Tim Murray didn’t waste any time getting to the point Monday morning with the usual sharp edge people have come to appreciate. He was introducing rookie center Samson Reinhart, whom the Sabres selected second overall in the NHL draft, when he gestured toward the media.
“I’d officially like to welcome Sam to Buffalo,” Murray said before turning toward his young star. “These are the faces you’re going to see on a nightly basis and the people you’re going to have to answer to when you don’t play as well as I told them you were going to play. So welcome to Buffalo.”
Murray later mentioned that the Sabres wanted him to undergo media training after he either said too much or didn’t speak in proper fashion. Apparently, they’re looking to smooth the edges of his public persona. It sounded as if they wanted him to be less direct and learn the art of speaking without saying anything.
Good heavens, not this again.
Fortunately, that’s not how this general manager rolls. Sabres fans don’t need to be shielded from the truth. The people here wasted enough time and energy listening to garbled messages that spilled from the organization. It’s about time somebody gave straight, unfiltered answers to direct questions.
Anyway, it’s entertaining. He’s porky and blunt and brutally honest. He has a knack for injecting a touch of humor into a ton of truth, which leaves people laughing and squirming and nodding their heads in approval just the same. Imagine playing 18 holes with Murray, Brian Burke and Charles Barkley.
“I’m not going to lie,” Murray said. “I might say, ‘I’m not going to talk about that.’ I don’t even like saying that, but I’ll say that before I lie. There were two things I was told as a kid and two things I told my own kids: ‘Don’t steal and don’t lie. You can kill somebody, but don’t steal and don’t lie.’ ”
See what I mean?
Murray isn’t trying to fool anyone. So why dance around? He’s faced with a monumental rebuilding project, one made tougher when Pat LaFontaine was unceremoniously and suspiciously shown the door. Murray is the biggest hockey brain behind the operation and needs to make improvements.
“The reason I was brought in here was because they needed a change,” Murray said. “If things were running smoothly here, I wouldn’t be sitting in front of you. You know that. … I knew it was a big job, and I know it’s a job that has to be done a proper way. And that’s hard.”
For Murray, with doors of free agency swinging open today, the immediate chore is convincing a few solid veterans that Buffalo is a worthy destination.
The Sabres are loaded with young players who have been, or will be, trying to navigate potholes that come with the NHL.
They need leaders.
The Sabres for years have had a major recruiting problem that isn’t going to be resolved any time soon. If they start getting critical pieces in place, assuming Reinhart becomes the playmaker they projected, other forwards would be more inclined to join Sam’s Club.
“You drafted a Reinhart here,” Murray said. “OK, which top left winger, because he’s a right-handed shot, wants to play with him? There’s somebody out there that I can get on our team that has scored 30-35 goals because he wants to score 50 goals because that means $7 million or $8 million.”
For now, Murray is looking for good players who understand they’re not winning the Stanley Cup.
Perhaps they heard Buffalo is a great hockey town. Or they want to be near family. Or they’re trying to squeeze another contract out of their careers.
Or they’re Steve Ott, who happens to be all of the above.
They’re difficult to find, and the Sabres need several. Buffalo would run the risk of signing players who merely want to collect a paycheck. It likely means overpaying them. But at least they wouldn’t arrive under false pretenses, such as the pipe dream that they would put the Sabres over the top.
It’s essentially what happened with Christian Ehrhoff, a good player who signed here because the Sabres were willing to pay him like a great one and convinced him they were on the verge of contention. The same was true for Ville Leino, who was effective in Philadelphia before he also was grossly overpaid. Both players and the organization overvalued one another.
Murray climbed aboard and gave Buffalo the cold, unsentimental evaluation of personnel it needed years ago under Darcy Regier.
In a matter of months, the two veterans were gone. Murray will make some costly mistakes along the way, but becoming smitten with his own players will not be among them.
“That’s dangerous,” Murray said. “I care about our players greatly. Our players are the game. I’m not the game. They’re the game. But you have to make proper decisions. I can’t worry about what players think to a certain extent. I can’t care about my personal feelings to a certain extent. It’s about the Buffalo Sabres, making them better and doing the right thing for the organization.”
Now, as he enters his first full season as a general manager, it gets interesting. Murray handled himself admirably in his first NHL trade deadline and sailed through his first draft since becoming general manager. Let’s be honest, in sticking with the theme, it was relatively easy.
Murray entered the deadline with valuable players who were set to become unrestricted free agents on a team going nowhere. It doesn’t take much to wheel them for draft picks and prospects. He had the second pick overall and extra selections across in the draft. The math is working in his favor.
The Sabres have several young defensemen who appear promising. They restocked with forwards in the draft. They have several possibilities in goal with the idea one will emerge. Murray insisted he could envision how it could all come together. He can talk all he wants. His point will be made by what he does.