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7 takeaways: GM Tim Murray's end of season press conference

Posted at 7:08 PM, Apr 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-12 19:08:37-04

Buffalo Sabres General Manager Tim Murray didn't mince words. He's not happy with himself or his team after another season without the playoffs.

"I'm the general manager of the team so I guess that's the top of the food chain when it comes to hockey," Murray told a room full of reporters on Wednesday afternoon. "So I stand here and take full responsibility for our position, our standings, and, how it finished."

He addressed a number of different topics in his nearly 32-minute long news conference. To watch the entire thing click here:

So what stands out and what did we learn?

1) Not necessarily a ringing endorsement for Dan Bylsma.

As you could imagine, the first question Murray fielded was about the status of head coach Dan Bylsma.

"As I say every day if I get asked that question, he's my coach today, I'm the general manager today," Murray told reporters. " There's going to be a review top to bottom. I have to meet with ownership next week in Florida. I'm sure I'll be reviewed, I'm sure I'm being reviewed right now."

Murray went on to say that he needs to be ready to relay his thoughts to ownership, and if he's still employed next week he'll then review Bylsma and the rest of the coaching staff. Not surprisingly, Murray was asked to clarify Bylsma's future because he never really gave a definitive answer.

"He has three years left in his deal, I have three years left in my deal. I'm the general manager today, he's the coach today, I haven't had any thoughts of firing him up to this point and the reason I always say today is because something could happen tomorrow, so he's the coach, yes." 

The talk about Bylsma pretty much settled down for the rest of the afternoon until it was brought up again at the very end of the press conference. Murray was asked to elaborate on a statement he said earlier where he basically said the team needs to focus on what's happening inside the locker room and not so much what's happening around the league.

"Maybe they (the coaches) could put a coffee in their hand once in a while and do two hours of video instead of three and get out and get to know our players and talk to our players and it's about coaching individuals a little more and coaching systems a little less."

I believe Murray when he says that he needs to meet with the Pegula's before they make any decisions, but his responses can't be music to Bylsma's ears.

2) Fixing the defense

There's really no way to sugarcoat this -- the Sabres defense this year was terrible in almost every phase of the game.

"We have to be able to play a transition game. We can't have 90-percent of our goals coming from hard work and the cycle or the power play, and that's where they all came from. This game is about speed, it's about transition and we failed there."

As someone who covers the team, I basically pulled out my soap box, stood on top of it and yelled "thank you" after Murray gave that response. Murray totally deserves some of the blame here because he's the one who puts this roster together, but the Sabres need players who can send the puck up the ice and breakout of their own zone.

But how can they improve?

Murray says he'll explore all options, whether it's a trade, the draft or free agency. It should absolutely be the biggest focus in the offseason, but it sounds like Murray understands that.

3) Locking up Eichel

I don't know the exact number of times it happened, but Murray referred to Jack Eichel as "our guy" multiple times on Wednesday afternoon and made it very clear that the team intends on keeping the 20-year-old around for a long, long time. The two sides aren't allowed to put pen to paper until July 1, but Murray doesn't plan on waiting around to start talking about a contract extension.

"I assume that on July 1 we'll get a call from his agent and start that. And If I don't by July 1 I'll call him on July 2 and start that." 

Conveniently, GMTM and Eichel completed their season-end review on Wednesday just 20 minutes before Murray started answering questions. From Murray's viewpoint, the meeting went well.

"I made a promise to him that I would do the best that I could to make the team around him better and that we'll be a longtime playoff team."

Locking up Eichel long term is huge. He's undoubtedly the Sabres most talented player and he's only 20-years-old. Earlier in the week, an annoyed Eichel said that he doesn't think he's scratched the surface of the player he thinks he can become. If that's the case he'll be one of the best players in the league. I don't think I need to remind you, but he averaged .93 points per game this season.

If an extension gets done Sabres fans will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. We'll talk about the scenarios as July 1 gets closer, we've got plenty of time.

4) The Sabres don't want to talk about Kyle Okposo

Murray appeared visibly frustrated when asked if he could give any update on Sabres forward Kyle Okposo.

Here's his entire response:

5) #PetersenWatch

Pretty soon #PetersenWatch is going to become what #PandaWatch was in San Diego. Nobody knows what Notre Dame goaltender Cal Petersen will do, but on June 1 he has the option to sign with whatever team he chooses, assuming he decides to leave college.

However, that's not a foregone conclusion, at least just yet. Murray was asked about Petersen and says that the two sides have been in constant communication, but the Sabres 2013 draft pick still hasn't decided if he'll return for his senior year at Notre Dame.

Murray was brief when talking about Petersen, but he didn't necessarily exude confidence in the team's potential to land the college standout. It'll be an interesting few months, that's for sure.

6) Reasons to be optimistic

"I think Jack Eichel took big steps, I think that Sam [Reinhart] took steps, I think McCabe and Ristolainen in the first half of the year especially, or the first two-thirds of the year took big steps. I believe there was a big progression from an individual player standpoint."

Murray also specifically mentioned the following 'youngsters':

-Alex Nylander
-Nick Baptiste
-Justin Bailey
-Casey Nelson
-Brendan Guhle
-Linus Ullmark

He said he was probably forgetting someone when talking about what young players have a chance at making it next season, but he gushed over Guhle and Ullmark. He said both have shown a lot and look like players who are ready to compete at the next level. As for Nylander, Murray said this is a huge summer for the 19-year-old.

"His issue is strength. It's not skill, it's not hockey sense, it's not how to play the game, It's strength. "That's the easiest thing to fix so if he puts in the time this summer I expect him to come back and compete for a skill position on this team."

It surely sounds like Guhle and Ullmark will be with the team next season. I'm not sure about the other guys, but that will depend on what the Sabres do in the offseason.

7) Bringing back the captain

It seems simple, doesn't it? 38-year-old Brian Gionta wants to keep playing for the Sabres and Murray wants him to return. Okay, easy enough, right? Well sort of..

Gionta's future will depend on the terms of the contract. Murray said he'd be interested in bringing back Gionta on a one-year deal but didn't talk money. You can't imagine GMTM will be willing to break the bank on Gionta, despite his leadership qualities.

Bringing back Gionta makes a lot of sense, but only if the price is right. 

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