By Chris Chilelli
Tim Murray has always been known as a very honest General Manager. He showed that was the case again on Saturday, letting the hockey world know that the Buffalo Sabres are coming for pending unrestricted free agent, Steven Stamkos. At this point, it seems like every team in the league has been linked to the former 60-goal scorer, but it feels a bit different with the Sabres.
What I mean when I say this is that the Sabres finally have a core of players that would be enticing to a superstar in his prime. Everyone knows about Jack Eichel and what he was able to do last season as a rookie, but he is far from the only attractive piece that the Sabres boast. Look no further than the player who was the number two overall pick just one-year prior in Sam Reinhart. Reinhart also had a stellar rookie year last season scoring 23 goals, finishing second on the team behind Eichel. The scary thing about this duo of number two picks is that they will only get better.
There is more to Buffalo than these stud rookies, as we haven’t even mentioned Ryan O’Reilly and the 60 points he scored in his first season with the club last year. O’Reilly is the type of player that plays in all situations and just exudes leadership. He is another key building block for Buffalo and for a guy like Steven Stamkos to look at and see that Buffalo is serious about winning now and for the next decade. Another player that Buffalo has is stud in the making defender, Rasmus Ristolainen. Ristolainen had a career year last year scoring 41 points, while logging over 25 minutes of ice per night for the blue and gold.
I could go on all day about the young nucleus Tim Murray has built, but let’s look at it from the perspective of Buffalo and their interest in the star center. There have been rumors ever since the 2015 draft that Tim Murray tried to trade the Jack Eichel pick to Tampa for Steven Stamkos, he has never publicly said that is the case, but it has been reported for quite some time. That obviously shows how much Tim Murray covets this player and what he brings to the ice. Then you factor in Terry Pegula and his willingness to spend to the cap to bring the city of Buffalo a winner. Pegula has been a Buffalo sports fan his entire life and he has shown in the past with Mike Babcock that he will not be outbid.
This is where you have to factor in the quotes from Tim Murray about how he believes that you can win with players making $11-$12 million per season in a cap era. He believes that you have to get the top-flight talent and then move the other pieces to make it work. Buffalo, at this point, is not short on top-flight talent with Eichel, Reinhart, O’Reilly, Ristolainen, Evander Kane, etc. but Steven Stamkos could truly put this team over the top. For the longest time, Buffalo has been a joke in terms of trying to lure free agents, but Pegula has spent millions of dollars trying to make Buffalo a destination for players.
Buffalo might not get the result they are looking for when it comes to Steven Stamkos, but there is no doubt that it won’t be for a lack of trying. I truly expect Buffalo to give Stamkos the highest dollars per year, and in my opinion, the best chance to win long term. Buffalo isn’t far off now, he could be the final piece to the puzzle that puts the Sabres back into the playoffs, and maybe one day he will lead them to the Stanley Cup Championship this city and market so desperately craves.
Photo Credit: USA Today