Since I don't know much about Tim Murray, it would behoove me to do what we normally do when some decides to take a job in Buffalo. We reach out to the people who know best…the writers who cover them.
Meet Graeme Nichols from The 6th Sens. You can also follow him on Twitter @6thsens if you have follow up questions.
1) Can you tell me a about Tim Murray and his role in the Ottawa front office?
Following the Senators’ 2007 Stanley Cup Finals appearance, owner Eugene Melnyk fired its General Manager, and former Buffalo GM, John Mucker. Melnyk then promoted Bryan Murray from the head coaching position to GM. One of the first things that Bryan did was hire his nephew, Tim, as the team’s Assistant General Manager (AGM) in July of 2007.
Aside from his typical AGM duties and input, Tim was responsible for the management of Ottawa’s American Hockey League team in Binghamton.
2) Were there any stories that came out in which Murray was instrumental in making trades or drafting this or that player?
I know that it doesn’t sound sexy to hear that Murray may not have been instrumental in the drafting of an Erik Karlsson or the fleece job that netted the organization Kyle Turris, but to say that would be a disservice to this organization’s scouting staff.
Too often, fans build these management types as superheroes or savants, but in truth, they’re only as successful as their supporting staff allow them to be.
So I’ll apologize in advance if it rings a little hollow for you to hear that he was instrumental in helping build a minor league franchise in Binghamton. Nevertheless, there’s something to be said about success at the pro level and developing a winning culture within an organization that players can carry with them when they are promoted.
The strength of any organization is its commitment to player development and amateur scouting, and those are two areas that Tim Murray is quite familiar with, so on that basis, you should be more than happy with him as the General Manager; especially if he can surround himself with sharp eyes and evaluators.
One thing I will also note here is that the Senators have been quite competitive operating as a mid-cap team. Under current ownership, the organization’s days of spending to the cap ceiling are gone, and to management’s credit, it has done an excellent job of crafting a roster filled with cap-efficient contracts. With the exception of possibly Colin Greening’s contract extension ($2.6M average annual value), there isn’t a bad contract on the books for 2014/15.
3) Obviously, front offices aren't a 1-man show and it involves tons of group settings with scouts and assistant GMs. Normally, when you hire someone from an organization who didn't run the whole thing, my assumption would be that someone like Murray would probably try and run the Sabres like the Sens. How has Ottawa built their team over the years? What were some good things and some not so good things?
Whenever you hear the word ‘rebuild’ regarding sports management, you typically think of organization’s parlaying their biggest assets for as many draft picks and future assets as they can.
When the Senators organization acknowledged that it had to ‘rebuild’ in 2011, I think fans expected management to willingly move guys like a Spezza, or a Heatley, or a Phillips, or even an Alfredsson to be shipped out the door. Interestingly, these players were the ones who were retained (note: eventually Heatley would ask for a trade). Instead, the organization capitalized on moving out role players to teams near the NHL Trade Deadline who had specific needs and were willing to overpay.
Replaceable and relatively expensive players like Chris Kelly, Chris Campoli and Mike Fisher were moved for a small ransom, and Ottawa was able to fast-track the ‘rebuild’ without having to move any of its best players.
Fast forwarding a few years, Ottawa’s current situation is one in which many of its best young players are locked up to inexpensive contracts, but the problem that the prime years of its best veteran players will never overlap with that of the players and prospects that Ottawa has stockpiled over the years. What we’re left with is a situation in which the continued growth and development of its younger players, is proportionately matched by injuries and the diminished returns from its key veterans. As such, while they’re competitive, Ottawa’s having a difficult time becoming anything more than a playoff bubble team; especially since ownership has imposed a strict internal budget that limits the team’s spending on payroll.
4) Can you tell me about Murray's time in the AHL when he built your minor league team into a Calder Cup Champion?
Under John Muckler’s watch, the Senators’ farm system was barren. Whether it was the incompetency of the amateur scouting staff or Muckler’s willingness to waste future assets acquiring spare parts, when the Murrays took over the helm, Binghamton was an afterthought.
