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Sabres stay busy making trades for future

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray headed into the NHL Trade Deadline with a number of possibilities and came out of it continuing the organization's plan to rebuild.

Murray's Wednesday was busy. The Sabres made three trades and acquired forward Cory Conacher off waivers from the Ottawa Senators. For the first time in Murray's career, he ran the show by himself.

"I had a big role in Ottawa and in Anaheim. I was the middle guy between the GM and the scouting staff that were in the other room. This time there was no middle man," the 50-year-old said. "I was running back and forth. It's exhilarating, it was fast and furious. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy 90 percent of it."

Two trades involved players the Sabres acquired in earlier deals, forward Matt Moulson and goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Buffalo traded Moulson and forward Cody McCormick to the Minnesota Wild for Torrey Mitchell and two second-round picks. Moulson was acquired in October by former GM Darcy Regier from the New York Islanders in a trade for Thomas Vanek. Moulson's contract expires at the end of the season and he will be an unrestricted free agent.

The Moulson trade wasn't announced until 4 p.m. ET, and the timing of it was fine by Murray's standards, but perhaps not by others'.

"I had a couple GMs that had guys like that, that called me asking, 'When are you getting rid of your guy so I can get rid of my guy?'" Murray said. "I don't know where that logic comes from, but the big players that were on our roster that were available were traded. You can't get carried away with the timeline because if you're in a hurry or anxious, good things may not happen."

Mitchell is likely to replace McCormick on the fourth line. Conacher could replace Moulson in the Sabres' top six.

Conacher, who played at Canisius College in Buffalo before turning pro, is a player Murray knows from his time in Ottawa.

"There are lots of things I like about him on the ice. He's what I call a good complementary player," Murray said. "His work ethic is terrific and he's [got] character. I want competition. I want draft picks to say they're [ticked] off that we went and got Cory Conacher. That's how you create competition."

Halak and a third-round pick in 2015 were traded to the Washington Capitals for goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla. Halak was acquired Feb. 28 in the trade that sent Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues. Halak also can become an unrestricted free agent.

"I would've considered keeping him if there were no trade offers that I liked, so that was my course with all the UFAs, pending UFAs," Murray said. "Whether that's the right course I don't know. They were going to be traded if a suitable trade could happen. If that didn't happen, then we had some time here to evaluate, Halak for example, the new guy that already came in a trade, and then we'd make that decision. I hadn't thought about the future with him, and that's the next step. Right now, we don't take that next step because he's not here."

Neuvirth this season is 4-6-2 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, and has Stanley Cup Playoff experience. He was supplanted as the starter in Washington by Braden Holtby, and the chance to compete for more playing time in Buffalo is something Murray is counting on to motivate the 2006 second-round pick (No. 34).

"For whatever reason he's a backup [in Washington] and he's just not as important as he wants to be. I think when he gets to feel some love again and has an opportunity that he can get his game back," Murray said. "When I say get his game back, his stats are pretty good, right now, on a good team but not a great team. At 25 years old, turning 26 (on March 23), he's got a background of playing in top competition in his age group. Now it's our job to get him back to playing top competition in his age group, and his age group is the National Hockey League."

The Sabres' first trade Wednesday sent minor-league defenseman Brayden McNabb, forward Jonathan Parker and two second-round draft picks to the Los Angeles Kings for minor-league forward Nicolas Deslauriers and University of Minnesota forward Hudson Fasching.

"We need young players; the two forwards we got we really like their future," Murray said. "The two players we were getting back we thought very highly of. It wasn't a position thing, it was the two players."

Murray said he likes their potential, especially Fasching's.

"There is some chance in that trade. We're trading for two futures and we're trading picks," Murray said. "You have to look at what you're giving and what you're getting. It's not a guess; it's an educated guess based on scouting. [Fasching] has a chance to be a top-six forward if he develops properly, to the height of his potential; he's an NHL player. He's a power forward, he's got skill, he's got hockey sense, and he's a good hockey player."

Murray's first deadline day went without drama or any shocking moves. For an organization that's in the midst of rebuilding, having a stress-free day is a good thing. In Murray's case, it's the first big step on the way to making the Sabres a better team.

"I think it's a good day," Murray said. "I think the combination of the picks we've added and the young players that we've added, I think that it gives us a ton of ammunition now going into the draft, where there will be players available that aren't available on trade-deadline day.

"There are always good young players available at the draft, and we have still a ton of picks to be players in that, we have young players to be players in that. We were a focus today, I think. I think on draft day, if those types of players are available, we can be a focus again, and if they're not available we use the picks and hopefully keep adding top young talent."

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