- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Sabres general manager Tim Murray couldn’t get through explaining how popular Buffalo is as a free-agent destination without his cellphone ringing on Tuesday.

Stopping in midsentence after making a flurry of moves in opening the NHL’s signing period, Murray checked his phone, smiled and said: “I should take that call.” He didn’t. But the timing was perfect in emphasizing Murray’s point.

Whatever laughingstock reputation that Sabres established in being the league’s worst team last season certainly didn’t reflect in how popular they were among established free agents.

“It just shows you that there are quality players that want to come here,” Murray said. “I’ve thought that all along, but you’re never sure until the clock hits 12. And there were more (interested) than what we got done.”

Overseeing his first free-agency frenzy since taking over in January, Murray added depth and experience to a young, patchwork roster that contributed to one of the Sabres’ worst seasons in franchise history.

Buffalo (21-51-10) set a franchise record for losses and established a post-NHL-expansion-era low by scoring just 150 goals.

In a matter of four hours, Murray changed the team’s outlook by committing a combined $46.375 million in salaries to fill various leadership and offensive needs by signing four free agents, including former Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta. He also acquired veteran defenseman Josh Gorges, who adjusted his no-trade clause to add Buffalo, in a deal with Montreal.

And he also re-signed forward Marcus Foligno, a restricted free agent, to a two-year $3.75 million contract.

“This changes the mindset is what it changes,” Murray said. “I still don’t consider us a contending team by any means. But now the players may think differently. And that’s good.”

Though forward Matt Moulson, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract, was the Sabres’ priciest addition, Gionta was the centerpiece.

At 35, Gionta is a consistent two-way forward and respected leader, whose presence is expected to resonate on a young and developing team. From nearby Rochester, Gionta signed a three-year, $12.75 million deal.

Murray is already envisioning the impact Gionta can make among players, including center Sam Reinhart, who was selected with the No. 2 pick in the draft last weekend.

“Yesterday, he was the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, a storied franchise, a playoff team. That wasn’t a token title. That was real,” Murray said of Gionta. “There’s something obviously intangible that you can’t measure with a yard stick, with analytics, with anything like that, and he has it in spades.”

Gorges, a nine-year NHL veteran, also has leadership potential and is regarded as someone capable of grooming Buffalo’s young crop of blue-liners.

“He’s heart and soul,” said Murray, who gave up a 2016 second-round pick to acquire Gorges. “He blocks shots. He’s the type of player that can wear a letter. He’s definitely part of the leadership group.”

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