On Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada's Hotstove Panel discussed the vacant Buffalo GM gig and highlighted Boston Assistant GM Jim Benning as the lead candidate.
"Well, one of the things that you can normally do over the World Juniors is gossip with all your peers who come to go there and there was a bit of a surprise that Jim Benning, of the Boston Bruins, was not at the World Juniors this year," Elliotte Friedman explained. "He stayed to scout in the Western Hockey League and that has just led to some whispering and I know Glenn (Healy) has heard some similar things and it appears as if he is the frontrunner right now for the Buffalo job and I think there would be a few guys who would be surprised if he is not the guy.”
So when news broke this morning that Tim Murray had actually emerged as a favorite for the Buffalo position, it certainly spun the hockey world on its axis. I had heard rumblings on the weekend in Montreal that Murray had been shortlisted for the job, but the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch confirmed it this morning with a tweet.
Senators AGM Tim Murray may have emerged as top candidate in Buffalo. #Sens
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) January 6, 2014
The analysts on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central were quick to pick up on the story and used it to open their broadcast today on the Fan 590.
MacLean: “I don’t know why it hasn’t been announced. Somebody said that maybe he can’t get there because of flights, but I hear he’s the guy. So it will be interesting to see if it in fact does happen. He was at the World Juniors and I think the situation is that there’s a real connection. Tim Murray worked for Don Maloney when Don was the Assistant GM with the (New York) Rangers. Tim was his Chief Scout. They had good drafts in (Marc) Staal and a few people in those days. (Pat) LaFontaine and Maloney have a strong relationship. Jim Benning was in the mix and I mean, again, I’m just telling you… as they say in PEI, I’m not telling you it’s the truth, I’m just telling you what I’ve been told. We’ll see. I mean, I really like Jim Benning, and I hope that Tim Murray gets the job.”
Kypreos: “And the strength of Tim is the scouting and that’s the direction that the Buffalo Sabres want to go in.”
TSN’s Bob McKenzie added some fuel to the fire by tweeting that Murray did have a second interview.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 6, 2014
Losing Murray, especially to a division rival, would be a sizable blow to the organization.
Not only would it affect the hockey ops department but fairly or unfairly, it would hurt from an optics perspective as well.
Since Bryan Murray stepped into the role of GM, there has never really felt like there’s been an instant when his job was ever in jeopardy or that he was ever at risk of being fired. Even when he was blowing through coaches faster than Paul Holmgren could architect bad trades and contracts, his job always felt safe.
For that reason, it always felt understood that Bryan Murray’s tenure as GM would end on his terms when he no longer wanted the position. As a result, it was always easy to envision Tim Murray seamlessly transitioning into the role. Not only did he have the resume, the track record and a familiarity with the organization and its personnel, he also shared the Murray name.
Deserved or not, the presence of both Murray’s lent itself to the notion that management was stable. Even in times when the coaches and players were jettisoned out of town and Eugene Melnyk was crying broke to the City Council, the organization still had the Murrays.
Now they may only have one.
Every fan wants to believe that their favorite organization is being led by a competent hockey mind who has the resources and staff in place to effectively get their team to Stanley Cup contention. Here in Ottawa, the amateur scouting staff and player development personnel have done their part to help this organization maintain its competitive level and management, more often than not of late, have won more trades and free agent signings than they have lost.
So although every GM’s tenure is finite and reports indicate ownership is trying to ink Bryan to an extension, eventually there will come a day he retire from his role and the in-game camera pans in which Murray is furiously scibbling away on his notepad will come to an end.
I, like many others, simply assumed that Tim Murray would inherit his uncle's role. Maybe this succession plan never existed, or maybe Bryan threw a wrench into such plans by deciding that he wants to remain in his current capacity. Whatever the case, it was all speculation, but should Tim leave, his departure will create this fear of the unknown.
Of course there’s not even a guarantee that Murray will get the job in Buffalo or that he’ll be the next Peter Chiarelli who moves on from Ottawa to be a successful GM elsewhere for that matter (or conversely, that Tim's prospective replacement could not do a better job here in Ottawa), but he is a respected hockey evaluator and a known commodity.
Should he leave, some fans will inevitably use his departure as an indictment of Ottawa's ownership situation.
Whether that's fair or not, there will be a comparison between Buffalo’s situation and Ottawa's and with it, attention will drawn to the Senators' financial hardships and the strict financial constraints placed upon this team’s payroll.
Make no mistake, Buffalo presents an excellent opportunity for any incoming GM.
There, the next GM will operate under a billionaire owner in Terry Pegula, who not only has Buffalo roots, but has demonstrated a willingness to spend money.
Granted, much of Pegula’s spending on player payroll to this point has been ill-advised, but it can be chalked up to an instinct that most new owners react to – that being that they immediately feel compelled satiate a long-suffering fan base by spending money without ever worrying about whether the money was well-spent.
Throw in all the draft picks and prospects that the Sabres have stockpiled and can continue to stockpile at this year’s deadline and you have a situation in which the incoming GM will have a bevy of future assets to throw around as currency to make significant deals.
This isn't to say that Ottawa's own situation isn't attractive. It is. There are many things to like about Ottawa's current situation and collection of players, however, it's fair to say that Buffalo's situation offers a few competitive advantages that Ottawa simply cannot afford.
Speaking of things that Ottawa cannot afford, the greatest concern for Tim Murray's departure is that it could possibly lead to an exodus of Ottawa staff following him to Buffalo. It may not happen immediately, but it could happen if they are offered promotions.
The challenge for this organization, a small market one that has openly acknowledged the importance of player development and the evaluation of amateur players to achieve success, is the strength of its scouting and player development staff. Ottawa has to ensure that any departing staff are replaced with personnel who will not negatively impact or diminish these areas of focus.
So who would replace Murray?
The organization could choose to replace Tim Murray externally, but given the longstanding relationships that many of its top hockey ops staff has with the organization, it seems unlikely at least at this point in time.
Pierre Dorion has received a ton of love round these parts and in other corners of the Interwebs for his management of the amateur scouting staff. Currently in his seventh season with the Senators, the Director of Player Personnel could be the popular name to replace Tim, but the more qualified internal candidate could be Randy Lee. The Director of Hockey Operations and Player Development has a strong background in player development but over the past few years, he has also developed his business acumen.
Per the Senators' website, Lee’s role sees him focus on a variety of tasks, including the management of the hockey team’s budgets and overseeing the development of players throughout the team’s system, including prospects at the American Hockey League, college, junior hockey and European league levels. He also works with the current Senators, guiding them with all aspects of their development, both on and off the ice. Lee also manages the team’s development and rookie camps while advising team management on the ongoing progress of all prospects within the organization.
As the team’s capologist, Lee certainly seems like the more well-rounded internal candidate, but who knows?
The hope is that whomever Ottawa brings in will be more than capable of handling the job, but lately, I've grown tired of seeing players and personnel leave for 'greener' pastures. Confidence in a franchise begins with ownership, and under Eugene Melnyk, my confidence in the Senators being able to build and produce a Stanley Cup contender has wavered.