Ryan Miller served as the face of the Sabres’ franchise for years. This weekend left no doubt that the stern, no-nonsense face of Tim Murray claims that title now.
With his actions at the NHL Draft and pointed comments after buying out Christian Ehrhoff, Murray is clearly the man in charge in Buffalo. He’s the focus of fans and observers, the guy in the spotlight of a team that has no one else ready or worthy of taking the title.
The general manager is reshaping the entire organization, from the meeting rooms to the blue line. He changed the way the Sabres draft and how they explain it. He sent a message to the players that lack of enthusiasm will not be tolerated.
He’s done it all fewer than six months after taking on the job.
Murray garnered attention immediately during the opening round of the draft Friday. He stepped onto the stage and drafted Sam Reinhart without a smile or flowery comment, showing that everything is merely a business decision.
At the end of the draft, he made it clear his words will be the ones that express the Sabres’ point of view. For years, Kevin Devine joined Darcy Regier to discuss the draft. The assistant general manager and longtime evaluator of amateur talent would talk about picks and philosophies.
While Devine sat next to Murray at the draft table, he didn’t stand next to him for the microphones. Murray was the only one who met with the media, and he commented exclusively on the picks despite not having a full review for a few.
The other dramatic changes took place before the Sabres arrived in Philadelphia. Murray changed the way Buffalo’s scouts look at the prospects.
“I put a new rating system in when I got here,” Murray told The News.
“It basically started around the prospect game, and that’s February, and I put a lot of pressure on them on those numbers.
“I made them do a lot of talking, a lot of explaining why they wanted certain players, and that’s the way I think it should be. If you want a player you have to engage. You just can’t tell me he’s a good player. You have to tell me more. I want to hear more. They stepped up.
“They’re getting used to me. I’m getting used to them. This is the first step, I believe, in maybe having to give more information than they used to, maybe having to put more emphasis on different things than they used to. I think they’re all learning, and I think they did a good job.”
The organizational scouting meetings last month, plus each gathering since, were essentially dual evaluations. The scouts evaluated the players, while Murray evaluated the scouts he inherited.
“Some days I was tough on them,” Murray said. “A couple days coming into the draft maybe were those days, but I was only tough on them because I want them to get better, and I want to help them to get better. That makes us a better organization.
“It’s not about me, per se, it’s about all of us as a group getting to know each other a little better and getting to understand what’s expected.”
Murray discovered a lot about his staff.
“I learned that with the direction that I’ve given them that they want to do that job,” he said. “They want to work for the Buffalo Sabres. I think they see that the more information we have the better it is for them.
“Yes, I’ve been forcing them to do a little more, but at the end of the day it makes them better scouts and they’ll be recognized around the league as that.”
To be sure he has the NHL’s top scouting department, Murray will likely want to bring in at least a few of his own people this summer.
“I don’t want to address that,” he said, before conceding, “There are certain situations that I would like to improve, yes.”
The Sabres have a huge hockey department compared to Murray’s previous organization, Ottawa. He’s still learning to navigate that, including the litany of advisers the Sabres have in place.
Craig Patrick, hired by former President of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine on the same day Murray came in, participated in the main scouting meetings. Ken Sawyer, hired by Terry Pegula, sat at the draft table.
“They’re veteran guys that I respect,” said Murray, who paused at times while considering the advisers’ roles. “The way they ask questions is maybe you walk away and think about it a little more, but it’s just good interaction.”
There certainly will be more changes to the organization, either in personnel or philosophy. Murray has proved he’s not afraid to make them. He’s made himself the face of the franchise while doing it.
“He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, as you know,” Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, Tim’s uncle and former boss, said after the draft. “It looked like just watching and talking to a few people, it looked to me like they were organized, knew what they wanted and went about doing it. There’s no question in my mind Tim’s an outstanding evaluator, and that team will turn around fairly quickly.”