Mike Harrington: Deadline dud adds to Murray's disappointment over lost weekend - The Buffalo News
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Mike Harrington: Deadline dud adds to Murray's disappointment over lost weekend

Until Wednesday, we've never seen Tim Murray at a loss for words.

The Sabres general manager has regaled us with tales of rainbows, jujubes, mushrooms and even scouts in diapers over the past three years, but there was no jocularity in his voice and no flaring in his eyes as he met reporters in KeyBank Center.

Murray seemed stunned, a little catatonic at times even, in discussing what he admitted was the quietest NHL trade deadline he had ever seen. Too many teams still think they're on the fringe of the playoffs to be real sellers. Murray was trying to sell but there was no real interest in making what Murray called a "fair trade."

There's no way to paint this as anything but a disappointment. The Sabres aren't making the playoffs and Murray figured he could pick up some extra draft picks for the likes of Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov. There was simply no goalie market around the league so Anders Nilsson wasn't in play much. And Murray honored Brian Gionta's wish to stay, even though it seemed there was some interest in the captain.

As we learned back in 2006, teams normally say they can never have enough defensemen. And Murray can't get anyone to drop, say, a fourth- or fifth- or even sixth-round pick in his lap for Franson or Kulikov?

A mere bag of pucks would have been some compensation for the gruesome sight of watching Kulikov -- who can't possibly be healthy -- play this year. Alas, it turns out other teams have scouts too. It was another bad day to add to the worst week of Murray's three years as GM.

Even Doug Whaley probably thinks Murray is screwing up asset management of this franchise.

When the Sabres landed in Denver for practice on Friday, they were optimistic about a four-point weekend against the league's worst teams. Of course, they frittered both games away against Colorado and Arizona and returned home with nothing. Then they blew a 4-2 lead in the third period here Tuesday, suffering an overtime loss to Nashville.

In just that time, the Sabres have fallen nine points out of the race for third in the Atlantic Division and six back in the wild-card. Sportsclubstats.com said they entered Wednesday with a 1.1 percent chance of making the playoffs -- but a 54 percent chance of a bottom-3 finish in the East. That's not what the rebuild template said.

Murray sure seems to sense his team is toast.  The GM admitted he was in the arena meeting with the coaches until 12:30 Wednesday morning following the Nashville loss and flat-out called the last three games "unacceptable."

And sorry to tell you this, denizens of social media. But Murray isn't blaming Dan Bylsma and his staff.

"We go out West and we just can't play. That to me is squarely on the players," Murray said in the money quote of the day. "There was no less preparation by our coaching staff. There was no less working by the coaching staff. We didn't fly to Denver and go and get drunk for three days. We got off the plane, had a real good practice in Denver with a lot of pace to try to get them up to speed." In the game "we were mentally not there and I would say we were physically not there."

This season is going to be a mulligan because of all the injuries this team has had. Frankly, that's an excuse that drives me crazy and the Sabres are only in the top third of the league in man-games lost. But in terms of important injuries, nobody can touch them when you think of the prolonged absences of Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and even Kulikov. Remember, when Kulikov was acquired, he was immediately slotted in as Rasmus Ristolainen's partner on the top pair.

While Eichel brought instant results with his triumphant return at Ottawa and his two third-period goals to win his home debut against the New York Rangers two nights later, the results haven't really been there. Buffalo's record without Eichel was 7-9-5. Its record with him is a still-mediocre 19-17-6, not remotely a playoff-level team.

Bylsma has his problems for sure. This team sits back far too much with leads. According to longtime Western New York stats guru Mike Haim, the Sabres and Minnesota are the only teams in the NHL to lose four games in regulation this year where they had two-goal leads.

And that stat, of course, doesn't count two other massive meltdowns: The blown 3-0 third-period lead in October in Philadelphia that turned into a shootout loss, or Tuesday's self-destruction against Nashville in which a pair of two-goal bulges suddenly turned into an overtime loss.

The analytics show how the nooses really tighten around the Sabres' necks when the lead gets sliced to one. In those spots, the Sabres' Corsi rating of shot attempts at 5-on-5 is just 41.1 percent -- second-last in the NHL to Arizona. Up a goal on the road, the figure drops to an abominable 39.8 (28th in the league).

The players are constantly talking about not wanting to sit back. More than once this year, you've heard Eichel say he's not the coach. Kane talked Tuesday morning about no rule against scoring more goals. Reinhart's game, elegant in its simplicity and decision-making last season, has too often gone awry in recent weeks.

The disconnect between the players and Bylsma seems large at times, as if there was a move being waited for inside the dressing room. Murray made it clear Wednesday he's not going to allow any entitlement to go on within his room and was clearly still chafed by Sunday's collapse in Arizona.

"Three goals in the third period ... That's just a complete mental breakdown and it's certainly not acceptable," he said. ".... I wasn't happy after those two games. To blame the coaches, I think we all should take our fair share of the blame.

"If the blame is all me, it's all me and I'm good with that. But I think the players have to take responsibility for that too."

So it's going to be interesting going forward these last 19 games. No new faces. Guys who thought they were gone still here. A clear tug o' war between the coach's system and his young stars. A GM openly backing the coach and telling his young studs to zip it.

This is not one big happy family. Without using any memorable words, the GM made that pretty clear Wednesday.

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