Tim Murray has lots of ways to get his point across. There’s information. There’s forceful proclamation. And once in a while, the Buffalo Sabres’ general manager dips into downright snark. And he nails it.
It was early in Murray’s NHL entry draft preview meeting with reporters Thursday in First Niagara Center when he was asked what his team’s most pressing need was.
Murray broke up the room when he shot back, “I don’t know if I want to sit here this long.”
Except for goaltenders, Murray admitted the Sabres are in back-up-the-truck mode heading into his first draft as a GM next weekend in Philadelphia.
Murray is no stranger to the draft from his days in Anaheim and Ottawa but he’s never been the top dog. This is quite a bit different.
“It’s just business. It’s not about me,” Murray insisted. “It’s about the Sabres. ... It’s not about me running it. That’s not it at all. It’s about me from the fact I’m all in for Buffalo and I want success here and it’s just about the Sabres.”
Sorry, Tim. It is about you. It’s all about you. It has to be at this stage in the franchise’s history.
More than that, it downright needs to be about you.
Murray has made only a couple of trades so far in his reign and they look good. He bought out Ville Leino, which was a needed move but one a gerbil running on an exercise wheel could have made.
Now he will be in charge of what I would call the franchise’s most important back-to-back drafts since Punch Imlach took Gil Perreault and Rick Martin with the team’s first picks in 1970 and ’71.
When we last met with Murray in April, remember, the Sabres had very realistic expectations they would have three first-rounders this year. No. 1 picks from St. Louis and the New York Islanders didn’t pan out for 2014 but they will in 2015, which looks to be one of the marquee drafts in modern NHL history.
And don’t fret about Murray’s return from St. Louis for the rental of Ryan Miller and Steve Ott.
The Sabres got a first-rounder next year, a third-rounder in 2016, a potentially huge trade deadline asset for next March in Chris Stewart, a goaltender in Jaroslav Halak who was flipped into Michal Neuvirth and an intriguing junior prospect in 6-foot-1 winger William Carrier, who had 65 points in 66 games this season in the Quebec League.
That looks like a pretty good deal right now. In a couple more years, we might be calling it a fleecing.
Talk about asset management. There’s an example. Here’s another: The Sabres have five prospects going to Team USA’s World Junior camp in August in Lake Placid. Only Chicago (3) and Phoenix (2) have more than one.
West Seneca native and Harvard player Sean Malone is in the group along with fellow 2013 draft picks J.T. Compher, Connor Hurley and Anthony Fiorentino as well as University of Minnesota star Hudson Fasching, acquired by Murray at the trade deadline in March.
“I wish I could speed it all up. I wish it was two years down the road with a couple of them,” Murray said. “It’s not, so we’re going to do the right things in development. I gotta believe that at least two of those guys are going to be good NHL players. That’s really positive for the organization.”
Darcy Regier may have given the Sabres quite a parting gift with last year’s draft, topped by Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. It’s exactly the kind of draft Murray needs to have next week.
Asked what the optimum result would be for the Sabres, Murray’s answer was clear.
He wants the No. 2 pick to be “a very good player,” which seems pretty certain. Recent No. 2 picks have included Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, Dallas’ Tyler Seguin, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty, Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin.
You want any of those guys? Thought so.
Murray wants to make a deal to get back into the first round to get what sure sounds like an Anze Kopitar-type power forward. He wants to hit big on one or two of his three second-round picks, and hit somewhere later in the draft. That’s a pretty big wish list. But the Sabres have been missing on too much for too long.
“You have to continuously stock your system. You can’t miss in drafts,” Murray said. “If we become a Stanley Cup finalist or Stanley Cup contender and we’re picking 28th in the draft, I expect to hit on our first-round pick and I expect him to be an asset down the road. ... You have to hit. That’s your job.”
The Sabres have been growing the scouting staff since Terry Pegula bought the team. And they have a well-respected draftnik in Kevin Devine serving as assistant general manager.
But Murray is in charge. It’s on him and he knows it. He hasn’t made a bad trade yet, hasn’t made a clunker of a draft pick yet. Sooner rather than later, he’ll do both. Just like everyone else.
But for once, after years of doubt, you get the feeling the GM’s office down at One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza is in pretty good hands.