Mike Harrington: The clock is definitely ticking on Murray - The Buffalo News

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Mike Harrington: The clock is definitely ticking on Murray

There's a solitary voice that stands out in the crowd during the all-too-frequent quiet moments in KeyBank Center. He's in Section 317, just to the right of the press box, and he picks his moments perfectly.

He first became known with nightly bellows of "Firrrrre Re-gieeeeeer" during the tumultuous final months of Darcy Regier's reign as general manager. Now he's got a new signature call that we've heard for quite a while. He pulled it out again in the final seconds of both the first and second periods and with about five minutes left in Tuesday's gut-wrencher against Nashville.

Simple and to the point as always.

"Clockkkk's Tick-ing, Mur-raaaaaaay! Clock's Tick-iinng!"

Yep, our favorite leatherlung now has GM Tim Murray squarely in his crosshairs. And it's pretty appropriate as we head to Wednesday afternoon's NHL trade deadline.

Tuesday's 5-4 overtime defeat was yet another dagger for this club as it blew a pair of two-goal leads -- including one in the third period -- and suffered its third straight complete crusher and fourth loss in a row overall.

This team isn't going to the playoffs and that's going to make six straight seasons out of the spring party. For those saying anything is possible, a reminder that this team carries the remarkable weight of not having a mere five-game winning streak at any point since 2012.

That's a crazy weird stat. How many times has an NHL team won five or more games in a row just this season alone? Would you believe 27?

This team isn't good enough to put consistency together like that and the heat is certainly turning up on Murray to set in motion the plan to fix things starting on Wednesday. You can't expect anything major just yet, likely the dump of unrestricted free agents like Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov and perhaps captain Brian Gionta, but you can keep putting wheels in motion for bigger moves come June.

Injuries have been an issue all year. There's also been lot of understandable hand-wringing over Dan Bylsma and his system but the bottom line to Bylsma is that if you change coaches here it would really be due to missteps by his GM. That's the situation we saw in St. Louis, Brooklyn and Boston. In those three cases, the GMs were trying to hold on to their spots.

That's not the case here. Murray, remember, got a contract extension from Terry Pegula in October. You can argue if that was a tad premature or not but the one thing that's clear is Murray has never deviated from his plan, not matter how impatient fans or media members (raises hand) are getting during this rebuild.

The Sabres are behind where they should be. You can blame injuries and there's obviously key impact there. Still, for all the Jack Eichel apologists out there, the record with No. 15 back in the lineup is an un-playoff 19-17-6. Ultimately, however, the GM's office is where a ton of the responsibility lies here.

Murray has engendered a certain trust within the fan base and the locker room. He knows what's wrong here and there was a feeling at the end of the Regier years that the Buffalo front office didn't have a clue what it was doing at times.

That's not the case now.

"Tim is a straight shooter," Evander Kane said Tuesday. "You kind of know what you're going to get and he has a job to do. He's going to do what he feels is best for this team and what he thinks is going to work. We'll leave those decisions to him."

The decisions should go like this: Get a third-round pick for Franson and a bag of pucks for Kulikov, one of the most disastrous trade acquisitions in franchise history. A third- or fourth-rounder for Gionta as well. Maybe likewise for Anders Nilsson. Without getting a No. 1 defenseman back -- which isn't happening -- you hold on to Evander Kane. He's become a more important player in this rebuild than Sam Reinhart, and looking like a better investment than the massive overpay given to Ryan O'Reilly.

Kulikov was a physical force during last year's Florida-New York Islanders playoff series, the main reason Murray traded for him, and played for Russia in the World Cup.

But what did Murray end up getting? A reasonable facsimile of tank season "stars" Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit. The prevailing theory is that Kulikov can't possibly be close to healthy, still dogged by his preseason collision with an open bench door to the small of his back.

So see if you can land an actual NHL-level defenseman now for your second or third pair in exchange for a young forward like Marcus Foligno or Zemgus Girgensons. Set the wheels for June to see if anyone has interest in Tyler Ennis' contract. Or the rare chance someone would take Josh Gorges or Zach Bogosian off your hands.

Murray's 2016 draft looks like it could be very strong and it's important it turns out that way. Trades thinned out the prospect corps and his 2014 draft, the first of his reign, might turn into a total wash other than Reinhart.

By this time next season, Murray needs to build more depth up front, perhaps with some of his farmhands, but he certainly better be able to show he can build an NHL-caliber defense corps. So far, he hasn't.

Remember, Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe were Regier draft picks. And Ristolainen, getting paid No. 1 level salary, isn't playing anywhere near that level of late. His ole move to let Filip Forsberg skate in for the tying goal Tuesday was baffling.

Murray has salary cap issues, which he shouldn't have for a franchise that's won nothing yet. He has been on the job over three years now. Maybe he's patient but the rest of us are not. Hockey is not a sport where you need to be. The Leafs are proving that. Go out and grab it.

It starts Wednesday. Like the guy in 317 says: Clock's ticking, Murray. For all the people who want to fire Bylsma, which may not be a bad idea, the owner has shown a willingness to pay people not to work anymore. If things are still like this by next year's deadline, that contract extension Murray signed might not be worth the paper it's printed on.

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