Tim Murray called it the quietest trade deadline he's experienced as a general manager. Only 18 trades were made when the deadline was all said and done on Wednesday afternoon, and none of them involved the Buffalo Sabres. That's not to say it was for a lack of trying.
"I just go with what's put in front of me," Murray said. "I have no expectation going in. I made some calls, I made a lot of calls to set the table on trading away a couple guys and I made a few calls to see if I could make a hockey trade, get younger. This is the end result."
The Sabres have four players who are set to become unrestricted free agents this season: goalie Anders Nilsson, captain Brian Gionta and defensemen Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov. While he didn't touch on Nilsson, Murray did say he took calls on the latter three players.
Video: Sabres in :90 (3/1/17)
When it came down to trading Franson and Kulikov, he said, he simply couldn't get what he perceived to be fair value. In Kulikov's case, the lower-back injury that has limited him to 37 games this season played a large part in those discussions.
"I'm just about being fair," Murray said. "I think I am. I think I know the value of players, and I couldn't make a trade. I think I'm honest to you guys. Am I disappointed? Of course I'm disappointed.
"… We still have two players here that are here. I don't want to sit here and just say I couldn't get anything for them, I mean, I don't want them to walk in tomorrow with their tail between their legs. They're here. We're six points out of a playoff spot.
"We'd like to be competitive until the end of the year. We played last night and I stayed here until 12:30 at night and we had long meetings with the coaching staff. The last three, four games are unacceptable. We still have to play games. We still have to show this market that we're improving and we want to be a good hockey club. But, in saying that, there was a lot of concerns."
So, what now? Buffalo has lost four games in a row, including three since their bye week concluded on Saturday, and trails Toronto by six points in the Eastern Conference wild card race with 19 games remaining.
Murray admitted that not being able to acquire an asset for an expiring contract could be looked at as a setback, but a minor one at that. We're approaching the end of the second season since Buffalo retooled its lineup with players like Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane and hired Dan Bylsma as coach; here's how Murray assessed the state of the team.
"I think there is a part of the fan base here that thinks we're going in the right direction and I think there is a part of the fan base that wants to see it done quicker, and I understand that," he said. "Nothing good in life comes quickly. It takes a long time to raise your kids, to raise them properly. Most marriages where you meet the girl the night before in Vegas and get married, they don't last. What other scenarios can I use?
"… I have a plan. Today was a small, little speed bump to that plan. That's all. We've got lots of picks. We've got lots of good prospects coming and are kids have come up, and some of them have played very well … I'm excited about the direction we're going in. but it takes time. I've given my plan to ownership and my scouting staff. We know our timeline, and it's not an exact timeline. There are things that come up to change it, make it quicker, slow it down, but those are just little things every day."
Here's what else we learned from Murray's press conference on Wednesday:
Gionta's wishes were taken into account
Gionta has said openly that he would prefer to stay in Buffalo, and Murray said it was important to him to at least take Gionta's wishes into account when taking calls on him this week.
"I took calls. I took every call on everybody, that's what I'm here to do. I also spoke to Brian Gionta today after I did get a call," Murray said. "He's the captain of our team, he's a local guy, he's been a long-time player and a long-time character person in the League so I called him and asked him a couple questions and got answers."
Gionta has 13 goals in 63 games this season, already surpassing his 2015-16 total of 12.
Murray took calls on Evander Kane, but did not actively try to trade him
Kane is Buffalo's leading goal scorer with 23 goals this season, despite having player in just 51 games due to injury. At the same time, he's set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, which is why outside speculation circulated around a trade involving his name.
"I had a couple teams call on him," Murray said. "I said I'm not actively trying to trade him and, you know, if that's your goal this week or today or yesterday, whatever it is, I'm willing to listen on all players and I didn't like what I heard. There was really no traction on that."
Murray didn't rule out the possibility of Kane staying in Buffalo beyond the 2017-18 season.
"Well, we'll see," he said. "On the ice, this year, he's played very well. I think next year, going into his contract year, he's going to be highly motivated. I think most games he's highly motivated when he steps on the ice.
"I've said this 100 times, I like when he gets on the ice and he plays the games. If he has the start to his year next year that he had this year without the injury, I'm sure that there will be a ton of interest in his services and I'm sure that we'll have interest in talking contract moving forward. That's to be determined at a later date, but his play will dictate both of those scenarios."
The impact of expansion on the deadline
Murray expressed belief that the upcoming expansion draft might have had something to do with the slow deadline day, and he used Linus Ullmark as an example. He made it clear that he wasn't trying to trade Ullmark - he referred to Ullmark as a "hell of a goalie" and said he'd like to keep him - but he was still surprised to not even have received a phone call regarding a young player with his level of upside.
While Buffalo is likely to protect Robin Lehner in the expansion draft - teams can only protect one goalie - Murray sufficed that an inability on the part of other teams to protect a player like Ullmark or other prospects may have had something to do with the minimal interest shown.
"I'm not sure, the expansion draft, what it had to play in this, but this has been the quietest deadline since I've been around," Murray said. "We do have an expansion draft coming. I would say it had a big part to do in this."