July 1, 2019
Free Agency and Jimmy Vesey Conference Call (2:15 p.m.)
Q: With the trade for Jimmy Vesey, what is it that you like about Jimmy and what he can bring to the Sabres? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)
A: Well we like his size, his speed to get up and down the ice, and I think his game has developed more of a two-way game over the last couple of years, (he was) utilized in that penalty kill last year. But I think the thing that really stands out for us is his ability to score at even strength. I think he’s had 16 even-strength goals in each of the last two seasons and has an ability to get to the front of the net, an area that we’re trying to improve on for the upcoming season.
Q: What sort of role do you envision Jimmy filling, is he a top-six guy for you at this point? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)
A: We would view him as a top-nine forward. What we like with the trade is it just gives Ralph more options. We’re excited about some of our young wingers that we have in the organization, some of them that you guys saw over the last week or so here at our development camp. I think the fact that a player such as Conor Sheary can play both wings, a player such as Alex Nylander has played both wings. Here’s just another player in Jimmy that comes in to our organization, can help us with even-strength scoring, and just give us different options throughout the lineup.
Q: How did today go? I know there’s tons of rumors, you guys have the talking period now, did it kind of go as you expected and were you able to make the moves that you were hoping to make? (Matt Bove – WKBW)
A: Well I think it’s an interesting period, you go through a lot during the entire week. We were certainly aggressive in free agency and trying to talk to certain players out there. (We) had a lot of good conversations, utilized Ralph with a lot of different players. We did key in on a couple forwards that we felt would be good additions to our group. There wasn’t a fit there so we turned our attention more to the trade market and we’re certainly very excited to bring Jimmy in now.
Q: How much did the conversation with Jimmy, if at all, revolve back on 2016 when he was here as their rights held and then he didn’t choose here. Did you have to make sure that he was okay with the idea of coming here before you consummated this deal? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
A: No, with him being property of the New York Rangers I did not reach out to him and have that communication with him. From our standpoint, a lot has changed I think in the last few years since he’d gone. We’re a different organization. We just looked at it as a player that fit a need for us right now. We felt the acquisition price was right, we felt that he brought a different dynamic compared to some of our other wingers, so that’s why we stepped up and made the trade.
Q: Well clearly I understand that, I mean it was a different GM obviously, I get that. But did the past history give you any pause about it at all? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
A: No, no, to be honest, no. From what I know about the process, I was actually involved with the Vesey process with Pittsburgh. I sat down and I talked to him and his family with that. I think there’s a lot going on at that stage in his life, there were a lot of great options out there. He took steps as a player. What we’re looking at right now is more of a fit for our team. We felt he would be a fit for our team so that’s why we made the move.
Q: Obviously Curtis Lazar has the reputation, he was a first-round pick, what is that gives you confidence that he can really fit in in this organization? (John Vogl – The Athletic)
A: Randy Hansch is one of our amateur scouts, he worked in the Edmonton WHL organization for numerous years. (He) spoke very highly of Curtis from a character standpoint. And just watching Curtis play. He’s a strong kid, plays with a lot of pace, and if you do look at our acquisitions here today, all of them, that’s one of the strengths that they have is they play with pace. You look at J.S. Dea, you look at Lazar, obviously bringing Jimmy Vesey in, Gilmour, all these players can skate very well and play with pace. (It’s) something we’re trying to accomplish here.
Q: How important was it to get a third goalie with NHL experience like Andrew Hammond has? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)
A: Well, we talked about it at the draft, that going into the talking period, this was something that we really wanted to focus in on and make sure we covered ourselves there. Andrew, you look at his past success in the American Hockey league, and whenever he’s gone up to the National Hockey League [he’s] also had success. It’s allowed us to get more strength throughout our organization in case we do run into injuries and just gave us more depth. We’re obviously very excited about our young goaltending in both (Ukko-Pekka) Luukkonen and Jonas (Johansson). But both of them have had injury issues, and so we felt we wanted to make sure that they weren’t the ones in the position where we had to push them into action and especially push them into NHL games. Andrew certainly gives us depth at that position and we’re very happy to have him as a part of our organization.
Q: Going back to Curtis (Lazar), where do you feel like he can fit in with the Sabres? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)
A: I think that’s what we tried to do with all these signings here today is to have a training camp that has a lot of competition and having a lot of competition at each position. What we like about Curtis is something that we talked a bit about with some of the other players, his ability to play both center and wing, he has that versatility there, his ability to [penalty kill], his ability to push the pace. Then you look at his track record, he hasn’t done it as a pro, but in junior was certainly know as a scorer too. We’re looking for him to come in and challenge for a roster spot.
Q: What do you make of, after a couple of years where things were trending where free agency wasn’t a big-spending market, what do you think of some of the deals that were signed and agreed to today? And did you keep that in mind when it came to your Jeff Skinner negotiations? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)
A: Look, there’s always going to be need for talent out there and for skill. There was a lot of talk about this free agent market. I have been on record making the comment that I thought there was certainly some high-end skill. I didn’t know if there was a lot of quantity with this group. We talked a lot about it in our negotiations with Jeff of hey, what is the replacement value? How difficult would it be to replace him? It’s not surprising some of the contracts that have been handed out. It’s interesting to see how some people get upset with it. At the end of the day, we’re in a cap world. There’s a certain amount of money that is spent to the players, and team’s divey it up the way they like it to.
