Sabres GM Murray lauds ‘great’ process with Babcock, confirms no deal ever in place

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A key player in trying to woo Mike Babcock to Buffalo has no problem with how things played out.

“It was a great process for me,” Sabres GM Tim Murray said of interviewing and negotiating with Babcock, per WRG 550. “This was my first real shot at doing interviews and hiring my coach, and he was the first guy that we looked at. It was a great process.

“To have a guy of his ilk, considered one of the best coaches in the National Hockey League, taking a real good hard look at us in Buffalo after a 30th-place finish — I thought the process was great.”

Murray appeared on radio amid reports the Sabres believed they had a deal in place with Babcock, and were upset he spurned them in favor of Toronto. At today’s presser, one reporter asked specifically if Babcock had agreed to a contract with Buffalo owner Terry Pegula, suggesting Babcock lied to the Sabres in order to leverage a better deal for himself from the Leafs.

“That ‘lying’ word’s an interesting word for me,” Babcock replied, admitting he and the Sabres did negotiate contractual framework. “I’ve been real straight forward and honest in the process with all the teams I talked to. I worked for six years in Spokane and 10 years in Detroit.

“As a head coach, you don’t work in places for a long time unless you have good relationships and treat people with respect.”

Murray backed up Babcock’s version of the story to WGR, saying that — while the two sides discussed dollars and term — no actual deal was agreed upon. (He also added the only people in negotiations were himself, Babcock, Pegula and his wife, Kim.)

“We were in negotiations of a contract, knowing full well that there’s no deal done until he says ‘I’m coming to you.’ He told us he’d call us Wednesday morning at 11:30, so he wasn’t a man of his word because he actually called me at 11:33,” Murray joked. “He told us he wasn’t coming, and that was it.

“I said OK, and we move on. That’s it.”

Murray’s reaction to losing out on Babcock was much more positive — and, polished — than his reaction last month to losing out on the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft (and the chance to selection OHL Erie’s Connor McDavid). The Sabres GM was highly criticized for saying “I feel for the fans,” and suggesting that losing the lottery was akin to getting cut from the Canadian junior team.

Now, Murray and the Sabres are looking forward, focused on the task of hiring a head coach after losing out on their No. 1 target.

“I’ve talked to other candidates. I talked to one or two before Mike, and I’ve talked to guys during and since,” Murray explained. “This is a job search. We’re looking for the best candidate for our needs and for his needs.

“We talk to people every day.”

Related: Report: Sabres get permission to interview Bylsma