Sabres execs must be on same page - The Buffalo News
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Sabres execs must be on same page

The Ottawa Senators are hardly a mom-and-pop store (or, more accurately with Bryan and Tim Murray, an uncle-and-nephew shop). They’re a multimillion-dollar business with long list of employees.

That said, the Senators seem small compared to Tim Murray’s new team.

The Sabres’ general manager has joined an organization that is keeping the payroll department busy. Owner Terry Pegula said on his opening day there was no salary cap on scouting or player-development budgets. That obviously goes for advisers, executives and assistants, too.

Buffalo boasts 57 people with ties to the hockey department, which includes everyone from Pat LaFontaine, the president of hockey operations, to Tim Macre, the athletic trainer, to Barbara Meyer, the mental skills coach. Just five years ago, the Sabres had 28 such people on the payroll. The scouting department is included in those numbers. It has expanded from 11 to 25.

Ottawa, meanwhile, lists 33 hockey people in its media guide. That includes 13 scouts. It will take Murray time to learn how to deal with the increase and manage the burgeoning staff. “It’s good to have a lot of good people around,” he said. “I’ve come from the background of a small staff, a small quality staff that crosses over, that sees everybody and everybody is involved in the decision.

“I’m walking into a situation that’s different. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. I just have to get my head wrapped around that, and I haven’t been able to do that yet.”

The numbers in Buffalo could get even larger. Murray has made plenty of connections during his 21 years in the NHL, and he’ll want to bring aboard some allies. It remains to be seen whether there will be turnover or if the newcomers merely join the present staff. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the Sabres’ hockey department interacts and matures. There’s nothing wrong with hiring as many quality people as you can, but there has to be a defined hierarchy.

“We’re growing, and we want to be the best hockey department and best hockey team, best coaching staff and try to be the best in all areas,” LaFontaine said. “If you bring somebody in here with an agenda and an ego, they don’t work together. Craig Patrick took the job and couldn’t have been more excited. Tim Murray took the job, he couldn’t have been more excited. We’ll all work together as a team.”

It’s easy to say, hard to do. It can be tough for a group to come to a consensus. The News has four people who write about the Sabres. If you asked us to rank the five most valuable players on the team, you’d probably get four different lists.

Hopefully for the Sabres and their fans, the team’s brain trust continually shares the same vision. It would be tricky if LaFontaine has one idea, Patrick and the pro scouts desire something else and Murray doesn’t like any of it. But that’s why the Sabres took two months to make the hires, so they could find people with similar philosophies about building a team.

“It’s kind of the Office of the General Manager, but Tim’s going to wear the hat,” LaFontaine said.

More on Murray

There are plenty of leftovers from Thursday’s introduction of Murray and Patrick. Here are a few:

• The original plan was for separate news conferences. The Sabres were set to introduce Murray as the GM on Tuesday and Patrick as a special assistant Friday. The blizzard pushed Murray’s day back, so LaFontaine moved Patrick’s day up.

• Murray was eager to see what teams had offered Buffalo for its players, specifically Ryan Miller, Steve Ott and Matt Moulson.

“I know teams have called the organization,” Murray said. “I have to get those files and I have to see what the interest was. If it was a light interest, if they’re phoning offering a third-round pick or something, then there’s not going to be a trade.”

• Murray, a scout at heart, appeared more interested in the future Sabres than the current ones. The main reason he’s looking forward to the Olympic break is so he can go watch draft-eligible players.

It sounds like he’ll also tweak the farm team. Rochester has had an overflow of veterans this season, which probably won’t be repeated. (I think the main reason the Sabres went out of their way to stock the Amerks is so they’d perform well and allow the organization to say, “Hey, look at our prospects,” which would be a distraction from the last-place NHL club.)

“You have to have the atmosphere and the opportunity for your kids to play important minutes,” Murray said. “Going forward here, I would like to put kids in prime positions, the positions that you feel down the road they’re going to be in up here. I don’t want to see a first-line center or a second-line center playing a fourth-line center role down there.”

• The GM confirmed the reports that he doesn’t smile much and can be gruff, but below the harsh exterior is an optimist.

“Sometimes the bright side isn’t real bright, but there’s always a bright side to every situation,” he said.

On the fly

• John-Michael Liles got to kick the Leafs while they’re down. The defenseman, who spent much of the season in the minors or as a healthy scratch, was traded to Carolina on New Year’s Day and scored in his return to Toronto. “There’s a reason I’m an 11th-year pro and I’m in the NHL,” Liles said.

• The USA Hockey Olympic staff unanimously chose Anaheim’s Cam Fowler over Columbus’ Jack Johnson at defense. The committee included Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards. Awkward. “When I needed the support and the belief I didn’t get it,” Johnson said, “so anything that’s said now is empty and meaningless.”

• Legendary KISS rocker Gene Simmons not only conducted a ceremonial faceoff in Los Angeles, he gave advice to Minnesota’s representative. Said Ryan Suter: “He said, ‘Just make sure you keep all your teeth and have fun out there.’ I said, ‘Oh, I’ll try.’ ”


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