Sabres GM defends Ryan O’Reilly reputation, will make him highest paid

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Jack Eichel poses on stage after being selected second overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Jack Eichel poses on stage after being selected second overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

SUNRISE, Fla. – Tim Murray had a good day. We know this because the gloriously glum general manager of the Buffalo Sabres was caught grinning rather widely when the team drafted franchise player Jack Eichel with the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

“I smile,” he said, surrounded by reporters. “Like, I mean, I can smile now.”

Moments earlier, another reason to smile: The Sabres sent defenseman Nikita Zadorov, forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher and the No. 31 pick in the draft to the Colorado Avalanche for standout forward Ryan O'Reilly and forward Jamie McGinn.

“His hockey sense is off the charts. He makes everybody around him better. I love his work ethic on and off the ice. I love his skill level. There’s nothing I don’t like about him,” said Murray.

Well, there’s one thing some aren’t exactly fond of O’Reilly: His contract, which carries a $6 million cap hit through this season, and the incredibly contentious relationship between the player and Avs management, which resulted in the offer sheet from the Calgary Flames that inflated his salary.

“All [GM Joe Sakic] said to me is that it wasn’t going to get done there. Joe felt he had to move them on,” said Murray.

Murray introduced himself to O’Reilly’s reps during the first round. He knows that acquiring O’Reilly means for his payroll: He’ll need to make the forward the highest-paid member of the Sabres before next summer.

“Yeah, I assume I’m going to have to. You know going in when you make a trade like this that negotiations will have to start at a high number,” said Murray.

Let’s put the economics aside for a moment. What the Sabres did on Friday was add an elite two-way talent to a position that will also have Eichel and blue-chip prospect Sam Reinhart. If nothing else, he’ll take the pressure off of them a bit so they can mature as players.

“The consensus from a lot of players that I’ve spoken to that played with him was that he was ‘the guy.’ At world championships, Tyler Ennis came back and raved about him,” said Murray.

The acquisitions of O’Reilly and goalie Robin Lehner on Friday were not the stuff of a team looking to finish in the basement against next season; nor were they moves made by a team looking to spend years floundering until Eichel and Co. are ready to contend.

They’re shrewd moves by a general manger who knows that brining in young talent with NHL experience expedites a rebuild that might otherwise be protracted if it depended on rookies to develop.

“I think we’ve improved. But there’s a lot of meshing and gelling that has to go on here,” Murray said. “We’re all in this together. But after you acquire players, it’s more on the coach than it is on me. And I have full confidence in [Dan Bylsma].”

If the goal isn’t necessarily the playoffs, it certainly isn’t getting the No. 2 overall pick again.

“I don’t want to. If we have to for some godforsaken reason … the reason you prepare yourself and draft properly is you can get better and move up the standings,” he said.

Once again, Murray exhibited a fearlessness in making aggressive trades, as he did during the season when the Sabres sent Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford to Winnipeg for Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian.

“I have no fear because I think I’m prepared. I’m a scenario guy. Like I said from the start, we have a goal on how we want to build, but it’s a moving target all the time. So you have to be prepared,” he said.

“We hit some targets today. And this was satisfying.”

Maybe even enough for Tim Murray to crack a smile.

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