There have been plenty of emotions flying around First Niagara Center lately that have nothing to do with actual hockey. The Sabres’ “Hockey Fights Cancer” Night last week featuring Rick Jeanneret and Jim Kelly was heartwarming. Seeing Jeanneret Saturday night and hearing his voice back behind the mic was something we’ve all waited for since the summer.
It was Friday morning in an office deep inside the building’s executive suite that things got very heavy.
On Thursday night, longtime Ottawa General Manager Bryan Murray stunned the hockey world when he revealed on TSN he has Stage 4 colon cancer that has spread to other organs. Murray is the beloved uncle of Sabres General Manager Tim Murray, who couldn’t bear to watch the video on his uncle until he closed his office door the next day. Murray knew the situation already, but it was still hard to accept.
Tim Murray appeared on TSN Radio in Ottawa Friday afternoon and was emotional talking about his uncle. He bared his soul about how much Bryan Murray has meant to his hockey career, including the last two decades in pro front offices.
And he made the stunning admission that he’s “second-guessed” all of his life decisions since he learned of Bryan Murray’s situation at the draft in June.
And that includes being in Buffalo.
“What’s happened has happened and I’m here,” Murray told TSN. “But under different circumstances, yeah, if you knew things earlier or certainly if I knew that, I wouldn’t have been very anxious to be out the door. I would have been quite content to know I was there as his assistant for as long as he wanted.”
That was startling. Could Tim Murray – the wonderfully eccentric rinkrat that Buffalo fans have hung virtually all of their tanking/rebuilding hopes on – be out the door someday soon and go back to his old team?
“I’m committed completely,” Murray insisted to The Buffalo News prior to Saturday’s game against Toronto. “I don’t know how it came across, but what I was trying to say if I didn’t say it well was if I had known he had Stage 4 cancer when I left, when I was offered this job, I probably would not have taken this job.
“Now, he might have made me take the job anyway, but I would have told him, ‘I’m not leaving.’ Other than that, I didn’t know it, I can say to you I’m happy to be here completely. It’s tough here as far as what we’re going through right now, but nothing to that degree. I can handle this. This is the easy part. Even though it doesn’t look easy, it is compared to other things.”
When Tim Murray talks to his uncle, he insists they don’t talk about hockey. He wants to focus on Bryan’s health and treatment schedule. At age 51, he’s even had a colonoscopy scheduled for January. His uncle keeps changing the subject back to hockey.
“I talk to him once a week, and I get updates from my parents. That’s about all I can do,” Tim Murray said. “As far as me doing my job, there’s no change. Rochester on Monday, Erie Tuesday when Connor McDavid got hurt. I was in Peterborough Thursday for the OHL against the Russians, Rochester last night. That’s all easy for me.”
Watching Sabres games has not been easy. Saturday’s rollicking victory was easily their most entertaining of the season. Too many have been utter embarrassments.
“Bryan has told me about the silver lining, about Pittsburgh and Chicago,” Tim Murray said. “... As frustrating as this is for me, he says, ‘You know at the end of the day what’s going to happen and what the reward is. Can you stay off the ledge? Can you not make a crazy trade because you’re pissed off that morning?’
“I know that but when you get it from him with what he’s going through, and he’s worried about what I’m going through, that’s quite a feeling.”
Don’t think Murray is going to sit still. He insists he will make changes on this team, but players’ trade values are getting depressed by their often-terrible play.
“I believe we’re better than we were last year and we haven’t played better,” he said. “Is it too many new guys? Are we playing our worst hockey of the year now versus going forward? I don’t know the answer. We’ll see.”
I chatted at length with Murray about prospects in Rochester, and he likes the situation they’re in down there. Really likes the way Joel Armia is looking. And he also fired a warning shot when he said he’s already got Terry Pegula’s approval to stash an NHL contract in the minor leagues if he sees fit. Watch out, Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros. Can Mark Pysyk be far away?
“He’s playing better, but I’ve got high expectations for him,” Murray said. “I have no problem putting an NHL contract down if Pysyk makes me do that. He’s got to make me do that. I need him to be better and really be here, not be here 1-2 games and fall backward.”
As for Ted Nolan & Co, Murray was hardly effusive in praise of the job being done. He said he gave Nolan “carte blanche” to hire assistants last summer after initially offering some suggestions. Then Murray got to the heart of the matter.
“Have they got the most out of these players? I don’t think they have. Do they think they have? I don’t believe that either. I don’t go to Teddy every day and say, ‘You’re OK.’ I don’t steer clear, but I’m not micromanaging him or his staff. He got the staff he wanted, and I’m going to let them do their jobs. At the end of the day, we’ll see what kind of development there is.”
Easy translation: Just because it’s believed McDavid or Jack Eichel are really the goal of the season, Nolan isn’t getting a free pass. Especially since Pat LaFontaine isn’t around any more.
And since Murray insists he’s not going anywhere, no matter the clear eventuality of his uncle’s situation, Nolan best get a few more games like Saturday night out of this group.