Since the 2008 NHL Draft, a draft that the Murrays like to call their first ‘real’ draft with their own amateur personnel and scouts in place, the organization began to hit consistently on a number of players in the amateur draft.
Three years later with a roster comprised mostly of Murray draft picks and acquisitions, the Binghamton Senators won the AHL’s Calder Cup in 2011. Names like Zack Smith, Colin Greening, Erik Condra, Jared Cowen, Derek Grant, Mark Borowiecki, Patrick Wiercioch, Eric Gryba, and perhaps most importantly, Robin Lehner, have won a championship and have all spent time on Ottawa’s roster at one point or another this season.
5) The Sabres just went through the Darcy Regier years. To say they were awful would be an understatement. The biggest thing fans complained about was how Darcy wouldn't pull the trigger on trades until it was too late and he fell in love with his picks and prospects. Also, he didn't fire Lindy Ruff until like year 15 and some believe he was forced to do so. Tell me if Ottawa/Tim Murray would be different in these regards?
To management’s credit, with the possible exception of moving Ben Bishop to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Cory Conacher, this organization has done a remarkably good job of identifying young talent worth building around.
Coming off a season in Sweden in which he was named the Elitserien’s MVP, the organization moved defenseman David Rundblad and a second round pick for an undervalued Kyle Turris.
As a small market team in Ottawa, this organization has acknowledged that the only way to acquire elite talent is to draft it or trade for it. We can speculate as to whether the Bobby Ryan deal was principally driven by PR in the wake of Daniel Alfredsson’s decision to leave, but the organization had the stones to move Jakob Silfverberg (a second round pick from 2009), Stefan Noesen (first round pick from 2011) and a 2014 first round pick to acquire Ryan. Now, Bobby Ryan could leave as an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2014/15 season and it could be a trade that looks bad in retrospect, but to the organization’s credit, they made the move to go get that elite talent.
6) Do you see Murray as being someone who would make trades for vets or would he try building through youth?
Given the absurd quantity of high picks that Buffalo has accumulated lately, it would not surprise me to see Tim Murray move some of these picks to acquire some talent. Using the Bobby Ryan deal as an example, it wouldn’t shock me to see him go out and parlay some of this quantity for quality – like an Evander Kane perhaps.
7) Sabres have Ryan Miller and he's FA after this year and would probably get 6-7 million a year. With Ottawa's history, would you say someone like Murray or that regime would re-sign him? In other words, how do the Sens view goalies?
Like Murray said in his interview today, I think it depends on the trade market for a goaltender. When Ottawa needed a goaltender, they went out an acquired a league average goaltender in Craig Anderson at a cheap rate (traded for Brian Elliott) and signed him to an inexpensive four-year extension that has paid dividends and allowed them to be patient with Robin Lehner.
That being said, Ryan Miller’s been pretty damn good this season and depending upon what happens in the Olympics, I’d imagine his value would be pretty damn high.
If anything, expect Murray to be diligent and weigh the opportunity costs and risks associated with keeping or moving Miller.
8) Is there anything else you want to add that we haven't covered yet?
One, if fans or the media paint a picture of Ottawa’s shortcomings or situation, it’s important to realize that the bulk of this organization’s problems stem from its ownership. Whether it is the rumors of purported meddling or the implications of a strict internal budget, ownership has played a large role in shaping Ottawa’s roster and allowing management take this team to the next level.
Two, Tim Murray is curt. I will miss hearing his radio interviews here in Ottawa in which the following exchange takes place:
Host: “Hi Tim, how are you?”
Tim Murray: “Good.”
Him never reciprocating by asking them how they’re doing was one of the best running gags. It was unintentional comedy at its finest.
Three, Sens fans are terrified of losing scouts and Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson to the Sabres. In watching today’s introductory press conference, it was interesting to see that Murray was pretty non-committal to Ted Nolan’s future, but Luke Richardson’s work in Binghamton is well-regarded and he seems destined to be a head coach at the NHL-level.