Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-22-2017
I'm going miss Tim Murray, especially his candor when addressing the media and some of the off-beat language he used when making his point. I'm also of the opinion his tenure was cut a bit short when ownership decided to clean house.
One of things most in the Buffalo media talked about after the news of his firing hit was Murray's relative honesty when asked a question. Even if he said he didn't want to address something, he'd still dance around a bit before giving a little insight into where his head was at on the subject. And the colorful words Murray used at times was refreshing especially with the parade of droll GM's the Buffalo sports community was subject to in both hockey and football dating back to the last century. Like when he talked with owner Terry Pegula about the trade for Evander Kane, who wasn't exactly a choir-boy off-ice. Pegula asked him about the move and Murray said that "he answered as best he could.
"It's not all unicorns and rainbows and jujus," said Murray of Kane and his off-ice issues, "I can tell you the best of the very best players have warts."
If you talk to any old timer, the stuff that goes on today is mere child's play compared to what athletes did decades ago. It's a different era and a different world. Even locker room talk and the antics that went on are now taboo and subject to intense scrutiny. When Murray talked of an incident post-game in February when his franchise center Jack Eichel verbalized his dismay with the home crowd's booing of the team. Murray's response, "[Eichel] certainly won't get his pee pee slapped by me for being a little more outspoken," a figurative expression with literal roots dating back to a different era.
That's all well and good for us outside the rink as within Murray's wry smile there seemed to be a precocious, child-like throw-back to the irreverence of days gone by. Hell, even the great Punch Imlach, the Sabres first coach and GM, had those qualities, going so far as to draft Taro Tsujimoto, a fictitious Japanese hockey player from the Tokyo Katanas (Japanese for sword,) in the 11th round of the 1974 NHL Draft, as a way of voicing his displeasure with the slow, lengthy draft process.
But the product on the ice is what matters and instead of Murray's Sabres taking a step forward this season, they were beginning to spiral out of control. Discord and disconnect ruled the roost as his team went from 81 points in 2015-16 to 78 points last season. There was plenty of blame to be thrown around from players to coaches and Murray was on the hook for the team he assembled.
Murray stormed onto the scene in Buffalo with brazen blockbusters in his first year-and-a-half of his rather short stint as a first-time GM. He finished the work of former GM Darcy Regier when he traded goalie Ryan Miller to St. Louis in February, 2014 less that two months into his tenure and lead the franchise through an ownership approved "rebuild" that completely gutted the organization of talent. Bolstered by a ton of draft picks and prospects from his predecessor Murray elected to speed up the rebuild by acquiring young-vets.
There were two unhappy young-vets available whom Murray traded for, the aforementioned Kane and Ryan O'Reilly. Murray was able to land both as the primary pieces of blockbuster trades but used a boatload of draft picks and prospects to do so. Murray got himself two good players in Kane and O'Reilly and he furthered his young-vet theory by trading for goaltender Robin Lehner at the rather steep price of a first-round pick in 2015.
The Lehner deal was consummated with his former Ottawa Senators team whose GM was his uncle, Bryan Murray. Whether or not there was something else in the works may be up for discussion, but we'll never know as Bryan Murray stepped down from his GM position in April, 2016. But in the world of the NHL there are always backroom deals as Tim Murray mentioned when it comes to the upcoming expansion draft and the new Las Vegas Knights team.
While on WGR550 radio Murray was rather honest when talking about how he's approaching the upcoming expansion draft and how he may have already done a favor for new Knights GM George McPhee who at the time was GM for the Washington Capitals. "I’ve had a conversation or two with George on who I wouldn’t like to lose (in the upcoming expansion draft) and how we can make that happen. Maybe I’ve done a deal with George in the past that was considered somewhat of a favor. Maybe I’ve had a conversation with him reminding him of that, and he remembered the wordage of that deal word-for-word, which I was very happy to hear."
The prevailing theme is that Murray's rebuild with young-vets was flawed. With the set-back his team went through and his firing this week, old clichés are being tossed around with the emphasis upon rushing things.
Murray may have been on the precipice of turning things around. He knew the teams flaws, especially on defense where another of his trades, the one for Dmitry Kulikov, blew up in his face, and he may have had a plan to fix it, but he didn't say what the Pegula's wanted to hear when he met them for the end-of-season meetings.
I'd like to have seen him around for one more season tp see how he addressed the flaws throughout the hockey department from Buffalo to the Rochester Americans to the now defunct Elmira Jackals formerly of the ECHL. He has some good talent coming up to Buffalo and will also have more talent heading to Rochester for their rookie seasons. During the next three seasons we'll be seeing Murray's draft picks come through the ranks as they continue their developmental process.
Where it all leads is up in the air but if the Pegulas move takes this team forward, good for them and good for those of us in Sabreland. That said, I'm going to miss Murray. He may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but for those who got him and how he approached things, it was a pretty cool ride.