Hold off on the thought that Tim Murray is automatically trading Jamie McGinn just because the Buffalo Sabres’ top-line left winger will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
The club’s general manager acknowledged Thursday’s he’s had multiple conversations with McGinn’s agent about a contract extension, a departure from his past policy since he arrived in 2014 of dumping UFAs at the NHL trade deadline to acquire draft picks. And McGinn is happy to hear the chatter too.
“I hope that they’re talking a lot but it’s out of my control,” McGinn told The Buffalo News after Thursday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins in First Niagara Center. “What I can do comes on the ice, being a good teammate and trying to help this team win. That’s between them. My focus in here is to play hockey. I like it here and that’s why I have an agent to deal with that kind of stuff.”
Murray said he has spoken to agent Thane Campbell two or three times in recent weeks. Upon his return from a recent scouting combine in Florida, Murray said he noted Campbell’s quotes in a Buffalo News article when the team was in Denver about how McGinn has grown to love the city since being acquired along with Ryan O’Reilly in the blockbuster draft night trade in June.
“Everybody was tweeting, ‘Murray, get him signed. He loves Buffalo,’ Murray joked during a regularly scheduled interview on WGR Radio. “We’ve asked what their thoughts are on term and on money. We’ve given them our thoughts on term. So if we can do something that suits both parties, we will try. And if we can’t, again depending on these three weeks how the team does, I don’t want to have a player leave here without getting anything back.”
Murray said he’s liked the season of McGinn, who has 11 goals and 11 assists in 52 games. McGinn, 27, is fourth on the team with 22 points and fifth in goals. He has a cap hit of $2.95 million this season on the back half of a two-year deal he signed with Colorado in 2014. He’s likely to draw 3-4 years in free agency and could push $4 milllion annually.
“He’s played well for us,” Murray said. “Besides playing well and scoring, I like his approach to the game. I like his on-ice and off-ice demenaor and approach. I think he has personality and cojones that we like in some of our players. If we could get a deal done, that would be great.
“But what we might be offering now based on comparables might not be a realistic deal because we know when guys like him are so close to July 1 that his comparables today will go out the door on July 1. ... We might be talking two different languages here but we’re talking.”
The Sabres have 11 games left before the Feb. 29 deadline and McGinn is determined to not let the growing chatter around his status to become a distraction.
“I’ve been though it before. I know what it is,” he said. “You start focusing on that and it will effect your game so I’m just going to stay loose, stay the same guy and things will take care of itself. You guys can have the countdown to the day and I’m just going to worry about playing hockey.”
The likelihood of the Sabres missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year adds to Murray’s issues. They blew a 2-0 lead Thursday, failed to score on an overtime power play and went 0 for 3 in the shootout. So much for the chance at a three-game winning streak.
“You feel like you let one slip away,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “You feel like we deserved to have better.”
Murray said he told Bylsma Thursday he has yet to decide if his team wiill be a seller or buyer at the deadline but it’s almost certain the Sabres will sell. They’re 11 points out of a wild-card slot in the Eastern Conference with 30 games left and are just four points out of the NHL basement. But they’re also just six points shy of getting as high as 20th overall.
“It was very informal,” Murray said of the chat with his coach. “I said, ‘Obviously it’s going to take a lot of winning by us and a lot of losing by other teams but you have 2-3 weeks to show me that we either are in contention or we’re not and I’ll act accordingly at that time.’ I’m leaning a certain way but I’m going to wait and see what the players and our coaching staff do between now and then.”
The Sabres’ chances have been confounded by their offensive struggles and their NHL-worst 9-15-3 record at home.
“We want to win in front of our fans. They’re hungry as well for some wins,” McGinn said. “Boston is strong. We stayed with them. Out of our last three games, we have five points so we’ll take that as a positive.”
Barring a sudden long winning streak, time is clearly against the Sabres. So is the number of teams they would have to pass to get in the playoff hunt.
“I’m going to be very pragmatic about this,” Murray said. “I hope they can. And in saying that, if we’re going to be buyers, they better do it now. That’s pretty cut and dried.”