What Buffalo needs right now is a top-notch evaluator in the GM chair to build for the future and come in with a critical eye on the young players currently in the Sabres stable. They also need someone who won’t be shy to part with his future assets if it means improving the team, something former GM Darcy Regier was reticent to do.
And it seems they have acquired that today in Tim Murray, who was officially hired by the team as GM.
Murray comes from Ottawa where he has been the assistant GM since 2007, working under his uncle Bryan. Before that, Tim scouted with the Rangers, Red Wings, Ducks and Panthers.
The Buffalo News’ John Vogl explained why Murray should be different than Regier on the trade front, but the new GM also has a strong history of talent evaluation. In his most recent stop with the Senators, he was a major influence on the team drafting players such as Erik Karlsson and Mika Zibanejad and a big part of the franchise’s success with young players both in the NHL and AHL, where they won the Calder Cup in 2011.
While in Anaheim from 2002-03 to 2004-05, part of Murray’s duties involved overseeing college free agents. This was during a period when the Ducks signed Chris Kunitz out of Ferris State and Dustin Penner out of the University of Maine. Ducks assistant GM Dave McNab would have been influential in those acquisitions, but you can be sure Murray’s voice was in the room.
Murray was let go by the Ducks just before the 2005 draft (the lockout draft) and picked up by the New York Rangers, where he had an immediate and lasting impact. At the time Gordie Clark, New York’s current director of player personnel, was making the transition from a pro scout to a more prominent role in the organization. Two months before the draft, Clark was tasked by then-assistant GM Don Maloney to get off the pro beat and watch as many amateurs as he could. Clark was big on Marc Staal that year and didn’t think the Rangers had him ranked high enough, but the problem was, he hadn’t had a chance to see all the players on New York’s list. Enter Murray…
“So it was never a big battle, but we had a little battle between me and Tom Renney and Don Maloney and my scouts," Clark said. "Timmy walks in and Don Maloney asks ‘who do you like in the draft’ and I think it was Crosby 1 and Ryan 2…and then Marc Staal came out. And Don Maloney was like…and I looked at him and said ‘Donny, here’s another guy.’ Donny was definitely flabbergasted. Our staff had him close to there, but you gotta know those top five or six.”
That year, teams sent skeleton crews to the draft and the Rangers contingent was Maloney, Clark (who had only been on the amateur beat for two months) and Murray (who was just recently hired). The San Jose Sharks had swapped picks with the Atlanta Thrashers to take Devin Setoguchi, which made Clark and Murray both realize Staal could be had.
“I leaned over to Don Maloney and said ‘we should try to hit on Atlanta again,’" Clark said. "Sometimes a team has a player in mind they want and they'll keep trading down. And he goes ‘no I don't think they’d ever do that’ and then Timmy joined in and said ‘Donny, let’s keep going here. Let’s go after Atlanta again. I think they have a guy in mind.’ So Donny picked up the phone and I could hear him talking to Donny Waddell and then his eyes flicked up at us and we knew right away that Atlanta was ready to move. So we moved down to 12 and took Staal.
“The fact Timmy came on board and had Staal where he did and helped push it through until Donny took our word for it. That was critical. If Tim doesn't come on board I don't think that happens. Right away before he even got a paycheck from the Rangers he made an impact on a player.”
Something to keep an eye out for in the future is if Pierre Dorion also eventually leaves Ottawa to join Murray in Buffalo (he’s expected to be promoted to assistant GM in Ottawa in the meantime). Clark wouldn’t be surprised to see that pair team up again, since the two have a long history of working well together – including for two years with the Rangers.
“Usually within a staff there are two guys who really see eye-to-eye when they look at players," he said. "I had the luxury of having two top evaluators. You need that confidence in, let’s say, one other guy who, when he says ‘you know what, I don't think he’s going to be a top four D’ that you can really take that. There are some times you feel you have to go and see him yourself after somebody says that, but with Tim, I didn't have to do any of that. In the end between the three of us we certainly got the trust in the fact that, OK if you saw him and don’t think he’s going to make it, I don’t need to go see him.
“For me, it was two years where I really learned a lot. What we did in looking at players in those particular two years, it was also going over the previous 10 years and getting an idea of ‘where were you with this guy and that guy’ and you get a check on your drafting. It was a really great learning experience.”
And Clark is no slouch.
The lockout draft represents a time when the Rangers’ selection success turned on a dime and began paying off in spades. The Senators’ track record also improved after both Murrays arrived.
Sabres fans hope Tim Murray will be able to turn their ship around, too.
"I know hes ready," Clark said. "He was probably ready even before this. But you don't get the opportunity before it comes along."