The word on the street in recent days suggested Tim Murray was making his way to Buffalo to become general manager of the Sabres. It was certainly plausible with rumors flying, anticipation growing over a possible announcement and Pat LaFontaine holed up in meetings for two days.
LaFontaine has been looking for a GM for nearly two months since he arrived with Ted Nolan with the idea they could bring the organization back from the dead. They’re older and wiser men now than they were 16 years ago, but age and time has not changed the principles of either man.
Nolan, for example, still believes in instilling confidence and getting more from his players through a stronger work ethic over Xs and Os. For all the qualities people see from a mile away in LaFontaine – his infectious personality, selfless attitude and charm – he has an insatiable need to trust people around him.
LaFontaine has been that way for decades. He talked incessantly about the importance of trust during his Hall of Fame career. His trust in Alexander Mogilny was vital to their magical 1992-93 season. A lack of trust between him and the Sabres led to his departure four years later. He left the Islanders in 2006 as an adviser because trust broke down.
He used the word “trust” dozens of times in interviews after taking over as Sabres president of hockey operations. His first move was hiring Nolan because there was nobody he trusted more to coach young players. He talked about having the trust from ownership and how building organizational trust was a top priority.
With him in particular, it’s all about trust.
It’s precisely what the organization needed after suffering the damage inflicted from years of mistrust that trickled down from the top of the hockey hierarchy. And that’s why all the talk, or any talk, about Murray having the inside track is so troubling. It goes against what LaFontaine has been preaching for years.
The Sabres need a sound personnel evaluator with experience. Murray is among the best currently available. He has been around the NHL for two decades. He has worked for several organizations. He should have his brain around the salary cap. He should be fine when it comes to contracts and trade talks.
Murray’s resume is solid enough, but that’s not the issue. The issue is whether he can be trusted as the organization moves forward. That’s the question that LaFontaine needs to answer. For what it’s worth, I trust that he’ll make the right decision. The final call hadn’t been made as of Wednesday night.
LaFontaine had been quiet in recent days, an indication that he wasn’t ready to speak publicly about his GM search. Fair enough. If he wasn’t ready to discuss his biggest decision since his arrival, you can safely assume he didn’t want prospective candidates talking about the process, either.
The Murray-to-Buffalo reports originated in Ottawa and raced across Canada. You certainly can’t blame the media for doing their jobs and passing along information they heard. It may not have been Murray, who was scouting the World Junior Championships, but somebody other than LaFontaine who was leaking stories.
Who? Why? It doesn’t matter.
Somewhere between Ottawa and Buffalo, whether it was Murray speaking to his uncle, Sens GM Bryan Murray, or someone else in his inner circle, the chain of trust was compromised. If I were running the show, and any breach was linked to Tim Murray, talks with him would be suspended immediately.
If he or anyone else can’t be trusted to keep quiet about the biggest opportunity of his career, when can they be trusted? It’s a question LaFontaine will answer for himself at the appropriate time. It’s also something he will consider several times before making the final call.
Murray is known for having a good eye for talent. The Sens have done a very good job in the draft. It’s what the Sabres need, given their abundance of picks. But other candidates are equally equipped to evaluate players. Ultimately, decisions will be made in conjunction with LaFontaine, his GM, and other hockey minds.
According to reports, the Bruins want Jim Benning to stick around until the completion of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. It would give him about a week to get acquainted with the Sabres before the NHL trade deadline. That’s all true, but I’m not sure why it matters. If it matters at all, it’s minimal.
Any general manager worth hiring already knows the Sabres’ issues. Ryan Miller is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. If he’s not interested in signing an extension for reasonable money, the Sabres need to get whatever they can for him before he walks away for nothing. It’s hockey, not nuclear physics.
Anyway, the Sabres have so many other problems that the next GM, whether he’s hired today or after the season, couldn’t possibly fix them by the deadline. They’re loaded with third- and fourth-line players. You know what you get for bottom-six forwards? Other bottom-six forwards and low draft picks.
In NHL circles, the sterile term for such deals is “junk for junk,” and anybody can make them. LaFontaine doesn’t need a general manager now. He needs the right general manager later, whether it’s Murray or somebody else, who can turn around the organization in the next few years. He’s one piece among many.
LaFontaine will get it right. Trust me.