Did you have a good spring? Great. Did you have a lousy one? Sorry. Either way, you didn’t have a worse spring than Tim Murray, GM of the Buffalo Sabres.
Last week, Murray hired Dan Bylsma as the Sabres’ new coach. There was plenty to be excited about. Bylsma has a Stanley Cup on his coaching resume. The Sabres, meanwhile, finished last in the league last year, with a record of 23-51-8. A new direction is urgently needed. There is nowhere to go but up.
So I almost fell off my chair in chuckles when I saw this photo from Bylsma’s press conference:
Can you spot Mr. Murray? Here, I’ll help you:
Now, I love all the expressions in this photo. They remind me of the enthusiasm I was able to force out on photo day in kindergarten.
But I doubly enjoy Tim Murray’s expression, because I know the story behind it. See, on April 1, he had his eye on Connor McDavid. Connor’s no big deal — just the best prospect hockey has seen in decades — and he will go first in the 2015 draft, sure as the sun rises tomorrow. The Sabres were sitting pretty, with a 20% chance of getting the #1 pick in the lottery, the best chance in the NHL.
“I watch him too much and I think too much about him,” Murray told The New York Times in March. “This guy I call our franchise-changing player.”
Sabres fans agreed. Some have been wearing McDavid jerseys to games since November.
Then, because the world is a cruel and twisted place almost by design, the #1 pick went to the Edmonton Oilers. Whose odds were 11.5%. Who have picked 1st in the NHL draft four times in six years. And still suck.
“When you have an 80 percent chance of losing something, you have to be ready for that and think that is probably going to be the case, and that was the case,” Murray said, combing through Richard Marx albums for the one that could begin to soothe the pain.
April was a cruel month. May wasn’t much kinder.
Murray’s next job was to land a coach for his struggling franchise. What luck! Mike Babcock, widely considered to be the NHL’s best coach, said he wanted to shop around for a new gig. The “Babwatch” kicked off May 8, when Babcock was given permission to talk to teams other than his employer, the Detroit Red Wings.
When the best coach in the league is on the market, he gets a lot of phone calls. Somehow, lowly Buffalo found itself in the mix with the best suitors. Surely it didn’t hurt that Babcock wanted to get paid, and Buffalo is backed by an energy billionaire. Buffalo went down to the wire with the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, the rumors say.
On May 20, Babcock chose Toronto, the holy capital of hockeydom. He got paid, too: 8 years, $50 million. He had his cake and ate it too. However, he should probably avoid Buffalo for a little while, there. Maybe spend a little money on these.
How’s it look in Buffalo? Not so bad, actually! Buffalo ended up with the #2 pick in the draft, with which they’re all but certain to select Jack Eichel, an American thought to have superstar potential. Buffalo has some young talent already and a nice cabinet of draft picks. And Dan Bylsma’s a pretty quality NHL coach! The Sabres have many reasons to be optimistic about next season. It’s tough to do worse than last.
Of course, after the spring that was, you forgive Tim Murray for doing a McKayla Maroney for a few months. The NHL draft is June 26. October can’t come soon enough.
SAQIB RAHIM | @SaqibSansU
Like many fans, Saqib Rahim is the product of his sports traumas. The 49ers losing, year after year, to Green Bay in the late 1990s. USA Hockey losing to Canada in the gold medal game of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver – in overtime, no less. The San Jose Sharks perennially discovering new depths of failure, such as becoming only the 4th team in history to choke away a 3-0 series lead. But it’s all good. He’s over it. They helped make him the man he is today, and they made him curious about why sports are so engrossing and important to us. They helped him realize that sports are about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.