‘Tank’ label unfair, losing to win not new concept: Sabres GM Murray
Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons and goaltender Jhonas Enroth collide during the second period of an NHL hockey game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Buffalo Sabres at Rexall Place on Jan. 29, 2015. (Ian Kucerak/Edmonton Sun/ QMI Agency)
In the hockey-based vocabulary of Tim Murray, “tank” is a four-letter word.
In fact, the Buffalo Sabres general manager cringes almost each and every time he hears it. And in this, the season in which Connor McDavid is the pot of gold at the end of the shinny rainbow -- with Jack Eichel looming as a lucrative second prize -- he has heard it a lot.
“To term it what people term it I feel is unfair from the standpoint that this is what has been done in all sports for a long time,” Murray explained during a phone interview. “When you are rebuilding, you try to accrue picks.
“We’re doing what we feel is right to do in a rebuild and that is to get better in the future. Our time is not today. We’re doing what many teams in the past have done to get better, It’s not a quick fix.”
Murray might not like the term “tank,” but it’s a concept trending throughout the Golden Horseshoe. And there is nothing he can do about it.
All you had to do was fiddle around with your radio to discover it was front and centre on both sides of the border on Wednesday morning, about eight hours before the lowly Sabres faced off against the almost-as-bad Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Down in Buffalo, sports station WGR was actually embracing the entire Tank Nation vibe.
At one point, host Kevin Sylvester and ex-Sabre Andrew Peters were breaking down the remaining schedules of the 28th and 29th-place teams -- Arizona and Edmonton respectively -- in a quest to find out which games would be winnable for both those squads, thereby creating potential separation in the standings for the 30th-place Sabres.
Meanwhile, up in Toronto, TSN Radio was billing the underwhelming Sabres-Leafs matchup as The McDavid Cup. Enough said.
When the Leafs and Sabres actually stepped onto the ice, Buffalo found itself in the basement of the league standings -- four points behind Edmonton, seven back of Arizona and 15 below 27th-place Toronto. If his Sabres maintain their current position by the end of the season, they’ll have a 20% chance of winning the draft lottery and landing the first overall pick.
In Murray’s mind, that should be 100%. And he’s on record as feeling that way long before his Sabres were the bottom feeders of the NHL.
“I was one of the guys -- maybe the only guy -- who voted against the lottery at the GM’s meetings last year,” Murray revealed. “I feel the worst team should get the top pick in order to have the best chance to improve.
“Having said that, we’ll pick where we’ll pick depending on the lottery. We understand that. That’s why we’re not just scouting two guys.”
Of course, if his team finishes in the basement, he’ll guarantee himself one of those two aforementioned players, McDavid or Eichel. Even if the 30th-place squad does not win the lottery, they will still pick second overall.
And, given the alterations to the format yet again for the 2016 draft, Murray is prepared to make the best of the situation.
“Selfishly, for the Buffalo Sabres, the first three picks (in ‘16) will be part of the lottery as opposed to just the first pick,” Murray said. “We’re not going to be a Stanley Cup contender next year but I hope we’re on the way up while still having a chance to win the lottery.
“In a perfect world, I think I’d still support the worst team getting the first pick, though.”
No matter which way he expects to explain it, there are plenty of critics claiming Murray is doing nothing more than spin doctoring. Specifically, they wag accusing fingers at his decision to ship out goalies Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth in separate deals that netted Chad Johnson and Anders Lindback, two netminders who have struggled all season.
If you can’t stop the puck, you won’t win. And in the race for McEichel, isn’t that the goal?
In response to those allegations, Murray argues that both goalies he traded away were on expiring contracts. And since they were not in his long-term plans, why not deal them?
“No, they weren’t,” he said. “And let’s face it. We’re in 30th place. This is a complete rebuild, not a retool. You have to acquire assets for guys whose contracts were coming up and could leave. And that’s what I tried to do here.
“Neuvirth, when he got the starting job, played very well for us. But’s he’s a UFA too.
“It would be a dereliction of my job on my part if I didn’t try to get something back. Sure, they’re mostly picks but picks are very valuable to me.”
In the end, one man’s “rebuild” is another man’s “tank job.”
But as long as the suits running the league don’t have issues with what Tim Murray is doing, why would Tim Murray himself?