SUNRISE, Fla. – Tim Murray’s unique vocabulary has media in other cities wide-eyed with envy over some of the pearls filling Western New York’s notebooks and microphones.
Let’s go through a roll call of some of the gems we’ve heard in the last year from the bespectacled brewmaster of this Sabres’ rebuild:
Unicorns. Rainbows. Jujubes. Don’t forget “getting my pee-pee slapped” (for griping to the league about supplemental discipline issues).
And now, on an epochal weekend in franchise annals, we have mushrooms. He didn’t mean portobellos or shiitakes either.
Plenty of hockey people might think Murray has hallucinogens at work during this Extreme Makeover of the formerly taking-on-water SS Sabre. “On mushrooms” was how he put it Friday morning here when asked his reaction to acquiring Evander Kane and Robin Lehner and being on the verge of drafting Jack Eichel for the three No. 1 picks he had to start the season.
He’s Trader Tim. He doesn’t care what you think or I think, nor should he. Sometimes he doesn’t care what his own employees think either. He’ll tell them that too – and not in a G-rated way.
But behind the funny quotes and funky talk is serious business. Murray is well on his way to either being one of the most beloved general managers in Buffalo sports history, or having the greatest flameout this town has ever seen.
This is an all-or-nothing approach that’s probably needed. The franchise is 45 years old and has no Stanley Cups. Anyone would look good next to Darcy Regier’s utter passivity.
Just as he did for Kane and Zach Bogosian, Murray gave up a boatload for Lehner, Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn. The Sabres are dramatically better, especially with Eichel, than they were two days ago. Probably not playoff better yet but after last season, of course, it’s not going to be hard to be 25-30 points better.
“Tim does surprising things,” amateur scouting director Greg Royce said Saturday in BB&T Center. “We didn’t know what magic he’d pull off but I think in the last 48 hours he pulled some rabbits out of the hat, some tricks up his sleeve that I’d never imagine.”
New coach Dan Bylsma couldn’t stop his smiling when he met with reporters Saturday because he admitted he spent late Friday night jotting down lines – which he wouldn’t divulge other than to say O’Reilly was his No. 1 center for now. Tyler Ennis apparently raved about O’Reilly from their days together with Team Canada in May. Murray has been known to be hot on the Colorado center’s trail for a year.
“He’s been real busy on the phone talking with different teams, talking to different people and ends up making the deal,” Bylsma said. “I think you have to have a lot of nerve to pull off a deal. We did give up some young players to make the deal happen but he pulls it off and we’re immediately a different team in a lot of ways and a better team.”
Think of the key veterans Murray has waved farewell to in the 17 months he’s been on the job: Steve Ott and Ryan Miller, Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford. Murray, of course, tanked his way through the end of this season by dealing Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth, Brian Flynn, Torey Mitchell and Chris Stewart. Cody Hodgson could get bought out as soon as Sunday. It’s hard to see the Sabres re-signing Patrick Kaleta other than maybe to an AHL deal.
Murray isn’t afraid of shipping out prospects either. Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux went in the deal that brought Kane and Bogosian. Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher all went this weekend.
Murray recounted Friday morning that he thanked his scouts for all their work on the Sabres’ second first-round pick, No. 21 overall, but very succinctly told them, “Twenty-one is gone” after the Lehner trade. It’s how he rolls. Think of “Buffalo selects Jack Eichel.”
He had to do likewise about No. 31 when the O’Reilly deal went down. How did the staff react then? Another classic Murray zap tells the tale.
“These guys aren’t in diapers,” he said. “They’ve been scouting a long time. They know who Ryan O’Reilly is. Even though they’re amateur scouts and don’t see a lot of NHL games live, they see them on TV. They’re excited.”
Many general managers (see: Regier, Darcy) stand frozen in fear, unable to make a big move. Murray is going to blow some trades but he won’t stop trying.
“I have no fear I think because I’m prepared and I think my staff helps me a lot,” Murray said. “I’m a scenario guy. Like I’ve said from the start, we have a goal on how we want to build but it’s a moving target all the time. But if you don’t have a moving target and aren’t prepared for something out of the blue that can come at you, I guess you’re not going to make these deals.”
Murray deserves praise for being bold. Now let’s throw some water on the party.
He gave up an awful lot for Bogosian, who has an injury history, and Kane, who has character issues and has one 20-goal season in his career. He’s about to make O’Reilly a $60 million player just because he has a great two-way game and wins faceoffs. Never mind that he’s had one season of more than 20 goals or 60 points in his six-year career.
And he woefully overpaid for Lehner with a first-round pick and took veteran David Legwand’s salary off uncle Bryan Murray’s hands as a condition of the deal. Vancouver got only a third- and seventh-round pick Saturday for Eddie Lack. The Rangers got three picks, none higher than No. 57, for Cam Talbot.
Murray has his reasons. Lehner is younger at 23, has two years left on his deal and then would still be under control as a restricted free agent. Murray knows him from scouting and drafting him during his Ottawa days. It’s the guy he wanted. If it works, it’s a good deal. But it’s a huge risk with some iffy NHL stats and concussion issues on his resume.
“You know if you’re going to go down the road of a trade like this that it’s not going to be a freebie,” Murray said.
The players have to love this bold approach from their GM. It’s clear Murray has consulted Ennis and he said he got congratulatory texts from some players. Late Friday night, Kane simply tweeted “Tim Murray” followed by four applause emojis.
Tweeted Yahoo “Puck Daddy” blogger Greg Wyshysnki, “The greatest nerd in pro sports today is Tim Murray. He might be my favorite hockey thing right now.”
A lot of Buffalo fans agree. It’s going to be a wild ride to find out if the feeling holds.