Tim Murray told the Sabres his trade-deadline agenda would be up to them. The general manager will be a seller Wednesday.
The players know it didn’t have to be that way.
“The deadline’s not a fun thing when you’re in a position like we are,” Kyle Okposo said after Buffalo handed Nashville a 5-4 overtime victory Tuesday night. “We had a chance a few days ago to write a different course and weren’t able to do that. This one stings.
“We’ve got a good group, and tomorrow’s a tough day. Tomorrow’s a tough day to be a hockey player in a situation like this. You never want to see friends go.”
But go they will. Buffalo followed up three bad losses with a fourth, coughing up a pair of two-goal leads to cement their status as also-rans. Murray can fire up the phone until Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline.
“Tim is a straight shooter,” left wing Evander Kane said. “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 best for this team and what he thinks is going to work.
“We'll leave those decisions to him.”
Indeed, the trade calls Wednesday will be done by Murray. But if the Sabres had been better than 26-26-11, guys might be coming instead of going.
Murray challenged the Sabres following a 5-2 loss in Montreal on Jan. 31. If they wanted to stay together, they had to win.
They’ve gone 6-6-2, including their 0-3-1 slide.
“We put ourselves in situations where we could have won those games, and we should have,” defenseman Cody Franson said. “Obviously, with the trade deadline it’s probably a little more worrisome for some guys than others.”
Franson is in the group that can worry. Rental defensemen have been in demand, and Franson and Dmitry Kulikov are on the to-go list. After a forgettable season that started with an injury and has featured just two points, Kulikov might be happy to leave.
“If anything happens, I’ll obviously deal with it after the fact,” he said.
Franson would rather stay.
“It’s tough to not hear everything that’s going on,” the defenseman said. “We’ve got a good group of guys and a group that I think can figure this out as we go. I’d love to stay, but we’ll address that when it comes down to it, if it comes down to it.”
Captain Brian Gionta will head to the spotlight after a one-goal, two-point night. He has a modified no-trade clause and has listed five teams to which he’ll accept a trade. If one of those wants the 38-year-old, Murray could listen since Buffalo is a stagnant bunch that hasn’t been growing.
“I've made my position pretty clear I want to stay here and be here," Gionta said. “Part of the reasoning coming here a few years back is to see this through and make this a playoff team. I want to be a part of that.”
If the Sabres want to be a playoff team this year, they need 32 points to reach the usual cutoff of 95. Since only 19 games and 38 points remain, that’s not going to happen the way they’re playing.
First, they lost to bottom-dwellers Colorado and Arizona.
“To be blunt, those are two games we can't lose,” Kane said. “Anybody with common sense realizes that."
They followed it up with another debacle. The Sabres allowed the Predators to erase a 4-2 third-period deficit. After the Sabres took a 2-0 lead in the first, the Preds had a 35-12 shot run.
“We’ve got to put together a full 60 or it’s going to be more embarrassing losses like this,” said defenseman Jake McCabe, who is agitated with the consistent letdowns. “You guys come in here and you ask us the same questions every game, whether it’s blowing a lead like this, and we’re going to give you the same answer. Obviously, I don’t have an answer for it.”
It doesn’t seem like the players or coaches have an answer. Murray will have an answer Wednesday when teams call about his guys.
The answer will be yes, take them.
“It was in our control,” McCabe said. “We would have obviously liked to have been in a better position.”