Mike Harrington: With Tankmaster gone, a hockey czar is what Sabres need - The Buffalo News
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Mike Harrington: With Tankmaster gone, a hockey czar is what Sabres need

Farewell to the kooky character we dubbed GMTM.

Farewell to The Tank, as ugly a saga as there has been in the history of Buffalo sports.

Hockey Heaven? Next case.

The word you hear is there's plenty of interest in NHL circles to get in line and be a replacement for Tim Murray. This franchise is now so broken and so bereft of anyone with any idea how to operate it, lots of folks think it won't be that hard to do better.

As unseemly as it is, it was apparent that the Sabres' players were going to get their wish and torpedo Dan Bylsma. Murray did that himself with last week's outlandish news conference that buried his coach, something you just never see. Maybe Terry and Kim Pegula didn't like that look and decided they had seen enough of Murray too.

Murray sure seemed to sense he was on shaky ground last week, and the continued rise of the Toronto Maple Leafs has to be a burr in the side of the team's owners. Still, his sacking on Thursday rates right there with the 2013 firing of Lindy Ruff as perhaps the most stunning in franchise history.

Just like Murray's talks, exit of Sabres' GM, coach came quickly

And as for Jack Eichel and agent Peter Fish? Their denials seem pretty hollow now.

The Pegulas have never understood optics since they've been here and that certainly was the case again Thursday. Firing both Bylsma and Murray one day after the Eichel firestorm erupted paints their star player as a coach killer -- and now maybe even a GM killer! And that's really unfair. Eichel said a lot of the right things Wednesday to John Vogl of The News and there seemed to be a lot of sincerity in his words.

But the actions of the owners seem to indicate there were other words spoken as well. And if Boston University's David Quinn is hired as the new coach, you may as well not have a general manager and give Eichel that job too. How much pandering to the whims of a 20-year-old can one franchise do?

Jack Eichel responds: Our exclusive Q&A with the Sabres' star

It's hard to say what happened to Murray this season. He flat-out froze at times, as if he felt this was another development year and it wasn't playoffs-or-bust. Given his contract extension in October, maybe that's how he felt. Murray didn't make any trades early in the season when Eichel got hurt, didn't fire Bylsma during the season when it could have been justified, got nothing done at the trade deadline either.

Murray probably deserved another season to try to fix things, especially on defense. But it's known the Pegulas, especially Kim, have often cringed about his style since he was hired in 2014. Other GMs may have been put off as well. League officials, especially officiating supervisors, could not have been happy with the way they were berated by Murray at times either.

Plenty of national types agreed with this corner's view that Rasmus Ristolainen's three-game suspension was excessive. So was the onerous schedule of road games the Sabres got in 2015-16. It seemed like a lot of messages were being sent Murray's way from high places.

Everyone knows the Sabres tanked hard for nearly two full seasons. You can say it worked because it produced Eichel (and Sam Reinhart), and there's a case to be made for that. But Murray overplayed his hand so much aside from that in terms of bad contracts and overpaying on trades that the maneuvers were doomed to fail.

The culture of the Sabres is an ugly one. And that's what happens when you tell people it's OK to "lose properly", easily the worst quote Murray ever uttered. It's never OK. And as a result, the team has a fan base that's permanently scarred and a slipshod roster that's already far too close to the cap for its accomplishments.

When Terry Pegula speaks on the Sabres to the local hockey media Friday ... hold on. Be still, my heart. We need to repeat that sentence.

When Terry Pegula speaks on the Sabres to the local hockey media Friday -- for the first time in 3 1/2 years -- he has a lot of damage control to do. And he better have a lot of answers.

The first thing Pegula should say is this team is going to hire a president of hockey operations, not a president of tickets. Russ Brandon needs to stay far away from this situation. Shame on the Pegulas if he had any say in Murray's sacking.

A growing structure in hockey nowadays is president, GM and coach. Think Brendan Shanahan in Toronto, John Davidson in Columbus and Bob Nicholson in Edmonton as current presidents making big impacts. It seems like deposed Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi might be a darn good candidate.

Well-known names abound as Sabres search for GM, coach

Think how different everything will be now without Murray. A new GM/president won't be wedded to Robin Lehner in goal because they traded a first-round pick for him. Won't be obligated to play Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian because of all the assets they traded to get him. Won't be obligated to watch Reinhart -- and even Eichel -- float around the ice simply because they were No. 2 picks.

What happens now with KHL defenseman Viktor Antipin? With Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen? With whatever deal Murray might have been making with Vegas GM George McPhee for the expansion draft? The entire scouting and development philosophy of Murray has been swept out the door, along with amateur head Greg Royce and pro head Rob Murphy.

This franchise is in complete disarray now. The Sabres are not simply a product of injuries or losing a lottery. They are a product of bad ownership, bad hockey decisions, bad coaching, a stripped farm system and too many bad players.

Pegula and his wife need to find a hockey president -- and then get out of the way. When Murray triumphantly came home with Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly after the 2015 draft it was, to steal his words, lots of rainbows and jujubes. He was on his way to being a Buffalo sports icon.

Murray didn't give himself a chance to finish the job. The Tank was a foolish gamble that failed. No more shortcuts. It's time to for the Sabres to do things the right way.

No holds barred as Murray sets his course

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