BUFFALO – Tim Murray’s track record as Sabres general manager shows he usually takes anything for a player who can leave for nothing following the season.
So why did the Sabres, who have five unrestricted free agents, make zero trades before today’s 3 p.m. deadline? Murray couldn’t, say, get a late-round pick for defenseman Dmitry Kulikov?
“I just go with what’s put in front of me,” Murray said this afternoon inside KeyBank Center. “I have no expectation going in, so I made some calls – I made a lot of calls – to set the table on trading away a couple guys. I made a few calls on trading to see if I could make a hockey trade, get younger, and this is the end result.”
The result is the reeling Sabres, losers of four straight contests, will finish with the same lineup that has them stuck in seventh place in the Atlantic Division, destined to miss the playoffs again.
Murray, of course, showcased his usual personality during his 15-minute chat with the media, occasionally making some jokes. Still, he almost seemed stunned he couldn’t complete a deal on a quiet day around the NHL.
“I’m a little bit surprised,” he said.
Kulikov, who has been a total bust, and defenseman Cody Franson figured to generate interest as cheap rentals.
“We didn’t have a ton of UFAs, as we know,” Murray said. “We had two on the back end that I thought would create interest, and I had some calls on them. Price-wise, I was very open.”
What was Murray’s price?
“My market was just to get fair value, so I didn’t miss out and trade a guy by not demanding too much or by using previous trades in the day or week as the template for what I had to do,” he said.
Since the Sabres still have those players, Murray wanted to be respectful.
“I don’t want to sit here and just I couldn’t get anything for them,” he said. “I don’t want them to walk in tomorrow with their tail between their legs. We’re six points out of a playoff spot. We’d like to be competitive until the end of the year.”
While Kulikov, 26, has been a colossal disappointment, his body of work is still better than the one goal, two points and minus-15 rating he has compiled in 37 games.
The lower-back bruise he suffered in the preseason that has dogged him all season was a concern for other teams, Murray said.
“I had a lot of calls on Kulikov and I didn’t ask too much,” he said. “Multiple guys said, ‘That’s a fair price.’”
Murray said he took calls on everyone, including 22-goal winger Evander Kane – “I’m not actively trying to trade him,” he said – and captain Brian Gionta, a free agent.
Murray said he spoke to Gionta, who repeatedly said he wanted to stay, today after he received a call. Honoring the wish of the 15-year veteran was also important.
“He’s the captain of our team,” Murray said. “He’s a local guy. He’s been a longtime player and a longtime character person in the league. I called him and asked him a couple questions, got answers.”
So where does a day of inactivity leave the Sabres, whose long rebuild won’t end?
“I guess it delays it a little bit,” Murray said.
He added: “I have a plan. Today was a small little speed bump to that plan. We have lots of picks. We have lots of good prospects coming. Our kids, some of them have played well.”
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