Auston Matthews should visit Buffalo with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 3. ©2016, Margaret Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ 2016-17 schedule features long trips; Dan Bylsma close to making hires

BUFFALO – After the Sabres open their season Oct. 13 at home against the Montreal Canadiens, they start a four-game road trip – longer than any swing they had last season – three days later against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

That’s just one notable stretch of the 82-game 2016-17 schedule the NHL released Tuesday.

The Sabres, who went 19-17-5 on the road last season, better get comfortable playing away from the First Niagara Center early, as eight of their first 12 games are away. Their longest road trips in 2015-16 lasted three games.

Some other highlights:

– The Sabres have six afternoon home games, down from 10 last season.

– Twenty of their 41 home contests are either on a Thursday (11) or Saturday (9).

– They have two four-game home stands: Nov. 16 to 23 and Dec. 6 to 16.

– The have also have four-game road trips in January and March. After Edmonton, they visit the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Philadelphia Flyers during their October trip, logging 5,015 miles, according to the team.

– Auston Matthews, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in Friday’s NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, would visit Buffalo as an opponent for the first time Nov. 3.

– McDavid, the 2015 No. 1 pick, and the Oilers visit Dec. 6. Sabres center Jack Eichel faced McDavid, who he was picked after, once last season.

– Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins visit Nov. 19 and March 21. The Sabres play March 5 in Pittsburgh.

– The Sabres visit Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in a 5 p.m. start Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving.

– The Winnipeg Jets visit Jan. 7. Former Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, who was hurt when the Jets played here last season, has never faced his former team in Buffalo.

– South Buffalo native Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks visit Feb. 19. The Sabres play Jan. 5 in Chicago.

– The Sabres will play a 1 p.m. road game Dec. 31 against the Boston Bruins, Eichel’s hometown team.

– The Sabres have a “bye week,” a new wrinkle this season, from Feb. 20 to 24.

– They have 19 sets of back-to-back games, four more than last season.

– The Sabres, who finish a two-game Florida swing and the regular season April 9 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, close with 10 straight games against Eastern Conference opponents. The final four contests are against Atlantic Division rivals.

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Sabres general manager Tim Murray said coach Dan Bylsma is close to hiring two new assistants.

“‘Just get the best guy,’ that’s what I told him,” Murray said Tuesday inside the First Niagara Center following a new conference to discuss this weekend’s NHL Draft, which the Sabres are hosting.

Assistant coach Dave Barr recently left for a gig with the Florida Panthers. The Sabres also named Dan Lambert head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.

Murray joked he would be done if he was doing the hiring.

“But for Dan, it takes a little longer,” he cracked.

The Panthers, who are coached by Barr’s former teammate, Gerard Gallant, asked permission to speak with Barr, Murray said. After Murray asked Barr about his potential role and salary in Florida, he let him leave.

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The Sabres recently had their second chat with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s camp, Murray said. Based on some recent deals other young defensemen have signed, Ristolainen, the Sabres’ biggest restricted free agent, could receive a long-term contract worth more than $4 million a season.

Murray has also discussed new deals for winger Zemgus Girgensons and defenseman Jake McCabe, two other RFAs. He hasn’t had any contract talks with winger Marcus Foligno. Murray told Foligno’s camp he wasn’t interested in arbitration.

“We’ll get there with him,” Murray said about a contract for Foligno.

The Sabres haven’t had any contact with backup goalie Chad Johnson, an unrestricted free agent.

“There’s a period here where he may think he gets better from someone else than what we gave last year or are willing to offer,” Murray said.

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