The lack of NHL trade activity has surprised Tim Murray. Judging by the candid comments from the Sabres’ general manager Tuesday night, things won’t be quiet much longer.
That’s especially true in Buffalo, where the kindling is in place and a fire sale is ready to ignite. Ryan Miller and Steve Ott should keep their cellphones close.
The trade deadline is a week from today, and Murray is ready to deal. In fact, it’s his option of choice in regards to Miller.
“Our goal right now, I think on both sides, is to pursue a proper trade,” Murray said before the Sabres’ 3-2 victory over Carolina in First Niagara Center on a late goal by Christian Ehrhoff.
Miller’s exit has been forecast for the better part of a year, but it has never seemed so inevitable.
“I know they’re kind of looking around for opportunity,” Miller said. “I think that’s probably best for everybody.”
Re-signing with the Sabres is not Miller’s first option, and Murray doesn’t plan to discuss contract extensions with any of his pending free agents.
“The route we’re looking at is to get value for him, to put him in a position to succeed,” said Murray, who called the goaltender a “good soldier” during his 12 seasons in Buffalo. “Players that treat you right and have played well and hard for you over the years, you try to do what’s best for them, too, as long as it fits into what you’re doing.
“By trading Ryan to a contender, a good team that is maybe lacking only his position, I think that we’ve certainly not done a disservice to him and we’ve helped the organization in our own right.”
Murray said he’s had conversations with more than two teams and less than 10 about Miller, who made 36 saves and was named First Star in potentially his final appearance with the Sabres. There were 28 scouts from 22 teams on the seating chart for Tuesday’s game, including representatives from St. Louis, Washington and Minnesota, three oft-mentioned suitors of Miller.
“There are enough really good teams, teams that consider themselves contenders, that are kicking around the idea of trading for a good goalie,” Murray said. “There’s a possibility that with more talks something concrete could happen.”
While Miller is the Sabres’ most notable trade target, he’s hardly the only one. Ott, Matt Moulson and Henrik Tallinder are among those who also have expiring contracts. Murray said he’s discussed 10 to 12 players with seven or eight teams.
“There’s been a lot of teams that expressed interest in other players, Steve Ott obviously being one that has generated a large interest,” said Murray, who seemed pained by the thought of getting rid of the hard-working captain. “Steve Ott is the type of player that I’ve looked for for 21 years in drafting. ... That’s not the type of player I want to trade away. That’s the type of player that I want to bring in.
“Unfortunately, when I got here, he’s at his age and he’s an unrestricted free agent. ... We’re not a playoff team, so that changes the dynamic, obviously.”
The Sabres are 30th in the 30-team NHL, and nearly everyone expects the roster to be blown up, including the players.
“No one’s safe on this team,” Ott said.
Murray has been in Buffalo for only a month and half, which makes him an objective observer of the Sabres’ roster. He doesn’t have the emotional attachment that comes from drafting or acquiring a player, so moves will be about what’s best for the organization above all else.
“We think we’ve got lots of value here,” Murray said. “Now if we can get value for them is the other question.”
With a long list of players potentially going out, who can fans expect to come in?
“A perfect world, if teams would give me two real good young players that are two years or so into their development, that would be outstanding,” Murray said, “but I don’t think teams are going to bend over backwards to make life easier for us.
“If it’s draft picks it’s draft picks, and then we’ll turn them into assets and players. But ideally young players that are a little bit along into their development would be great.”
Ted Nolan has an increasingly good chance to be the coach who develops those players. Nolan, who has held an interim tag since stepping behind the bench in November, has been part of talks regarding a contract extension. “We are discussing it, we have discussed it, so we’re along that path,” Murray said. “We have discussed the possibility of moving forward. That’s all I’ll say.”