on January 9, 2014 - 9:32 PM
, updated January 10, 2014 at 8:48 AM
As it became clear the Buffalo Sabres were nearing the end of their search for a general manager, Tim Murray felt good. He wasn’t sure he’d get the job, but he knew there was nothing else he could have done.
“I felt that I had given it my all,” Murray said Thursday. “I felt that the interviews went well. I felt that I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, I told them what I thought was the proper way to do things. Maybe that was what they wanted to hear.”
Indeed, Murray’s answers and philosophies matched the mindset of Pat LaFontaine, which is why the Sabres’ president of hockey operations hired Murray as the seventh GM in team history.
“When I looked at it, Tim was our best fit,” LaFontaine said following a news conference in First Niagara Center. “I looked for a guy with a tremendous eye for talent and evaluating our next great Buffalo Sabre players for our future. He’s the right guy.”
So what made Murray a better fit than the other nine people who interviewed for the job?
• The longtime scout, executive and talent evaluator believes a team should be built through the NHL draft, which is the path the Sabres have chosen. They possess six picks in the opening two rounds of the next two drafts after making five such selections in 2013.
“Good drafting allows you to trade well, and then you use free agency to put you over the top,” Murray said. “That’s my philosophy. We’ve discussed that. I think that’s the way to go forward here. That can be done quickly.”
• The 50-year-old was open to the Sabres’ committee approach. Their executive and hockey operations staffs are overflowing with people, including another new adviser who joined Murray and LaFontaine at the conference table Thursday. Buffalo has hired Hockey Hall of Famer Craig Patrick, a longtime general manager who helped the United States earn medals at the 1980 and 2002 Olympics, as a special assistant.
“It’s a team,” Murray said. “I may be talking to a general manager, but when you get off that phone you’re discussing that conversation with the people around you. Everybody’s a sounding board. The better the people that are around, the better decision you’re going to make.”
• Murray is willing to give popular coach Ted Nolan a chance. Nolan has held an interim title since being appointed to the bench by LaFontaine in early November.
“I’m going to come in here and try to establish a relationship with Ted and his coaching staff, get to know them,” Murray said. “Whatever happens going forward will determine everything else. There’s no preconceived notions.”
There were certainly other things that moved Murray to the forefront during the Sabres’ two-month search to replace Darcy Regier, but holding a ticket to that trifecta was important.
“He’s had some success everywhere he’s been, and he’s going to have success here in Buffalo,” LaFontaine said. “We’ll work together as a team. It’s going to take a team, and that’s what we’re all about, whether it’s in the hockey operations department or it’s on the ice.”
The team on the ice is of immediate concern to Murray. Despite playing better since the arrival of LaFontaine and Nolan, the Sabres remain 30th in the 30-team NHL.
“This team’s in last place right now,” Murray said. “Everybody can be traded.”
Murray has more knowledge of the Sabres’ roster than some other candidates because he spent the last seven years as the assistant GM in Ottawa, which plays in Buffalo’s division. He’s not going to ship out players by the boatload just to make a splash, but he won’t be shy after finalizing his reports.
“You don’t just make trades,” he said.
“For me to come in here to show you guys that I’m active and I think I’m smart, that’s not the way to go about it.
“I would consider myself somewhat aggressive. I think you gather all the information, and then you make a decision. I don’t think it takes you two days to make a decision or two weeks to make a decision. You gather the information, you talk to your people, you listen and then you make a call.”
Murray’s desire to be quick and direct extends throughout his daily life. When one of the Sabres’ executive assistants sent him an inquiry via text, he didn’t bother asking how things were going. He just answered “yes” and moved to his next task.
“I come across as a little hard,” said the native of Shawville, Quebec, an English-speaking town near Ottawa. “I’m direct. I don’t smile a whole lot. It’s pretty apparent what I am. Yeah, I can be light at times, but I’m usually gruff and straight to the point.
“I come from a small farming community that’s blue collar, hard working. I have to say that I think Buffalo is along the same lines, and maybe I’ll fit in here.”
It could work. Being frank is what got him the job in the first place.
“I’ve had some opportunities in the past to get my name in the ring,” Murray said. “This is the first time I thought that it was a real serious job and the right situation and the right time for me to come to a city like Buffalo, where you just strap on your boots and strap on your skates and work hard. That’s my history. That’s where I’m from.”