Tim Murray took the reigns as General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres on January 9, 2014. The Sabres had a lot of decisions to make about their future and they needed a decisive general manager, not one who’d waffle or sit idly waiting for the phone to ring. Murray’s direct, candid manner is exactly what new owner Terry Pegula wanted. He’s nothing like his vanilla predecessor, Darcy Regier.
On a number of occasions, he’s made his philosophy known, “You build a team through doing well in the draft. Free agency puts you over the top.”
Now, over two years at the helm, only ten players remain on the current roster from when he took over. Let’s take a look back at how he’s shaped this team with a roster he’s drafted, traded for, or signed.
It’s not hard to draft well when you have the second pick overall. Murray’s selections of Sam Reinhart in 2014 and Jack Eichel in 2015 were easy consensus picks. Anyone could’ve made them.
What separates a great GM (and his scouting department) is what happens in the later rounds of a draft. In 2014, Murray added Czech native Vaclav Karabacek with his second round pick. He’s struggled while transitioning in the QMJHL.
In 2015, Murray drafted two D-men who look like they have the goods to make it to the NHL.
Second round pick Brendan Guhle was impressive in training camp and fourth rounder Will Borgen showed off his potential for team USA during the World Juniors recently.
Time will tell if Murray’s later draft picks amount to anything.
Murray has proven himself a wheeler and a dealer, having completed a total of 15 trades involving 41 NHL players or prospects and 16 draft picks. He’s not afraid to make a deal. Ever.
His first move was no surprise, trading Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis at the 2014 trade deadline. Murray managed to get a good return for Ryan Miller given the marketplace for goalies. In return, Buffalo got prospect William Carrier and a 2015 1st rounder, 2016 3rd rounder and a 2017 2nd rounder after he flipped forward Chris Stewart the next season.
The blockbuster deal with Winnipeg came next. Murray flipped many of Darcy’s bust draft picks and under performing players. In came Evander Kane, an emerging physical top line forward, and Zach Bogosian, a fragile 3rd or 4th defenseman. Out went an under performing Tyler Myers, Joel Armia (a bust), Brendan Lemieux (who outwardly stated he’d never sign in Buffalo), Drew Stafford (under performing and with an expiring contract who had no value at the time) and a late first round pick. It was a gutsy, decisive move and set the tone for a GM ready to rebuild, though the jury is still out on this one.
The 2015 draft day deal that brought Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn to Buffalo makes Murray look like a real sly fox. Zadorov and Grigorenko have a long way to go before they make an impact. The wild card here is whether JT Compher will turn into anything. For now, advantage: Murray.
Without question, Murray’s most second-guessed trade is the one that sent a 1st round pick to Ottawa for Robin Lehner. Unfortunately with Lehner’s injury in the season opener, it’ll take time to see if he was worth it. On the surface, it’s a tough trade to swallow, given other goalies available both inside and outside the Sabres system (Talbot, Lindback, etc.).
Murray’s work in free agency is nothing to get excited about. After dealing Matt Moulson at the deadline for Torrey Mitchell and two 2nd round picks, Murray then re-signed him for a robust five year deal for $25 million. Moulson was supposed to be a top-six player and leader for a team of young guns. Instead his biggest contribution has been that of a landlord for Jack Eichel. Franson, targeted as a power play quarterback, has looked slow all year despite chipping in 16 points and he’s not exactly cheap.
Johan Larsson 1 $800K
Carlo Colaiacovo 1 $900K
Phil Varone 1 $600K
Nicolas Deslauriers 2 $637.5K
Mark Pysyk 2 $1.125M
Cal O’Reilly 2 $700K
Evan Rodrigues 2 $842.5K
Cody Franson 2 $3.325
Brian Gionta 3 $4.25M
Matt Moulson 5 $5M
Another place to check the work of Murray has to be the performance of the Rochester Americans, our pipeline for future Sabres. The team is hovering around .500 with little chance for a playoff spot. The bigger problem though is the abundance of veterans signed and stashed there. AHL Teams are limited to six players with 260 or more games of pro experience which means the Amerks are routinely scratching healthy veteran players.
Let’s not lay this lost season entirely on Tim Murray. Dan Bylsma was given the second richest coach’s contract in the history of the NHL to come in and make a difference. What has he accomplished? Even without injuries, he’s been shuffling players all year long, not giving them a chance to develop chemistry with one another. Some lineups don’t last ten minutes before he changes them. And look at the results so far.
Yes, he won a single Stanley Cup with the Penguins. That team was stacked for years. Did he merely ride Crosby and Malkin’s coattails or was he one of the reasons they didn’t win several?
With Eichel, Reinhart, O’Reilly, and Ristolainen, Murray’s roster makeover has improved the watchability of this team. But after that, the talent level drops off precipitously. After all, there’s a reason this team has lived in the bottom five of the standings all year and will be spending another year watching other teams compete for the Stanley Cup… they’re just not that good. If they’re not making a playoff run next year, you have to start asking why. And who’s to blame.
Before this season started, Murray said, “I’ve said all along I think we’ve improved on paper, but until we do something on the ice there’s no point in really talking about it.”
Murray never put a timetable on the Sabres’ rebuild, but he said he wouldn’t drag it out. He bluntly added, “When you tear it down, it doesn’t happen overnight. But I don’t buy into five-year rebuilds.”
We’re now in Murray’s third year as GM of this team and there are still gaping holes on this team. Giant holes. Right wingers and defensemen are at the top the wish list. What moves does Murray have in store as the February 29 trade deadline looms?
And in a bigger sense, how long do we give Murray to implement his plan? Is he a better scout than a general manager? Will a watchable team, mostly the benefit of two number two picks, give him endless slack before real progress is made?