Sabres’ Murray talks Babcock loss, coach search

Brendan Shanahan joined Hockey Central at Noon to share the story of how the Leafs landed Mike Babcock as their head coach, stating how much he liked that the media felt the Maple Leafs were out of the sweepstakes.

“People are looking for a smoking gun that doesn’t exist.”

That is how Sabres general manager Tim Murray describes the fallout in Buffalo, after the city’s coachless hockey club finished second in the Mike Babcock sweepstakes to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I’m not upset or anything,” Murray told WGR 550 Sports Radio in a lengthy interview Thursday afternoon. “It was a great process for me. This is my first real shot at doing interviews and hiring my coach.”

Babcock, now the highest-paid coach in the NHL, told reporters in Toronto the Sabres offered more than the $50 million he accepted from the Leafs, but he believed Toronto to be the best fit for his family.

“I think at certain times you might have felt that a conversation went well. It is what it is,” Murray said. “We were in negotiations of a contract knowing at the end of the day there’s no deal done until he calls and says, ‘I’m coming to you.’ ”

“There’s no deal until he agrees to come and sign a contract.”

Babcock had placed a self-imposed deadline for his decision. He told Murray he’d call him Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. and let him know where he was taking his Triple Gold pedigree. He called at 11:33 a.m. and said he wasn’t coming to Buffalo.

During his press conference, Babcock had to answer whether he lied to Buffalo; Murray thinks that’s “ludicrous.” In fact, he said Babcock was up front about his intention to raise the standard pay scale for NHL coaches.

“I’m not upset. I guess I’m confused,” Murray said. “We knew full well he was talking to other teams.

“When a team like Toronto’s involved, you can never be surprised…. Nothing surprises me.”

Murray said he had been in conversation with other candidates to fill Ted Nolan’s shoes before opening negotiations with Babcock, during the Babtalks, and since.

He refused to confirm or deny ESPN reporter Craig Custance’s tweet that Dan Bylsma is one of those candidates:

“We’re looking for the best candidate for our needs and his needs,” regardless of age or experience, said Murray. “I’m looking for the best guy.”

Murray, of course, was looking to secure the best guy at last month’s draft lottery in Toronto, and he came off disappointed when he lost the No. 1 pick to Edmonton.

Thursday the GM wanted to set the record straight that he is not unhappy with selecting No. 2, a pick he’ll doubtlessly use on Jack Eichel.

“I know when there’s a mic put in front of me, sometimes I say some crazy things,” Murray said. “We’re picking in a great spot, and we’re extremely happy with where I am.

“Deciding on who we’re picking at 2, that’s probably the easiest call I’ll have in my career.”

Murray raved that Eichel, who scored seven points and captured a bronze medal with Team USA, played “above and beyond” at the IIHF World Championship.

Two clubs have called Murray to see if they can trade up for his No. 2 spot in June. He shut them down.

“They were short [conversations],” Murray quipped. “I said, ‘You can make an offer, but I don’t think you want to move your franchise.’ “

The Sabres’ other first-round pick, acquired from the New York Islanders as part of 2014’s Thomas Vanek deal, is a different story.

“I might make some calls on the 21st pick for sure,” said Murray.

What does he want in return?

Murray would either like to move up from No. 21 to draft a better prospect or he’ll put 21 in play to trade for an opponent’s young player.

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