While saying he wasn't surprised that Toronto landed Mike Babcock, Sabres General Manager Tim Murray admitted Thursday he believed Buffalo and Detroit were finalists for the coach.
"My understanding is it was Detroit and us, and that he’d spoken to Toronto," Murray told WGR-AM 550. "That was my understanding of the situation."
Babcock, of course, spurned both favorites and accepted an eight-year, $50 million deal with the Maple Leafs.
"When a team like Toronto’s involved, you can never be surprised," Murray said on the radio.
While the Sabres certainly looked like they were in the driver's seat, Murray said he never felt he had Babcock locked up.
"We were quite a piece down the line," Murray said. "We were in negotiations of a contract, knowing full well that at the end of the day there’s no deal done until he says, ‘I’m coming to you.’
"At certain times, yeah you might have thought that a conversation went well or whatever, but hey, it is what it is."
Murray, who is interviewing potential coaches for the first time, is pleased with how it's going despite losing out on hockey's biggest free agent.
"It was a great process for me," the GM said. "This is my first real shot at doing interviews and hiring my coach. He was the first guy that we looked at, and it was a great process to have a guy of his ilk, considered one of the best coaches in the National Hockey League available, and taking a real good, hard look at us in Buffalo after 30th-place finish. I thought the process was great and certainly great for my experience.
"We were right there to the end knocking on the door. I’ve got to feel pretty good about that."
The Sabres have reportedly been granted permission to interview former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, but Murray declined to comment on candidates.
"I just don’t feel like making the list public," he said on WGR. "I have no preconceived notions that I want a veteran NHL guy or that I want a young guy to grow with young players. I’m looking for the best guy, the guy that comes in here and is a good fit."