Top Shelf: Murray tabbed to lead Sabres out of the dark

2:24 PM, Jan 9, 2014   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA ( - As the newly minted general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, Tim Murray certainly has his work cut out for him.

The Sabres, currently last out of 30 teams in the NHL standings, are committing themselves to a rebuilding project, but that strategy only works if the right people are calling the shots in the front office.

Pat LaFontaine, a former Sabres great on the ice, was hired as the franchise's president of hockey operations in November, and after nearly two months spent mulling over his options, he believes Murray is the man who can deliver this once-proud Sabres club out of its current predicament.

Sabres owner Terry Pegula also hopes Murray's hiring is the beginning of good things to come for a franchise that appears destined for its third straight season out of the playoffs.

Over the last year, Pegula, who purchased the club in February of 2011, has made wholesale changes to the club's hierarchy. First came the firing of longtime head coach Lindy Ruff last February and the installation of Ron Rolston as his replacement. Then, after an awful 4-15-1 start to the 2013-14 campaign, Pegula pulled the plug on Rolston's tenure and also fired general manager Darcy Regier, who, like Ruff, had begun his role with the Sabres in the late 1990s.

The LaFontaine hire was a nod to Buffalo's past, as was the move to replace Rolston with former Sabres head coach Ted Nolan on an interim basis, but Murray's job is to keep his eye trained on the future and to make sure it's a heck of a lot brighter than the present.

Considering the Sabres haven't won a playoff series since making a run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2007, there is nowhere to go but up. However, just because Buffalo has plumbed the depths in recent years doesn't mean fans in Western New York will be patient with Murray. The goal now is the same as it ever was: to bring the first Stanley Cup championship to the city of Buffalo.

At the press conference announcing his hiring on Thursday, Murray made it plain as day that nobody on this Sabres roster is safe.

"This team's in last place. Anybody can be traded," the new GM warned.

Regier already traded one of Buffalo's key pieces earlier this season when he sent sniper Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders for veteran winger Matt Moulson and a couple of high draft picks. Those draft selections will serve Murray well in his rebuilding effort, and he could land additional picks and perhaps a prospect or two if he decides to flip goaltender Ryan Miller before this season's trade deadline.

Miller, one of three goaltenders picked to represent Team USA at the Sochi Olympics, is the biggest bargaining chip left in Buffalo, a team that is mostly made up of young guys still trying to prove their worth as NHLers. Miller, meanwhile, is 33 years old and scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at season's end, so the timing seems right time for both sides to part ways.

Although this is his first NHL GM assignment, Murray has spent the last 20 years working in various NHL front offices, including his most recent job as assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators, a post he had held since July 2007.

Murray served under his uncle, Senators GM Bryan Murray, and the Sabres hope the ability to identify talent is a family trait. Although the Senators also have never won a Stanley Cup, the franchise has successfully rebuilt on the fly under the Murrays in recent years. Ottawa landed players like star defenseman Erik Karlsson and blossoming forward Mika Zibanejad via the draft, and Murray will have to travel the same road to turn things around in Buffalo.

Joining Murray and LaFontaine in the front office is Craig Patrick, a Hockey Hall of Famer who was announced as a special assistant and advisor to the team's hockey operation. Patrick helped build the championship-winning Pittsburgh Penguins teams of the early 1990s. With his first draft pick as the Pens GM, Patrick made the game-changing decision to select Jaromir Jagr fifth overall in the 1990 draft. His knowledge and experience could prove invaluable for a first-time NHL GM like Murray.

Patrick also was the assistant GM for Team USA in 1980 when the Americans shocked the world by winning gold in another frigid New York town called Lake Placid.

Who knows? With the help of LaFontaine and Patrick, maybe Murray and the new- look front office can turn the lowly Sabres into a Stanley Cup champion a few years from now. It wouldn't exactly qualify as another "Miracle on Ice," but considering where the club is right now, it'd be an impressive nonetheless.

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