For General Manager Tim Murray, changing the culture has been the biggest challenge since he was hired. Murray’s blunt and straightforward attitude has shown fans how serious he is about the future of this organization.
Things started pretty quickly for Murray. With the trade deadline coming fast, quick decisions were needed for roster players with expiring contracts. When Ryan Miller and Steve Ott were traded in late February, Murray made it very clear that he was ready to start over fast.
“There is a lot of future in this deal”, Murray told reporters at the time.
Trading the face of the franchise in Miller, and the team captain in Ott, was a difficult decision that had to be made. From there, Murray had started laying the groundwork for turning the franchise over.
We have all heard this before, and seen the results first hand. Regier said this same thing the year after the incident involving Milan Lucic and Ryan Miller, and signed John Scott as the answer. We know how that ended up.
Murray has a different expectation. His idea is to roll four lines, like the top teams are able to. Having a roster with a 4th line that won’t get you in trouble on the ice, would make things easier for the coaching staff for matchups, and make you tougher to play against.
“You guys always ask about the floor, which I never understood anyway,” Murray said. “It’s easy to spend money. You guys just didn’t have faith that Buffalo was a destination, that’s all.”
Some people appear upset with how well Murray has apparently shaped the roster, and that he may have pulled the Sabres out of the much-anticipated Connor McDavid sweepstakes. The problem going into July 1st was the amount of room the Sabres had to reach the cap floor. When the dust settled, the Sabres not only signed players to fill out the veteran presence needed, but they did it with players who wanted to be here.
Brian Gionta’s first choice after Montreal did not work out a deal with him was Buffalo. Matt Moulson told his agent that Buffalo was at the top of his list. Cody McCormick told his agent to make one call only, to Buffalo. Maybe the most surprising was Josh Gorges waiving his no trade clause to come to Buffalo, after giving Brendan Shanahan and the Maple Leafs the proverbial cold shoulder. It is obvious this group of veterans see what Murray is doing, and are embracing the plan. It is hard to recall a player wanting to come to be here in Buffalo, and not because they were offering a ton of cash.
“This is a not a five-year rebuild,” Murray said. “I don’t buy into five-year rebuilds. A rebuild does take time, but it doesn’t have to take years.” Murray told this to reporters in the season ending press conference. He has made it very clear, that this team will be very different when opening night comes in October. The plan continued with the entry draft.
Murray prefers “hockey strong”, smart hockey players, and with this comes puck possession. When Murray drafted Samson Reinhart, he did it for a few reasons. “He was at the top of our draft board from day one,” Murray told TSN following the pick. His skill was impressive, but Murray was also drawn to his hockey IQ and intelligence. A solid playmaker to build around is a good start.
The compliance buyout of Ehrhoff was an eye opener. The defenseman was seen as a big piece they acquired and signed to a huge free agent deal. In the rebuild to come, Murray has made it clear that if you do not want to be here, you will be helped out the door. “The fact that he quite frankly doesn’t want to be here makes it easy,” Murray told The Buffalo News on June 29th. “I’ve said at the start that if you don’t want to be here we’ll make it happen.” I have a feeling that this season will determine this about a few more players. There is heated competition, and players will be fighting for a chance to prove themselves.
In the end, Murray has had a busy 6 months, and has started to turn the boat in the right direction, including convincing the NHL and Buffalo Sabres fans that there is light at the end of the tunnel. His confidence in his ability to do this, even shows when addressing the fans.
“People can get on the bandwagon early or get on later, it really doesn’t matter, but if you want to be more right than you are wrong, I don’t want to sound cocky, but get on a little earlier than you might have thought.”
It is hard to not get excited every time Murray makes the slightest move. Jump on now, because there won’t be room on the wagon for long.