BUFFALO – When Tim Murray spoke to Jack Eichel on Wednesday, the general manager told his young star the Sabres would improve after a last-place finish.
“I made the promise to him that I would do the best that I could to make the team around him better and that we would be a longtime playoff team,” Murray said of his exit meeting with Eichel.
Eichel, 20, hasn’t handled the Sabres’ struggles well. The center was seething when he spoke to the media Monday, still apparently upset over a lost season in which they missed the playoffs again.
But Murray said Eichel, while frustrated, told him he likes Buffalo and what’s happening with the team.
A new contract wasn’t discussed, but when the Sabres can officially start negotiating July 1, Murray wants to pursue an extension. Eichel’s entry-level contract expires after next season.
“We’re allowed to start talking on July 1, and I don’t know why we wouldn’t start then and try to get something done,” Murray said during his end-of-season news conference inside KeyBank Center.
Could the team’s coaches and the captaincy be part of the negotiations?
“It could be,” Murray said. “He wants to be a leader, he wants to take more of a leadership role. I encouraged him to do that. There was no talk of the ‘C.’ There was obviously talk of coach and system because I demanded that.”
Eichel has often said he wants the Sabres to play more aggressively. The former second overall pick compiled 24 goals and 57 points in 61 games during his second season.
Murray said he has a strong interest in re-signing Sabres captain Brian Gionta, who just finished his 15th NHL season and will be a free agent.
“I don’t know what his expectation is,” he said. “I know my expectation would be a one-year deal and the money would have to work for us.”
Gionta, 38, had 15 goals and 35 points this season and was the only Sabre to play all 82 games.
“He had a very good year,” Murray said. “I think he’s a great guy. I think he’s a great teammate. I think he’s a culture guy.”
Murray said a decision about the team’s captain next season will be his decision, “whether it’s a roundabout way or directly.”
“We have to make right decisions here as far as accountability, everything,” he said.
Murray had no update on Sabres winger Kyle Okposo, who was discharged from the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General Hospital on Friday, according to WIVB.
“I have no information, nor can I give you any information,” he said.
Murray said the Sabres have been talking “every day” to goalie prospect Cal Petersen, who just finished his junior season at Notre Dame. Petersen hasn’t decided whether to leave school yet, however.
The Sabres’ old regime drafted Petersen, 22, in the fifth round, 129th overall, in 2013. The Iowan has morphed into one of the NCAA’s top goalies.
In 40 games this season, Petersen went 23-12-5 with a 2.22 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. He’s also the Fighting Irish’s captain, a rarity for a goalie.
Notre Dame lost in the semifinal of the NCAA Tournament last week.
Murray on the disappointment of Buffalo fans: “If you’re a ticket-buying fan of any team, you want your team in the playoffs. That’s the mandate. I’m not going to talk about years. … Yeah, I understand the frustration and I understand the disappointment, because I am frustrated and disappointed at not being in the playoffs, and I haven’t paid for one ticket and I haven’t been a lifelong fan or resident of this city. I get it.”
The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since 2011. The Bills haven’t made the postseason since 1999, the NFL’s longest streak.