During a walk through the Sabres’ arena Wednesday, Tim Murray saw Buffalo’s coaches. He stopped in to talk.
He wishes the coaches would do that.
“Maybe they could put a coffee in their hand once in a while and do two hours of video instead of three and get out and get to know our players and talk to our players,” Murray said. “It’s about coaching individuals a little more and coaching system a little less.”
If there was ever a doubt about the disconnect between coach Dan Bylsma and his players, Murray squashed it during his season-ending news conference.
“One of my complaints was we worry way too much about the opposition – way too much about the opposition,” Murray said of the coaching staff. “I think we should worry more about what’s going on in this building, and I told them that.”
The damning comments will be filed in Murray’s notebook along with other opinions the general manager gathered during exit interviews with players. He’ll bring his notes to Florida next week for a meeting with owner Terry Pegula. They’ll discuss what the information means.
It could mean Bylsma’s job isn’t safe.
“He has three years left on his deal,” Murray said. “I have three years left on my deal. I’m the general manager today. He’s the coach today. I haven’t had any thoughts of firing him up to this point.
“The reason I always say today is because something can happen tomorrow.”
One definitive move for Murray is establishing order in what seems to be a lawless atmosphere.
“We have to be clearer in our message, all of us,” Murray said. “The players want black and white. That comes to team rules. That comes to team schedules. That comes to team style of play. That comes to role on your team. That comes to being a Buffalo Sabre.
“That doesn’t just fall on the coach. That falls on the coach, but it also falls on me. It falls on the players.
“We have to be very clear on the rules. We have to be very clear on the consequence of breaking rules, and it goes down the line from rules to style of play, how we practice. We have to make more demands, so I have to make more demands of Dan. Dan has to make more demands of players. I personally have to make more demands of myself, and we intend to do that.”
Murray took the blame for the failed season in his opening statement. He also made it clear there was enough blame to go around.
“We feel we have the talent and we didn’t, for multiple reasons through all the layers of the organization, we just didn’t get it done,” the GM said. “I think the players have legitimate gripes about the coach. I think players have some legitimate gripes about the way our team is built, and that’s me. I think the players have some gripes that aren’t legitimate and are excuses.
“We’re all to blame.”
Murray wanted to hear the players’ gripes about the coaches. It was a key component of his exit interviews.
“I think players pay attention,” Murray said. “The more you win, the more they pay attention. The more demands you make of them, the more they pay attention. The more accountability there is, the more they pay attention.
“Obviously, we’re not at that point yet.”
As he did earlier in the year, Murray said it’s up to the players to have an internal drive for success. The season turned toward its disappointing finish after the February bye week. Buffalo lost to bottom-feeding Colorado and Arizona, and it stumbled to a 7-13-2 record in the final 22 games.
“Where is the accountability on the players when we come out of the break and we can’t beat Colorado and Arizona when we have a sniff of a playoff spot?” Murray said. “I’m not saying we’re making the playoffs, but we’re right there. We played great going into the break.
“I can’t blame the coaches 100 percent for that. I can’t take 100 percent of the blame for that. I’ll take blame for a lot of stuff, but sometimes the players have to take a little bit of the blame, too.”
Where Murray took the most blame was his inability to build depth. Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov were among the key players to suffer injuries, and they weren’t adequately replaced.
“Injuries went wrong,” Murray said. “I haven’t put us in a position that we can withstand that yet. I hope to one day be able to do that, and develop and create enough depth that we can do that. But I haven’t done that to this point.”
Fans will often stop Murray during games as he makes his way to his office. He understands the pain they’re feeling. The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs for six straight seasons. The Bills are in a 17-year drought.
“If you’re a ticket-buying fan of any team, you want your team in the playoffs,” Murray said. “I understand the frustration. I understand the disappointment because I’m frustrated and disappointed at not being in the playoffs, and I haven’t paid for one ticket and I haven’t been a lifelong fan or resident of this city. So I get it, big-time.”
In other news from Murray’s talk:
*He declined to say whether Okposo’s illness will carry into next season. The team’s No. 1 right winger and marquee addition was put in a neuro intensive care unit this month with an undisclosed ailment.
“I don’t have any anticipation or any information,” Murray said. “None.”
*The GM is open to bringing back Brian Gionta. The 38-year-old captain was the only player to appear in all 82 games, recording 15 goals and 35 points.
“My expectation would be a one-year deal, and the money would have to work for us,” Murray said. “He had a very good year. I think he’s a great guy. He’s a great teammate. I think he’s a culture guy, so I do have interest.”
*The Sabres are unsure of Cal Petersen’s plans. The goaltending prospect led Notre Dame to the Frozen Four during his junior season. The Sabres want to sign him, but Petersen could opt for free agency.
“He hasn’t decided if he’s leaving school yet, so I can’t anticipate him joining our organization or another one,” Murray said.
*The Sabres can sign Eichel to an extension July 1, and that is high on Murray’s to-do list. The center has one year left on his entry-level contract.
“I asked him point blank: Do you like Buffalo? Do you like what’s going on here?” Murray said. “He said he did. Very frustrated that we’re not a playoff team, wants to be in the playoffs.
“I made a promise to him that I would do the best that I could to make the team around him better and that we will be a long-term playoff team.”