Q: How many calls, if any, have you fielded with team interested in inquiring about Rasmus Ristolainen’s possible availability? (Stu Boyar – WGRZ)
A: We’re always having trade discussions and discussions on improving our team. That certainly happened over the last couple of weeks. It’s going to continue to happen throughout the summer. I know a lot of times there’s always a big push on July 1. You get to the question, “Well, are they done?” Well, we’re two hours into the start of free agency. There are still good players available in free agency that we’ll continue to evaluate and we’ll continue to have discussions with teams to see if there’s ways to improve our team. Because as much as there’s a big push for July 1 at noon, there’s still a long time until we play our first game to start the season off.
Q: In that same line, do you anticipate making a move to seriously address the top six? (Jon Scott – Spectrum News Buffalo)
A: We’ve always talked about bringing in more skill, especially to help our forward group, and that’s why we felt it was important to make the deal for (Jimmy) Vesey today. I think there’s always a different sort of combination of top six, bottom six. Right now, we certainly believe Jimmy can add to our group in the top nine. We’re also excited about some of our young wingers being able to add to our group in the top nine. Talking to Ralph (Krueger), what our group is and what we’re trying to eventually create here is having more balanced scoring throughout our four lines here, and that’s still something that we’ll continue to look at and to see if we can continue to add to that group.
Q: Have you guys ruled out bringing back Jason Pominville or is he still an option for you guys? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)
A: Nope. Look, there is the utmost respect from our organization and from me personally about Jason Pominville. I did speak with Jason this past week. He’s been, obviously, working out in our facility this spring. He and his family have gone back to Montreal for the summer. But I did speak with him and how I just said it to him was [that] if it ever came to a situation where there wasn’t room, we’d certainly follow up with him. By the same token, I just asked for respect if he was going to move on to a different organization, just to give me a heads up. So we’ve kept that dialogue going on and, like I said, I have the utmost respect for Jason and always had good communication with him. We’ll hopefully continue that through this process.
Q: What can you tell us about John Gilmour? What intrigues you about him? Obviously, he had a terrific season last year in Hartford. (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)
A: He really took a step this past year in the American Hockey League. There is a familiarity with him. Steve Greeley, our assistant general manager, was part of the group that brought him to New York as a college free agent. What we like a lot about his game is, certainly, the threat with his big shot. But just his ability to skate, his ability to get up with the play — how we want to play defense — closing out guys, making sure they don’t have a lot of space up there. So just that ability to skate, the ability to create offense with the shot, and just his compete level was drawn to us and [we’re] very glad that he joined us here in Buffalo.
Q: I think you’ve correctly identified the market for free agents here when you said this year there wasn’t a lot of quantity, even with the high-end skill. It seems like this team has to be built, right now, through the draft, through trades. How much of a recruiting issue is it right now until you become more of a playoff contender to get involved with top free agents? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
A: Well, I think you’re always sort of looking for some sort of edge. You’re looking for some sort of relationship. Some of the people that I think we were talking to, there was — whether it’s somebody in our organization, or a close friend on the team, or a relationship with their coach — you’re always trying to find some sort of angle there. We felt that we were close on some of the discussions with [big name free agents]. But also, as much as we want players to be a part of it and help us with our immediate needs, there has to be a balance here. There has to be a situation where we’re not making signings that are going to be detrimental to us in the future. It’s always a balance and sometimes it’s a difficult balance and one that you have to make some difficult decisions [with]. That’s why we continue to have dialogue with free agents, but also wanted to keep our dialogue going with different teams from a trade perspective, because we want to have both those options.
Q: Qualifying offers are obviously the first step for [restricted free agents]. Do you envision any difficulty in any negotiations? Have you started [negotiating] with any of your RFAs yet? (John Vogl – The Athletic)
A: We’ve had some brief negotiations from an RFA standpoint, but I’ll be honest with you: Most of that happens after July 1. Both the agents and teams are so focused on the draft and then the unrestricted free agents. Over the next couple days and leading into the next couple weeks, that’s when I think more of the conversations will [take place] for restricted free agents.
Q: How do you see the trade market shaping out after what’s gone on? How do you see it developing? Maybe similar to last year? Or how do you see this whole thing shaking out at this point? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)
A: I think it’s always tough to predict, John. The difficult part of it is just the unknown with the high-end restricted free agent market this year. What are the numbers eventually going to be? How is that going to dictate things here? As we’ve talked about before, in a cap world, there’s only so much you can give to players. We still think that having cap space is something of an asset to our organization right now and we’ll continue to have conversations with different teams to see how that plays out. But to say I know exactly when it’s going to sort of heat up, it’s a difficult thing to project; I never would have guessed that we’d pick up a player like Jeff Skinner in the middle of summer last year. But I think it’s important that we stay with those dialogues throughout the league to see whenever that might materialize, whether it’s later on this week, in a couple weeks or more in the start of September.