By Mike Harrington
The Buffalo Sabres' rebuild starts in earnest tonight with the NHL Draft Lottery in Toronto, after what General Manager Tim Murray admitted was an "unacceptable" last-place season.
Murray and coach Ted Nolan met with reporters today in a wrap to the Sabres' 21-51-10 trainwreck of a season, the worst by an NHL team in 14 years. And Murray was frank in his assessment of what happened and what he'll do going forward. He said he pulled no punches when he met with his players yesterday prior to the taking of the annual team photo.
"This year was completely unacceptable," Murray said. "I told them it wasn't all on them. It was on management, it was on coaching staff. A lot of it was on injuries where we had to put people into positions that they aren't ready for. So that's out of our hands. As far as coming next year and being ready to battle for jobs, there's going to be competition and we're not going to hand jobs to come in unless they deserve it."
"A lot of nights it was hard to watch," Murray said a few minutes later. "A lot of nights we competed hard and just didn't have enough talent to put us over the top but other nights weren't pretty."
Murray said he's naturally impatient but will do what's best for the organization through the draft and free agency, and expects to sign a couple of veterans this summer to augment the roster.
"Are we going to improve in leaps and bounds or is it going to be increments?" he said. "But we will improve. We have to decide as an organization how we're going to get there. This is not going to be a five-year rebuild. ... When you tear it down, it doesn't happen overnight but I don't buy into five-year rebuilds."
Murray said the Sabres have several players on their draft board -- even Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad. The Sabres were the lowest-scoring team in the expansion era but aren't automatically taking a forward whether they draft No. 1 or No. 2.
The New York Islanders owe the Sabres a top pick either this year or next year. If they win the lottery tonight, they would almost certainly give Buffalo the pick next year, another chance at the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. Would they really give up the No. 1 this year? Murray is pondering all options.
"I want to win the lottery. I want to win something here," Murray said, drawing laughs. "I do want to win the lottery. If I don't win it, I want Garth to win it and so at least there's a 50-50 chance we get that pick."
In other news from Murray and Nolan:
---NHL supplemental discipline: "I've had some talks with people in the league," Murray said. "We've had our pee-pee slapped once here so I've got to be careful what I say." The GM did say the league acknowledged his complaints about the five-minute major for interference Jake McCabe got Saturday in Boston.
---Coaching staff: Nolan said no definitive decision has been made on his assistants although sources maintain that Joe Sacco, Teppo Numminen, Jim Corsi and Jerry Forton will not be retained.
---Buyouts: Murray said it was less than 50-50 the Sabres would use both of their CBA-allowed compliance buyouts this June but pretty much admitted one will be used on goal-less forward Ville Leino. "It's not 100 percent but it's a very good possibility that's one of our buyouts," Murray sid.
---Injuries: Murray said he believes goaltender Matt Hackett needs surgery on his injured right knee while goaltender Michal Neuvirth has been seeing a specialist for a nagging hip problem. Marcus Foligno (shoulder) and Henrik Tallinder (ankle) are pondering minor surgeries.
Click below to hear the full question-and-answer session with Murray and Nolan