It took me a few days, but my diligence paid off after someone spotted Doug Whaley and Tim Murray shooting the breeze last Tuesday in a downtown Buffalo bar. I had been looking for a barfly who overheard their conversation when I stumbled upon an actual fly that was buzzing around Osteria 166.
Fortunately for me, the fly caught the entire exchange between the two ex-Buffalo general managers after Terry and Kim Pegula kicked them to the curb 10 days apart.
Before dumping the full transcript on my lap, he landed on my shoulder and whispered, "So a general manager walks into a bar and says, 'What's better than getting hired by the Pegulas?'"
"You got me," I said.
"You'll see," the fly said, handing me the transcript.
The fly resumed circling my head while telling me how Murray was sitting at the bar, minding his own business, when Whaley arrived and plopped himself down on the next stool.
Murray: Well, well, well, look who's here. What took you so long, Dougie? You were fired Sunday. And where's your sidekick, Russ?
Whaley: I was still recovering from Saturday night's draft.
Murray: Geez, how many did you have?
Whaley: How many what?
Whaley: One. Football draft, not draft beers. And you wonder why you were fired. It was last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Anyway, I usually drink vodka.
Murray: Three days? We call that a bender back in Shawville, although some back home would say it's a start.
Whaley: I don't even know why I was at the draft. I just sat there while the new guy handled everything. They fell in love with him because he came in here and started making sense or something. He won over the owners and blew my cover. Terry fired me Sunday. Like he said, it was an emotional day.
Murray: I don't have emotions. Did you hear me announce Jack Eichel's name when we took him? "Buffalo. Selects. Jack. Eichel." It was my shining moment.
Whaley: No, really, Tim, it was tough. They gave me a chance, and a contract extension, just like they did with Darcy Regier. I'm telling you, if I could have had one more year with EJ Man- …
Murray: Is anger an emotion? I was angry when we didn't get Connor McDavid. OK, I had an emotion. One. Shoot me. Continue.
Whaley: You must have been a little frustrated, angry and worried when you guys were finishing last in the league for two straight seasons.
Whaley: That didn't bother you?
Murray: Not in the least.
Whaley: I hated losing ... unless EJ Manuel threw a touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins. Then it didn't bother me as much.
Murray: How many times did that happen?
Murray: Three times last year? That's not bad.
Whaley: Three times total, in three years.
Murray: OK, that’s bad. If it makes you feel any better, I'll bet you that your Sammy scores more often than my Sammy.
Whaley: Your Sammy?
Murray: Sam Reinhart. Let me throw you some stats, my friend. He has 23 even-strength goals in 167 games in his career. He had eight this season, five more than Matt Moulson. He's Moulson Light. The kid taken one spot after Reinhart had 29 goals and 77 points this season. All things being equal, your Sammy has 17 touchdowns in 37 games. And my Sammy was taken second overall.
Whaley: Well, my Sammy was taken fourth overall. And I traded an extra first-round pick for him. He's had 10 injuries in three years. Beat that. Are we going to argue over underachieving Sammys?
Murray: Bartender, another round, please.
Whaley: OK, so I missed on Manuel even though Buddy Nix technically was the GM. And I shouldn't have given away a first-round pick for Watkins in a draft loaded with receivers. But I did sign guys like Chris Hogan and Mike Gillislee.
Murray: Good for you. And where are they now?
Whaley: New England. Hogan won a Super Bowl last year. Gillislee was the only back who scored 10 touchdowns and averaged 5 yards per carry in the past two seasons. We couldn't afford to keep them. I overpaid other guys, like Marcell Dareus and Charles Clay. Oh, and we gave Shady McCoy a contract extension because … I don't know why we did that. Hey, it's not my money.
Murray: (Laughs) Did I mention Matt Moulson? How about Ryan O'Reilly? We should introduce Evander Kane to Dareus. One thing that I didn't understand was how I got canned before you. I mean, I know they needed your draft information because ...
Whaley: Stop right there, Timmy. With all the information out there from all these draft experts, anybody could have figured out what we needed and took the next guy on the list. The fans wouldn't even know the difference. They'll buy anything. YOU could have handled the draft.
Murray: You mean that you didn't have to compile full reports on 18-year-olds from about 20 different leagues around the world, like I do? Now it makes even more sense to keep me longer. They have to hire another guy to run the draft and hope he knows what he's doing. We're still waiting. The draft is next month.
Whaley: The media didn't help matters. They kept saying we were dysfunctional. We functioned. We didn't function properly, but we functioned.
Murray: Yeah, they said the same thing about us. But we started so low that the slightest improvement looked like we were functioning at a high level. Wait, Doug, let me Google "dysfunction." … Damn, the media was right.
Whaley: Well, what do people expect when one owner is an expert in natural gas and the other has a degree in public relations? They don't know anything about running one sports franchise, let alone two.
Murray: Public relations? Good one, Doug. Look up "Sabres and sunglasses" and get back to me. Brandon is a marketing genius, but he probably can't explain icing.
Whaley: We know who's in charge behind the scenes. One, two, three …
Together: Not Terry! (laughter)
Whaley: I guess we just didn't win enough.
Murray: Wrong! They told me losing was winning. It's called tanking. That's what you do when you have a bad GM who can't figure out how to turn a mediocre team into a playoff team. You blow up the roster and hope one guy solves all problems. The owners bought it from Regier. I know, it's comical, especially in hockey.
Whaley: If losing is winning, you did a heck of a job. At least you had full say in that Billsma guy.
Murray: His name is Dan Bylsma.
Whaley: Whatever. I say Billsma. Get it, Bills?
Murray: Good one. He's won a Stanley Cup and a bunch of division titles, but my players, I mean my former players, act like he doesn't know anything about hockey.
Whaley: You think I hired Rex Ryan by myself? Talk about public relations and marketing. He had these people in the palm of his hand. I didn't have much say in Sean McDermott, either, for that matter. He's the new guy.
Murray: Doug, what did you do for a living?
Whaley: Well, I, um, gee, um. Next question.
Murray: You want another drink?
Whaley: Why not? I don't have to work tomorrow.
Murray: That makes two of us. Bartender, give us two – one for every time we finished last in the league.
Whaley: Good thing you didn't say, 'One for every time we missed the playoffs.' We'd both be crawling out of here.
Murray: Speak for yourself.
Whaley: Bartender, let me pick up the tab. I'm collecting $9 million over the next three years, and I don't have a job.
Murray: So am I – and neither do I – so I'll get the next one. See you tomorrow?
Whaley: I'm usually here on Tuesdays.
Murray: Hey, Doug, before you leave, I have a question for you: What's better than getting hired by the Pegulas?
Whaley: You got me.
Murray: Getting fired by them.