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Murray Must Build Solid Foundation

February 28, 2014 - Matt Spielman
Tim Murray has been down this road before.

From 2002-05, Murray watched his uncle Bryan Murray run the Anaheim Ducks.

From 2005-07, Tim Murray watched Glen Sather build the New York Rangers.

And until his hiring as general manager in Buffalo a little more than a month ago, Tim was again learning the ins and outs of franchise building from Uncle Bryan in Ottawa.

It is generally accepted that Bryan Murray and Glen Sather know what they are doing. The Ducks, Rangers and Senators are consistently competitive organizations that are built through a variety of avenues such as free agency, trades and probably most importantly to Tim Murray, the draft.

Despite being in its relative infancy, Murray's tenure with the Sabres may be defined in the next couple of days. The previous Sabres' core was largely made up of Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and to a lesser extent Paul Gaustad. Darcy Regier began this rebuild by unloading all of those players except Miller, but Murray still has a chance to turn Miller, and indirectly Vanek (Matt Moulson) and Roy (Steve Ott) into a new core going forward for the next 10 to 15 years.

And Murray doesn't have to look far to see how teams in the current NHL should and shouldn't be built. Heading into the Olympic break, the Sabres took on the Western Conference's fifth-place Colorado Avalanche, a team that has been at the bottom of the league several times in the past five years; the Edmonton Oilers, who picked first overall three times in a row from 2010-12, yet still remain at the bottom of the Western Conference; the Pittsburgh Penguins, who picked first or second four times in a row early in the 2000s, but are now reaping the rewards with a recent Stanley Cup championship and several long playoff runs; and Murray's own Senators, who often finish near the middle of the conference without ever really bottoming out to gain that elite upper-level draft prospect.

Here's a quick look at how those four teams have gotten to where they are:

• The Avalanche have struggled in the post-Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic era, but have turned their draft picks into standout roster players. Paul Stastny was selected 14th overall in 2005 while the team turned their 2006 and 2007 first-round picks, Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, into former No. 1 pick Erik Johnson in a trade with the St. Louis Blues in 2011. In 2009, Colorado selected Matt Duchense third overall and Ryan O'Reilly with the third pick of the second round. In 2011, Gabriel Landeskog was picked second overall and in 2013, Colorado was rewarded for its terrible season with Nathan McKinnon at top spot of the draft. Colorado has gone the route of drafting scoring forwards with a majority of its picks, filling in the defense and goaltending with free agency and trades.

• The Oilers haven't had nearly as much success going that route. In 2007, Edmonton had three first-round picks but only turned one of those picks into a significant roster player in Sam Gagner with the sixth pick. In 2008, the Oilers added Jordan Eberle 22nd overall, but in 2009 with the 10th pick, Edmonton didn't get nearly as much value as it would have liked, selecting Magnus Paajarvi. 2010 began the Oilers' three straight years of No. 1 picks, when they took Taylor Hall, followed by Ryan Nugent-Hopkisn in 2011 and Nail Yakupov in 2012. All three have shown flashes of brilliance, but rumor has it the Oilers may be looking to move one of their young star forwards for a star defenseman prospect — a spot in which Tyler Myers' name has come up in the past couple of days.

• The Penguins have evolved into one of the model franchises in the NHL and it's quite obvious how that happened — be awful the year before Sidney Crosby is available in the draft. Pittsburgh only took Crosby in 2005 after goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury went first overall in 2003 and Evgeni Malkin went second overall in 2004, but it's clear that Crosby is the straw that stirs the Penguins' drink. The Penguins were so fortunate that they were practically forced to trade 2006's No. 2 overall pick Jordan Staal for fear they wouldn't be able to fit him under the salary cap.

• As mentioned, Ottawa has never really been bad enough to pick at the very top of the draft and its roster shows that. Other than Jason Spezza, who they drafted second overall in 2001, the Senators feature several players chosen in the middle of the first round. They discovered a diamond in the rough with Erik Karlsson at the 15th overall pick of the 2008 draft and eventually turned 2009's 39th overall pick Jakob Silfverberg into Bobby Ryan in the summer of 2013, but some of their other high picks are Patrick Wiercioch, Zack Smith, Robin Lerner, Jared Cown, Mika Zibanejad, Cody Ceci and Curtis Lazar — all players with potential that haven't really reached it as of yet.

With nine picks in the top two rounds of the next two entry drafts, Murray is most likely looking to move to the very top of those two drafts or, at this point, move picks for prospects already playing in the AHL or even the NHL.

The Sabres seem stacked on defense throughout the system with Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers locked into long-term deals and players like Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov waiting in the wings.

It would seem that Murray's focus over the next couple of days and into this summer would be acquiring top prospects in the forward ranks and identifying a goaltender to build in front of for the next decade. With guys like Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart available in this summer's draft, and Jack Eichel and all-world Erie Otter Connor McDavid available in 2015, two years of suffering in Buffalo could turn into 10 to 15 years of success inside First Niagara Center.


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