Donovan—Chad Ruhwedel

(Prospect Jake McCabe is also worth mentioning as a potential candidate at left defense, while minor league journeyman Bobby Sanguinetti may see time on the right side.)

The one wrinkle here is that the point of obvious weakness for the Sabres is on the left side of the depth chart, while Franson is a right shot. In all likelihood, either Franson would move to the left side or (more probably) Bogosian and Ristolainen would be united on the top pairing, with Weber bumped down the third unit.

Aside from the fact that he’s a right-shooting rearguard, Franson is a logical target for Buffalo because he brings elements that the team currently lacks on its blue line. With 400 NHL games under his belt, he’d bring some much-needed experience, including experience playing tough minutes at even strength. At 6’5″ and 213 pounds, he’d also be one of the team’s bigger rearguards.

Where he might help most is on the power play. The Sabres finished 30th in the NHL on the man advantage last season, and Franson has had some big seasons as a power-play point man. Despite a post-trade-deadline slump, he was one of the NHL’s 10 best defensemen in terms of points per hour last year.

Franson’s numbers look even better if the sample is expanded. He’s one of just 10 defensemen to play at least 500 minutes and score more than 4.5 points per hour on the power play over the last five seasons.

New Sabres coach Dan Bylsma is used to having significant firepower on the man advantage, and while the Sabres don’t have a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin (not unless Jack Eichel really blows the doors off as a rookie), Franson would give him a reasonable facsimile of Kris Letang.

Importantly, Franson just turned 28 this month. Unlike many free agents, he isn’t necessarily just a short-term fix; he’s young enough that he could conceivably grow with the Sabres as they make their way back to respectability. Failing that, he should at least be tradeable toward the end of his contract, as there’s no reason to expect a drop-off in performance.

This seems like a good fit for team and player alike. Buffalo can offer dollars that other teams can’t match, while Franson would give the Sabres a much-needed power-play upgrade and veteran presence at five-on-five. Nobody should be surprised if a deal is reached here.


Statistics are courtesy of and

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

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The Buffalo Sabres and Ryan O’Reilly have agreed to a new contract that will keep the veteran forward with the team for seven years. 

Ian Ott of reported O’Reilly’s seven-year extension with the Sabres.

Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada reported that Buffalo will pay O’Reilly an average salary of $7.5 million for the duration of his contract, putting the total value of the deal around $52.5 million. 

O’Reilly’s deal with the Sabres comes one week after the team acquired him along with Jamie McGinn from Colorado in exchange for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and the 31st overall pick in the draft. 

The 23-year-old O’Reilly has come into his own the last two seasons, recording 119 points and 12.3 points shares in 162 games over that span, per He’s also regarded as a great leader and teammate on the ice, as evidenced by being awarded the 2013-14 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. 

The Sabres have been trying to climb out of the NHL doldrums, missing the playoffs each of the last four years and finishing with a league-low 54 points last season. Pairing O’Reilly with incoming rookie Jack Eichel gives Buffalo two talented centers to build around. 

Even though the rest of the roster may not be ready to keep up with Eichel and O’Reilly, the Sabres are on the right track and have two key pieces locked in long-term.  

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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?

Begin Slideshow

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

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

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