Sabres eyeing free agency, potential playoff push

Posted at 5:46 PM, Jun 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-27 14:40:25-04

The road back to respectability began last year, with a 27 point improvement by the Sabres.

Buffalo continued to make the right moves on Friday and Saturday at the NHL Draft as the franchise continues its climb out of the NHL basement.

General Manager Tim Murray added a great deal of skill and speed at the forward position while also checking off the top-end, left-handed defenseman from his wish list.

It is expected Dmitri Kulikov, who Murray trade for on Day 2, could be paired with Rasmus Ristolainen as the top blue liners come October.  However, Murray isn't willing to commit to the that move just yet.

But, one thing is certain: Kulikov will be key in helping the Sabres play meaningful hockey in April.

"He's a good fit for us and we're excited to have him and I think he gives us a chance for us to keep getting better and make that playoff push we're talking about now," Murray said after the draft on Saturday.

"He plays with an edge. He has a high compete to his game," Head Coach Dan Bylsma added.  "You see that every time you see him play. He brings that unequivocally with his play every night. I think whether he plays in the top pairing or in the second pairing, he's going to bring that ability to our team."

The next step for Sabres: free agency.

The wish list is long, but does include Harvard star Jimmy Vesey and Steven Stamkos, who could fetch anywhere from 10 to 12 million on the open market.

Murray believes if a team drafts well, paying top end for a difference maker shouldn't be a problem.

"You draft players that can give you two years, two and a half years, or one year under an entry level system, and he's a real good player, that negates finding those $4 million guys that don't allow you to pay $12 million to a certain player,” Murray told reporters.

“You have to allocate the money, you have to draft well and you have to have entry level guys. We have a few entry level guys that are pretty good players and that makes it attractive to going out and getting a free agent that makes decent money."

Free agents can begin signing on July 1.