Though the Buffalo Sabres are eons worse right now than they were at this time last year, it’s still safe to say that Sabres fans are glad that Tim Murray is no longer the team’s general manager. Arriving in January 2014, Murray was once a beacon of hope for fans and they trusted him with rebuilding the fallen franchise. However, when he was canned three years later in April 2017, that same fan base rejoiced. How could such a sharp fall from grace occur, you may ask. Well, it was entirely self-inflicted.
I asked the members of a Sabres discussion group that I’m part of to give me their opinions. Analyzing them all carefully and narrowing the list down to just three was not easy, but here are the three biggest sins Tim Murray committed as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres.
#3: Neglecting the farm
Regardless of how well or poorly a team is playing, it always needs to be thinking in part about the future. The whole point of the farm system in sports is to groom new players for the years to come while the parent club tries to succeed. The Sabres never embraced this mentality with Murray at the helm. Rather, they routinely ignored it.
To his credit, Murray did bring some inspiring young players to the minors in his tenure, such as Hudson Fasching, Casey Nelson and Brendan Guhle. But, he never did anything to help the kids realize their potential. Sure they all received call-ups at some point, but none of them lasted more than a cup of coffee and the recipient was just as soon sent back down and forgotten.
Think of it this way, is it coincidence that the Rochester Americans are currently one of the AHL’s best teams now that Buffalo has a GM who has actually invested in his team’s future? I don’t think so.
Though this didn’t occur until after his canning, GMTM is also to blame for NCAA star Cal Petersen’s departure. The former Notre Dame Fighting Irish goaltender was highly regarded by fans and thought of as a potential future team backbone. When Petersen began to become disillusioned because of the team’s lack of direction for him, he made his intentions for leaving known. Murray didn’t care enough to make an effort to retain him, and that was all she wrote.
As one of the most highly touted young goaltending prospects of the last few years, you’d think it would have been worth the effort to keep Petersen around. Murray’s neglect and disinterest in his farms said otherwise. Petersen is now with the Kings and could be the heir to Jonathan Quick’s throne.
#2: Squandering an embarrassment of riches
The first phase of the Sabres rebuild was well underway by the time Murray was hired. The team had already traded Thomas Vanek to the Islanders in exchange for a first round pick in 2015 before Darcy Regier was fired in November 2013. Once Murray took over in January 2014 his debut transaction was sending captain Steve Ott and franchise icon Ryan Miller to St. Louis in exchange for a package of players and another 2015 first round pick. By the time the dust had settled, the Buffalo Sabres had three first rounders in the 2015 Draft, one of the deepest in years with the likes of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Dylan Strome, Mitchell Marner and Noah Hanifin. The possibilities were limitless, how much better could it get?
One would think that the Sabres used those three picks to draft three future superstars. Well, they did with one obviously, but not so much the other two. Okay, then they probably packaged those picks into deals that brought them instant returns, right?
Not so much.. Which leads us to:
#1: Too much for too little
Murray traded away both other first rounders before the draft. One was packaged to Winnipeg with Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers, Joel Armia and Bredan Lemieux in exchange for Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf. The other was sent to Ottawa on draft day in exchange for Robin Lehner and David Legwand.
If you’re thinking that both of those trades were lopsided, you’re not wrong.
The problem with both of those transactions is that the Sabres received nowhere near enough in return from both sides. The players in the 2015 Draft that those picks turned into are irrelevant, but it doesn’t change the fact that Murray gave away two prime picks from a goldmine of young talent in favor of uneven trades.
I’ll give credit where its due: for the Winnipeg trade, I had no issue with seeing Drew Stafford for Evander Kane, that part of the deal was trash for treasure on Buffalo’s part, quite frankly. But the other portion was not. As much as Zach Bogosian has improved over the years he’s been here, he is still very injury-prone and not on the same level as Tyler Myers. Myers has had injury issues of his own in Manitoba and only appeared in 11 games last season, but here’s the thing:
Myers played in 73 games in 2015-16, recording 27 points and posting a +6 rating. Bogosian played in 64 that season, posting 17 points and a -11 rating (Winnipeg was a worse team than Buffalo that season too). This season, Myers has 19 points and a +7 rating in 40 games while Bogosian has none and a -5 through 14 games. Don’t get me wrong, I like Bogosian. He’s improved a lot this season and he is an obvious benevolent presence in the locker room, and though he’s certainly more physical and tougher, he just doesn’t equivocate. As for Jason Kasdorf, he’s 25 and currently in the ECHL.
Also, Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux were two young players that Sabres fans were very excited for. Neither has made a smash in Winnipeg yet but still have the overwhelming potential to.
And now we come to the fun part.
When it was announced on draft day 2015 that Buffalo traded a first round pick for a goaltender from Ottawa, I almost lost my mind because I thought we had gotten Andrew Hammond, who was fresh off one of the most incredible seasons by a rookie in NHL history. Hammond would have been a perfect fit for the young and rebuilding Sabres. Then it was announced that it was Robin Lehner, who was supplanted by the previously unknown rookie for Ottawa’s starting job after Craig Anderson went down. My immediate reaction was, and I quote: “are you serious?” And I know that I wasn’t the only one thinking that.
Things didn’t get much better when the Swede sprained his ankle in frankly ludicrous fashion less than a period and a half into his Sabres career. It’s been a uneven and inconsistent ride for Lehner ever since. He’s improved substantially this season and has played quite well, but is still took slow and shaky to be considered a bona fide starter and was not worth a first round selection. Like Bogosian, I like the intangibles that Lehner brings to the team, but it’s still tough to not call him a mistake at this rate. Furthermore, Murray also insisted on Lehner being the starter when there were times when his backups outplayed him. Maybe it was him trying to justify the trade in his own head, but it was one of the reasons that contributed to Dan Bylsma’s firing.
Unfortunately there are more examples than just this.
It’s tough not to laud Murray in part for also turning trash into treasure with the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Emphasis on the “in part” because it didn’t work out 100%. Unloading a duo of disgruntled Russians whose departure in the offseason for the KHL seemed imminent was a great plan, especially when you consider we got a top line center out of it, but including JT Compher in the package was not necessary. Another potent prospect that Sabres fans were quite excited for was sent away and the trade still would have equivocated without it.
There’s another example that doesn’t get spoken of at all. In March 2014 Buffalo sent Brayden McNabb and Jonathan Parker to Los Angeles with two draft picks in exchange for Nicolas Deslauriers and Hudson Fasching. Though Fasching is going to have a big role in years to come, Deslauriers for McNabb did not play out at all in Buffalo’s favor. McNabb has turned into a solid defenseman while Deslauriers was turned into a forward and never became more than an energy guy. How is that a good trade?
One more just for good measure. The 2016 trade of Mark Pysyk for Dmitri Kulikov was doomed from the beginning. Kulikov was never happy in Buffalo and ran away the first chance he got. Pysyk, whom had the potential to become a strong defensive backbone for Buffalo, has done just that for Florida.
After considering all these, one could agree that Tim Murray made his own bed with the Buffalo Sabres.
Did I leave anything out? Tell me what your top Murray blunder is on Twitter at @Flat_Manigen74.