COLUMBUS, Ohio — Since he was introduced as the Sabres’ general manager 17 days ago, Tim Murray has been a man on the move. There have been scouting trips to far-off locales like Calgary. His official move to a downtown Buffalo condominium came Tuesday. He’s put a new scouting rating system into place organization-wide. And Saturday night in Nationwide Arena, he attended his first road game with the team.
Speaking with The Buffalo News prior to Saturday’s 5-2 win over the hottest team in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Murray didn’t offer any new specifics on what might happen with the team’s key pending unrestricted free agents. But he did say he’s now casually chatted with Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson and Steve Ott – the trio of players widely believed to be available prior to the March 5 trade deadline.
And Murray made sure to emphasize this point: None of them are getting traded unless the Sabres reap significant rewards.
“I’ve told them all the same thing really and it was like, ‘It’s unfortunate you’re going to see your name in the paper. That’s just the nature of the game,’ ” Murray said. “They’re not young players. They’ve been around. They know the game. They know that this is part of it.
“I told them not to believe everything they read or everything they’ve heard on the sports channels. But certainly their names are in play and we’ll see what happens but it doesn’t guarantee they’ll be moved at all. For me, it’s all about return. These are good players. So if the return was up to a certain point and not great and we then decide we want to talk to them about staying, then that’s an option too.”
There will be an NHL roster freeze on Feb. 7 prior to the Olympics and there’s plenty of speculation that’s going to create an artificial first trade “deadline” prior to the official deadline on March 5.
Murray said many teams have reached out to him to discuss the Sabres’ plans.
“There’s been lots of interaction, a lot of early talking,” he said. “There’s been no real specifics. I think teams are just trying to feel us out, feel me out on what we want to do. There’s certainly been discussions. I’m not sure there’s any artificial deadline. I think people are in a wait-and-see mode, to tell you the truth.
“People are concerned about injuries this far out. If a contending team makes their one big move and that guy is not available when he needs to be, there’s concern there from those teams. I’m really not sure a lot of teams want to pull off the big trade this far out. It could happen, but it doesn’t seem to me there’s any urgency right now.”
Similarly, Murray said he’s not feeling any urgency to make any moves involving the Sabres prior to the Olympics either.
“I can certainly wait for injuries to happen in other places,” Murray said. “We have an Olympics coming up and then a short-term push prior to the deadline. I think a lot of things can happen. So if we’re going to do something, it’s going to be something I’m really forced to do as far as return. That would be fine but I’m not sure it’s going to happen.”
Murray said he’s pretty much said hello to every player on the Sabres’ roster, with this trip finishing up that task.
“Sitting on the bus, there were a couple guys I hadn’t talked to yet and we shook hands and they introduced themselves,” he said. “I sat around today after the pregame skate and hovered around the trainers room, had a coffee and made myself available too.
“Just a different thing there. Different personalities take advantage of that. Some don’t. I talked to a couple players one on one and really about anything but hockey. Just looking to get a feel for them and I think we have some good people here.”
As for the team’s play, Murray knows the Sabres pretty much are where they are in the standings. But he’s not discouraged by the five-game losing streak they took into Saturday’s game.
“For sure, I think the effort’s there,” Murray said. “I said today to somebody that you interact with the players, especially now on the road, and you see they have a smile on their face. They’re happier with the way it’s going. Obviously, they want to win but they’re happy to come to the rink as far as effort and a team game and having some structure. They’re enjoying getting ready to play.”
Murray said there’s been no discussions about removing the interim tag from the status of coach Ted Nolan.
“We judge every day and it’s not just an end-of-the-year thing,” he said. “Maybe it happens before that. It looks like our players are happy coming to the rink and you judge that every day. You try to feel the pulse of the team. And so far even without a lot of wins, the pulse is pretty positive.”
Murray said he will stay with the team until the Olympic break and then resume his scouting. And he’s going to make sure to get several first-hand looks at the players who could be picked in the top three of the June draft.
“I could take off again for a day or two but the Olympic break will be a good time to get back into the Ontario League and college and see as many guys that way as I can,” he said, “Then after the break, the trade deadline will be the focus again.
“But I know where we are. I definitely have to go see the very top amateur guys. There’s no question about that. There’s lots of time to do it.”