Whenever the NHL Draft approached, the joke became how few words Tim Murray would use to announce the pick. He used six to draft Sam Reinhart. He needed only four for Jack Eichel and Alex Nylander.
He smashed that record Thursday. Murray summed up his stint as general manager of the Sabres in just one.
Murray never wasted time in Buffalo, and that continued after owner Terry Pegula fired him and coach Dan Bylsma. Asked if he wanted to talk or if there was anything he’d like to say, Murray simply texted back his one-word answer.
It wasn’t clear if the thanks were for his first GM opportunity, his four years in Buffalo or for the condolences expressed about his departure. Either way, it was a fitting way for Murray to exit – quick and to the point.
Pegula and his wife, Kim, followed Murray's lead. They turned their attention from the Bills to the Sabres on Wednesday, when they held a year-end meeting with Murray. They cut ties less than 24 hours later, though it’s possible the decision was made before the gathering even started.
“After reviewing the past season and looking at the future of our organization, Kim and I have decided to relieve General Manager Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma of their duties,” Terry Pegula said in a statement. “We want to thank Tim and Dan for their hard work and efforts that they have put in during their tenures with the club. We wish them luck.
“We have begun the process to fill these positions immediately.”
Pegula will expand on the decision with a news conference at 10 a.m. Friday.
While the firing of Bylsma was a probability after his failure to connect with players was denounced by Murray last week, the total housecleaning was a surprise. Both had three years remaining on their contracts.
Hired in January 2014, Murray was initially in charge of tearing down the roster so Buffalo could secure top draft picks. After getting Reinhart and Eichel with back-to-back No. 2 selections, Murray's attention turned toward building a playoff team.
Buffalo made significant progress in 2015-16, improving 27 points to a 35-36-11 record. The rebuild stalled this season. The Sabres stumbled to 33-37-12 and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
That meant it was time for the Pegulas to make changes.
The straight-shooting Murray, who used colorful phrases like “unicorns and rainbows and jujubes,” was the polar opposite of previous GM Darcy Regier. That trait quickly endeared him to many fans, but his outside-the-box style wasn’t always appreciated by his GM cohorts and NHL personnel.
That didn’t stop them from making deals with him. Murray conducted 22 trades as Buffalo’s GM. He started with a huge one, shipping out goaltender Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott in February 2014. Though Murray's background was in scouting, he often traded picks. That was most evident in 2015.
Murray included first-round selections in separate deals that brought left wing Evander Kane and goalie Robin Lehner to Buffalo. Murray also sent out the opening pick of the second round in a trade that landed Ryan O’Reilly, whom the GM promptly made the highest-paid player in Sabres history.
Murray traded a second-round pick to Montreal for defenseman Josh Gorges, and he sent two second-rounders plus defenseman Brayden McNabb to Los Angeles for forwards Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers. Defense was the Sabres’ weakest position this season.
The Sabres hope draft picks Brendan Guhle and Nylander can soon become regulars, but their arrival won’t come under the GM who selected them.
They’ll have a new coach, too. The Sabres hired the Stanley Cup-winning Bylsma to positive fanfare in May 2015, giving Pittsburgh a third-round pick for the right to have him. He lasted only two seasons.
The players declined to embrace Bylsma’s style of play and teachings. There was talk of ignoring his X’s and O’s after victories, and there was a clear disconnect between what was shown during practice and what happened during games.
Bylsma’s fate seemed sealed last week after Murray's year-end news conference. The GM said he wished the coaches would get to know the players instead of spending more time in the video room. There was little chance of job survival.
Bylsma didn’t respond Thursday to a message seeking comment. He finished his Sabres career with a 68-73-23 record after going 252-117-32 with the Penguins.
The Sabres also fired Murray's top scouting assistants: Rob Murphy, the director of pro scouting, and Greg Royce, the director of amateur scouting. The draft is two months away.
The assistant coaches would be at the mercy of the next hire.
Pegula will offer clues as to what he wants in his next hires during Friday’s news conference.