Sabres GM Murray cared not for salary floor, makes big first-day splash

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BUFFALO — Tim Murray told everyone all along he wasn’t concerned about the salary floor and after the first day of free agency, he was happy to remind everyone exactly why he wasn’t.

“You guys always asked about the floor which I never understood, but anyway,” Murray said before opening his end-of-day press conference at First Niagara Center. “I said earlier, it’s always easy to spend money. You guys just didn’t have faith that Buffalo was a destination, that’s all.”

Buffalo a destination? With the team that finished 30th in the league last season? You better believe it.

In one day, Murray went on a bonanza. He signed Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta to a three-year, $12.75 million deal, acquired defenseman Josh Gorges from the Habs for a 2016 second-round pick, brought back two former players in Cody McCormick and Matt Moulson, the latter on a five-year, $25 million deal, landed defenseman Andrej Meszaros from Boston on a one-year, $4.125 million deal as well as re-signing forward Marcus Foligno to a two-year deal.

Phew. While that might seem like a scramble to help the team reach the salary floor, which according to CapGeek they have, Murray had another motivation — establishing Buffalo as a destination for the future.

“I think our kids are sitting at home going, ‘Wow,'” Murray said. “They know these players. They watch the National Hockey League. They know the quality of the player, they know the quality of the person, they know the character. This is as excited as they are to get drafted by Buffalo in the last couple years. They know it’s a team that is not there. We can say it’s a team on the rise – people have to see that. I just think there’s some kids at home going, ‘This is great’.”

Part of what will help those young Sabres players like 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart, 2013 first-round picks Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, and 2012 first-round picks Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons is the kind of veteran leadership this new crew of Sabres will provide.

“We’re more competitive,” Murray said. “We’ve got a lot of character now. We have leadership now. That’s important to me when you’re adding young players every year. There’s a short-term and a long-term. The long-term is that your young players get better. Your young players become pros. They’re not just good players, they’re good NHL players and I think that this group of people that we’ve added today can help in that regard.”

Before you get too excited, Murray admitted they’re a long way off still, but they’re a better team. That doesn’t mean he’s not excited for what’s to come though.

“People can get on the bandwagon early or get on late, it really doesn’t matter,” Murray said. “But if you want to be more right than you are wrong… I don’t want to sound cocky, but get on a little earlier than you might have thought because this is serious stuff. We take the job seriously, we prepare seriously.”

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”