The newest Sabre is the only one to play with a team that included Tim Murray in the front office, and Zenon Konopka was more than impressed with what he saw in Ottawa two years ago.
“He’s a great person. A really good hockey mind,” Konopka said Thursday of the Buffalo Sabres’ new general manager. “One of the best things about him is he has a pulse on everything in the organization. In Ottawa he understood the players, from the young guys to the older guys to the management to the coaches. He’s a real sharp individual and we’re really lucky to have him.”
Captain Steve Ott said the hiring of a GM can help the Sabres move forward quickly. Ott is one of four veteran key unrestricted free agents on the club, joining Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson and Henrik Tallinder.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a plan put together with Patty and ownership,” said Ott, referring to President of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine. “There’s going to have to be a plan around here to see what direction the Sabres are going in. Obviously it’s nice to hopefully be a part of the solution and that’s something I know a lot of guys want.”
Konopka said some Sabres have already approached him for a personal scouting report on their new boss.
“I said he’s a great guy, a real common-sense, down-to-earth guy,” Konopka said. “Everyone can have a conversation with him. He’s open to listening to both sides of anything you want to tell him. It’s a person you want to work with and work for. I think all the players should be pretty happy and excited.”
Konopka played 55 games for the Senators during the 2011-12 season, which was Murray’s fifth in Ottawa. Murray has been involved in the drafting of key Senators like former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, Robin Lehner, Mika Zibanejad, Zack Smith and Cody Ceci.
“They’ve drafted well and signed well and that was all under a budget the last few years,” Konopka noted, referring to the Senators’ ongoing financial issues under owner Eugene Melnyk. “He’s going to come here and have a little more leeway there, which is great for him.”
While most of the attention regarding pending free agents has been pointed at Miller, having a captain dangling is also a scenario that bears watching. Ott has said several times this season he would like to re-sign with the Sabres and he repeated that stance again Thursday.
“My mind-set’s been the same. Myself, my family. We love the Buffalo area. We said that from Day One,” Ott said. “We like the ownership group that’s been put into place and we have first-class people throughout the organization.
“It makes it pretty easy to stay. The big factor is having the opportunity to win and to have that opportunity to win in Buffalo would be something special. When you have the right people in place, you just wait for the plan to start executing.”
Konopka said he’s confident a plan will quickly go into place and that Murray will be able to execute it because he learned from his uncle, current Senators GM and former coach Bryan Murray.
“Bryan Murray has done really well in this business. He’s absolutely one of the best,” Konopka said. “For Tim to be working hand and hand with him for so many years is huge. You don’t get that tutelage very often. He’s learned a lot from Brian and travels all over the world. He works hard, travels all over to find the players he wants.”