I’ve known Tim Murray for about 20 years. As a scout he’s put a great record together; Ottawa Senators fans can never thank him enough for making an out-of-the-box pick that paid out with Erik Karlsson.
Yeah I know, no one scout owns a draft pick but Karlsson’s an exception and really good picks had a way of following Tim around at stops he had made along the way in Anaheim, New York, and Ottawa before he took the GM’s job in Buffalo.
That said, I tried not to think about this day, namely the day when owner Terry Pegula would fire him. Yeah, it’s a hired-to-be-fired business but still, you don’t want to go there. Should we have seen it coming?
Everyone should have. He inherited a coach, Ted Nolan — a Pegula hire to win a news cycle with the fans — who wasn’t Murray’s choice and never would have been. Anyone who saw the press conference with the new GM standing beside the coach could read the body language — there was going to be no co-existing. Disdain wouldn’t have been a strong enough word, in part because at an emotional level Tim never had done anything in half measures. Or three quarters. Or 15/16ths.
Pat LaFontaine was hanging around as well when Tim came in. No one could figure out his role and Pat, a great guy, seemed like even he didn't want to be there.
Which is to say, Pegula already established his love for big gestures, however empty. He bought a franchise going in the wrong direction, created more dysfunction and handed it to Tim to fix.
Tim had assistant GM on his resume but that was working for Brian Murray who was family and with whom Tim had an extended working history. He had always managed up with people he knew and trusted and people who knew the NHL.
He was not your average GM. He was sine qua non. Remember when he lost the lottery and ended up with the No. 2 pick in the McDavid draft? That they-shot-my-dog reaction. He knew that McDavid didn't just represent a turnaround for the organization, but also job security.
And then there was the Mike Babcock sweepstakes and the Sabres came up with the silver medal once again. I'm sure Pegula pins it on Tim. After all, the owner is on a lifetime winning streak.
How would Babcock and McDavid look in Buffalo right now? They'd be bigger than The Beatles.
When Jack Eichel suffered that high-ankle sprain at the start of the season both he and Tim were hobbled. It was going to be a rough ride. I don't want to say that it was the beginning of the end. I suspect it goes farther back than that, but Eichel's injury fast-tracked it.
I wouldn't criticize Tim on any single count as a hockey man. The one thing I'd say though is that for better or ill he gets married to his evaluations — the one that bit him was Robin Lehner, a goaltender that he drafted and then traded for and I can't figure out why. Then again, the problems in Buffalo only started in net and fed out and ultimately up to the owner's box.
Murray started assembling his scouting staff on arrival but really this year was the first that he had every piece in place. Great, an owner who brings in someone to build through the draft and then starts the meter running like a taxi idling outside the arena.
I know what Tim is thinking: He doesn't just want back in the game but he wants to work for a team that picks after the Sabres so he could show Pegula what he's missing out on.