Will Sabres' rebuild include Ryan Miller?
January, 22, 2014
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
The word "whirlwind" pretty much sums up Tim Murray’s first two weeks at the helm of the Buffalo Sabres. The new general manager has been criss-crossing the continent scouting prospects, meeting staff and just getting a handle on the operation he’s taken over.
Oh, and he finally moved to Buffalo.
"I drove down from Shawville [Quebec] on Tuesday with my truck loaded up and moved in," Murray told ESPN.com on Wednesday night. "So now I’m here."
Oh, but the work is just getting started, beginning with what he’s going to do with his pending free agents, led by the likes of winger Matt Moulson and star netminder Ryan Miller among the 11 unrestricted free agents on the club.
"When the concrete offers start coming in, and if the offers are legit offers that improve the franchise going forward, I have to listen," Murray said. "I think that all the pending UFAs are probably expecting to be moved; I’m not going to say they’re definitely going to be moved, there has to be a market."
The reality is that Murray has just begun the process of establishing what deals are out there for some of his UFAs.
"We’re just starting to explore the market the last day or two," Murray said. "I’ve had some calls, and most of the calls are just generalities: 'If I can meet your demand, would you be willing to move him?’ So you have teams calling, for sure, and they’re asking about different players. Every team has a different need; the same names come up, obviously, as far as the forwards go. My mandate here is to get better. I don’t want a five-year rebuild, that’s not what I’m about. It’s about getting better, and if that means trading guys and getting assets for them, then that’s the way it will be."
Murray also said he’s open-minded to whether or not players want to stay to be part of the rebuild, but, obviously, the price has to be right.
I asked a Western Conference GM to ponder what he would do if he were taking over the Sabres, most notably in terms of the pending UFAs on the roster and the rebuilding decisions ahead.
"Miller has been outstanding, so I would keep him for sure," the GM said via text message Wednesday. "Not that many goaltending options and the one you know [is] better than someone you don't know. I have always believed that you need some good veteran players to help [the young] ones along. You don't need tons more draft picks when you have as many as they already do. There comes a point when you could have too many young players [and] picks. I can't speak to how good or valuable [Steve] Ott and Moulson are since I don't know them that well or follow their contribution that closely. If they decide to move them, I would personally not just get more picks and prospects back since they have lot of those already. I would look for players that can play so you don't rely on rookies so much."
Miller is an intriguing situation. He’s easily Murray’s most valuable trade asset and yet there likely won’t be as many teams lining up for the star goalie compared to Moulson, for example. There are just more teams every year looking to add a rental forward or rental defenseman, whereas trading a top goalie midseason is always a tricky proposition because there aren’t as many openings around the league at that position.
And while Murray hasn’t closed the door on any scenario, it seems highly likely that dealing Miller is the most logical play.
"There’s two lines of thoughts on that," said Murray, a key cog in the Ottawa and Anaheim front offices in his past two NHL stops before Buffalo. "I think if Ryan thinks that we’re three years away from being competitive, at his age ... he’s not going to come out and ask for a trade, and I know that -- he’s been here a long time, and I wouldn't expect that. But you do have to be fair to a guy that has put his time in here and be realistic on what’s left and how much time it’s going to take. We were fair to guys in Anaheim and in Ottawa in the past. We traded Mike Fisher to Nashville. It’s not the best scenario, but I think I can figure out what deep down Ryan really wants and what’s fair to him. And maybe what’s fair to him is a chance to win a Cup."
But Murray was quick to add that he’s not trading Miller for sure.
"It depends on the market," he said.
In other words, teams better step up; Murray won’t give his goaltender away.
In the meantime, there are so many other things to think about when you’re taking over an organization. Perhaps something fans wouldn’t think about is that a priority for Murray was getting his scouting staff working on the Rinknet scouting computer system he used in Ottawa -- a different system than they had been using in Buffalo.
"The day after I got hired, I wanted to bring in my own scouting system, as far as Rinknet and rating system," Murray said. "We got that done about a week ago. Now our guys have to learn that, and I know the numbers aren’t going to jive with my numbers right off the bat, but I told them that we’re going to be talking numbers: 'If you told me you went to watch Pierre play last night, is he a five or a four-plus?' That’s going to be the lingo and the culture here. So it’s going to take them time to get on to the system, but I think that was important to get everyone on the same page right off the bat and let them run with it. Scouting is everything. Scouting is where it’s at. You can’t improve unless you evaluate well, whether it’s pro, whether it’s amateur, whether it’s staff -- they say you’re not supposed to judge, but that’s all we do."
You just get the feeling that the Sabres have hired well here.