By John Vogl
When Cory Clouston interviewed to become coach of the Binghamton Senators, he knew General Manager Tim Murray only in passing. It didn’t take long for Clouston to see how much Murray knew about hockey and its players.
“He’s a very, very smart hockey man,” Clouston said by phone today. “There’s no one I’ve ever met that knows players as well as Tim and can analyze their strengths and weaknesses. He’s very good at projecting players.”
The rebuilding Sabres have plenty of young players who need to be analyzed. Murray’s skill at doing it is why he’s favored to become Buffalo’s next general manager.
Murray, according to a source, is in town tonight to meet again with the Sabres’ brass. He’s one of two finalists for the vacant GM job, and it’s possible his hiring could come Thursday.
Managing a team is the next logical step for Murray, who’s been in the NHL since joining Detroit as a scout in 1993. He went to Florida in 1994 and ascended to director of amateur scouting before being hired as director of player personnel for Anaheim in 2002. His three-year stay with the Ducks included a Stanley Cup finals appearance.
Murray served as the assistant director of player personnel for the New York Rangers for two seasons. He joined Ottawa in 2007, serving as assistant general manager for the NHL club and GM of its minor-league affiliate.
One of Murray’s first acts was to hire Clouston, who spent two seasons as Binghamton’s coach and another three as the bench boss in Ottawa.
“Tim, from the management side of it, worked his way up,” said Clouston, who coaches Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League. “He knows that game very well. The fact that he has paid his dues and he has worked in many different areas is going to bode very well for his success.”
The 50-year-old Murray helped Ottawa reach the playoffs in four of his first six seasons, and the Senators are in the postseason race this year. Binghamton was champion of the American Hockey League in 2011 and leads its division this season.
“He treated me with a lot of class,” said Don Nachbaur, who coached one season in Binghamton and is now with Spokane of the WHL. “Highly organized, really understood the players. You couldn’t bring up the name of a player, whether it was in the American League or the National Hockey League, that Tim didn’t have a book on. I think he’s a tremendous judge of talent, and that goes back to his scouting days.”
Praise for Murray’s evaluating skills has been universal. The Sabres are rebuilding through the draft, so getting picks right is crucial. Players drafted under Murray’s watch include All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson and Ottawa regulars Mika Zibanejad, Zack Smith and Robin Lehner.
More importantly for Sabres fans, Murray and the Senators haven’t been wed to their youngsters. Ottawa sent Stefan Noesen, a first-round pick in 2011, and Jakob Silfverberg, a second-round selection in 2009, to Anaheim as part of a deal for high-scoring forward Bobby Ryan.
Darcy Regier’s hesitance to move the players he drafted helped contribute to his downfall and November firing as Buffalo’s general manager.
Murray has spent much of his career alongside his uncle, Bryan, who is Ottawa’s GM. They also worked together in Detroit, Florida and Anaheim.
“Bryan is such a hockey guy that’s been all around it, and now Tim has been around Bryan for so many years,” Kurt Kleinendorst, who coached Binghamton to its 2011 Calder Cup, said by phone. “If he gets this opportunity, he’ll do a nice job because he’s a hockey guy.”
The Murrays are from Shawville, Quebec, an English-speaking town in the French province. Tim is known as an edgy guy who isn’t afraid to challenge the opinions of others.
“He’ll smile a little bit. He’ll be grumpy often,” said Kleinendorst, coach of the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa. “He’s a very quiet person, but then again he can be very intense.”
Folks in Buffalo could soon see for themselves.