BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sabres general manager Tim Murray completed dismantling the aging core of Buffalo’s roster with a flurry of moves made before the NHL trade deadline Wednesday.
Now he can focus his attention on rebuilding the league’s worst team from scratch.
“The start of the building for me was on Friday,” Murray said, referring to a stunning trade in which he sent goalie Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott to St. Louis. “And today was a continuation of it. But there’s still a lot of building to do.”
The first-time GM was so busy that he had difficulty telling what time it was by the time he could address reporters after swinging three trades involving 10 players, four draft picks, and also claiming forward Cory Conacher off waivers.
“I think it’s a good day,” Murray said. “I think the combination of picks that we added and young players that we’ve added gives us a ton of ammunition now going into the draft.”
The trades came at a time with the Sabres (18-35-8) in last place, and in a state of disarray after Saturday, when Pat LaFontaine abruptly resigned as president of hockey operations a little over three months after taking over.
Murray, who was hired by LaFontaine in January, has since assumed his former boss’s duties and attempted to instil focus and direction to a team rebuilding through youth.
“I don’t want to say ‘change the culture,’ because that makes it sound like there was something wrong with it here,” Murray said. “I’m trying to establish a certain culture, and that’s you earn what you get. … We have to create inner competition.”
The key deal was Murray’s first of the day, when he traded defenceman Brayden McNabb, prospect forward Jonathan Parker and two second-round picks to Los Angeles. In exchange, the Sabres landed what Murray regarded as two promising prospects, forwards Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers.
Fasching, listed at 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, is currently in his freshman season at Minnesota, where he is third on the team with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 31 games. Deslauriers, a converted defenceman, has 18 goals and 21 assists in 60 games in his first AHL season with Manchester.
For Murray, the two were valuable enough for him to give up a pair of draft picks (a second-round pick this year, and another one in 2016), which is not something he was anticipating to do.
“We need young players at every position,” Murray said. “The two forwards we got back are heavy skilled forwards that we hope going forward are a big part of what we are.”
The Sabres then dealt forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick to Minnesota in exchange for forward Torrey Mitchell and two second-round picks (2014 and ’16). They also traded goalie Jaroslav Halak to Washington for goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenceman Rostislav Klesla.
Moulson and Halak, who was acquired in the Miller trade, were expendable because both were in the final years of their contracts and unlikely to re-sign with Buffalo.
Mitchell and Neuvirth both have one year left on their contracts, allowing the Sabres an opportunity to determine whether they fit in the team’s long-term plans.
And then there was the addition of Conacher, who was claimed a day after being placed on waivers by Ottawa.
It marked a homecoming for the second-year player, who spent his four-year college career playing for Canisius in Buffalo, and grew up in nearby Burlington, Ontario.
At 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, Conacher is an under-sized forward who had a promising rookie season last year, when he had 11 goals and 18 assists in 47 games split between Tampa Bay and Ottawa. He has had difficulty fitting in with the Senators this year, with four goals and 16 assists in 60 games.
Murray is familiar with Conacher, as he was the Senators assistant GM before being hired by the Sabres. And Murray said Conacher has the potential to fit what he’s attempting to build in Buffalo.
“His work ethic is terrific, and so is his character. So I want competition,” Murray said. “I want one of our draft picks to say that they’re (unhappy) that we went and got Cory Conacher. That’s how you create competition.”