Where do the Sabres go from here?

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As we wrote this morning, Tim Murray is considered one of the top talent evaluators in the game. Suffice to say, the new general manager of the Buffalo Sabres will need to use all his evaluating expertise to take the NHL’s last-place team and turn it into a Stanley Cup contender.

The draft is obviously going to be important.

“You build a team through the draft,” said Murray. “Good drafting allows you to trade well, and then you use free agency to put you over the top.”

But there are other pressing issues for Murray. Such as…

What does he do with Ryan Miller?

The club’s 33-year-old franchise goalie is a pending unrestricted free agent who said in December that he’s “not going to sit around and let promises get thrown around” by management.

When asked about Miller this morning, Murray said he first needed to get a feel for the trade market before making any decisions about the club’s list of pending UFAs, which also includes captain Steve Ott, Matt Moulson, and Henrik Tallinder.

“The market dictates that,” said Murray. “I can’t go out and tell you right now I’m going to trade all the pending UFAs if there’s no market to trade them. If there’s a market and it makes sense…this team’s in last place right now; everybody could be traded.”

The market for Miller is a tough one to predict. Typically, Stanley Cup contenders are already set in goal. There’s been speculation (much of it ours) that St. Louis could be a potential landing spot for Miller prior to the March 5 deadline, but if there’s no guarantee of re-signing him beyond this season, the market for a rental goalie will be limited.

What does he do with Mikhail Grigorenko?

“You can draft a guy in the first round. If you don’t develop him right…you can lose him.”

That was Murray this morning, and it wasn’t hard to picture Grigorenko while he was saying it. The Sabres selected the talented 19-year-old in 2012 with the 12th overall pick. In hindsight, they shouldn’t have kept him with the big club last season. They did eventually send him back to junior, but not until the first year of his entry-level contract had been triggered.

In 43 NHL games, Grigorenko has just three goals and five assists. Right now he’s in limbo, unable to go to the AHL and possibly unable to go to junior. Obviously, Murray needs to figure out a better development plan than the one that’s gotten the situation to this point.

What does he do with Ted Nolan?

Murray was non-committal when asked about the Sabres’ head coach.

“There’s no preconceived notions,” he said. “He’s the coach of the hockey team and I’m looking forward to getting to know him, getting to know the staff, and getting to know the style of coaches they are and the style they want to play…It’s a clean slate here.”

The consensus opinion is that Murray will hire his own bench boss when all’s said and done. But while that may well be the case, it’s not unheard of for a new GM to stick with the coach.

Off the top of my head, when Mike Gillis was hired as the new GM in Vancouver, it seemed likely that Alain Vigneault would be fired. Instead, Gillis stuck with Vigneault and nearly won the Stanley Cup a few seasons later.

In fact, here’s what Gillis said after he got the job: “I haven’t made any predisposed decisions…This is a clean slate moving forward.”

Sound familiar?

PHT Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby eyes more history

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks to face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Bob McKenzie shares his memories of Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie, who apparently was a big hockey fan. (TSN)

Don Cherry discusses John Brophy’s toughness after the former Leafs coach recently passed away. (Sportsnet)

 

A look at Vincent Lecavalier‘s career. (Greatest Hockey Legends)

The perils of flip-flopping goalies in the playoffs … although it worked out for the Penguins at least last night. (The Hockey News)

Speaking of which, will the Blues get burned for switching back to Brian Elliott in Game 6 tonight? Here’s a preview:

Sidney Crosby has a chance to join a very rare club of clutch goal-scorers if he can win it for Pittsburgh in Game 7:

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.