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WITH DRAFT BEHIND THEM, SABRES PLAN TO 'CHASE THE BIG FISH' IN FREE AGENCY

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

With the Draft behind them and free agency quickly approaching on July 1, teams are now allowed to communicate with prospective targets to gauge interest and talk dollars. With that in mind, Sabres General Manager Tim Murray offered a bit of insight into his strategy on Saturday.

"We're going to chase the big fish and as we get close on them or let down by them then we'll change direction," he said.

There's no question that the biggest fish in this year's sea of free agents is Steven Stamkos, the star centerman from the Tampa Bay Lightning who has already amassed 312 goals and 250 assists for 562 points at the ripe age of 25.

Whether or not the Sabres would pursue Stamkos had been a question on many minds for some time now, and Murray answered it at least in part after the Draft when he was asked whether or not he plans to reach out to Stamkos' representatives at Newport Sports Management Inc.

"I plan to. I think I plan to," Murray said. "I talk to them a lot – we've got O'Reilly, we’ve got a ton of their players – so we talk a lot with Newport Sports. The next conversation I have with them because we're allowed to now is to just, I guess, ask if Steven is going to be available on July 1 and would he have an interest in Buffalo. I have to ask that question, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t."

One of the biggest questions surrounding Stamkos is the price tag that may be attached to a player of his stature. Without mentioning Stamkos specifically, Murray did say he believes a team can be successful with $10 million or more dedicated to a single player if it drafts well and makesthe correct roster decisions accordingly.

Even Sabres coach Dan Bylsma isn’t immune to the chatter surrounding Stamkos.

"I mean, the number of times I've been asked about Steven Stamkos on the golf course this spring, some charity tournaments and different things, people screaming out the window, 'Stamkos,'" Bylsma said. "I always ask them, 'well what should we sign him for?'"

There will also continue to be talk surrounding Harvard University forward Jimmy Vesey, for whom the Sabres acquired the rights in exchange for a third-round pick last week. Murray said he's spoken with Vesey and plans to speak with him again next week.

Bylsma, who coached Vesey at the IIHF World Championship in 2015, shares Murray's sentiment that the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner could eventually plug in as a top-six forward for the Sabres. Like most fans, he's intrigued by the potential of an offseason scenario where Vesey and Stamkos both land in blue and gold.

"It'd be real interesting to slide those guys in there, see how you can arrange it and who goes where," Bylsma said. "It looks pretty exciting."

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