BUFFALO -- Given the chance to pat his coach on the back yesterday, Senators GM John Muckler reached up ... then pulled away.
As the team took part in a morning skate at HSBC Arena, Muckler was asked about the job Bryan Murray has done so far in 2006-07. The same Murray who coached the Senators into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference when they lost centres Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette to injury, if you're wondering what he's done for them lately. The same Murray who has inexplicably been left in a lame-duck situation without a contract beyond this season.
The same Murray who deserves better.
Muckler, who flew into Buffalo from his Florida home for last night's game, was asked to rate the guy's performance. He could have simply said Murray has done a good job to date, and for a brief second it looked like he was even starting out on that path. But then he stopped dead in his tracks, like he thought someone was trying to trick him.
"Well, where we are, we're in pretty good standing so .... if you're leaning toward the contract, I will not speak on the contract," Muckler told the inquiring reporter. "It's a policy of the organization that we don't talk about contracts in management."
Along with doing nothing to quell rumblings he and Murray don't exactly see eye-to-eye on all matters, Muckler also refused to provide any updates on talks with key players like Chris Phillips and Ray Emery -- who on July 1 could become unrestricted and restricted free agents, respectively.
"I don't want to talk about any negotiations," said Muckler. "We're doing all the things necessary that (have) to be done and we'll work with their agents and with the player."
He did mention the different avenues available to the Senators as they contemplate beefing up before the Feb. 27 trade deadline. He said all options will be considered. He even left the door open to the possibility the Senators could make improvements by trading a player off their roster, something Muckler has been reluctant to do in the past.
But with about $700,000 (all terms US) in cap wiggle room, it is a logical recourse.
"Everybody wants to make their club better," said Muckler. "A lot of us are over the $40-million mark right now. I know the cap system, how it works, you can't take on contracts ... you have to pay full value next year. That's troublesome. That can put you in big trouble. So I think a lot of us are looking for unrestricted free agents possibly ... and we can rent them maybe for the playoffs. There are several options you can look at. We'll look at them all and see what we can do."
The next three weeks should be very interesting.
STARTS AND STOPS: The Sabres lucked out as a Buffalo snowstorm let up enough for them to return home after their shootout victory in Atlanta on Tuesday night. They didn't land until 1:30 a.m. yesterday, however, and they had plenty of the white stuff to clear off their cars before they could get to their beds. "We've had it tough," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said when asked about his team's 1-4 record against Ottawa heading into last night's meeting. "Every time we've played them, we've either played here and gone to Ottawa, where they've rested ... they're on three days rest now, and we're coming in late. We have to be smart. It's going to be a good test. Sometimes the schedule gets you, sometimes it gets your opposition. We're going to have to be at our best tonight, in a situation that's going to be very tough." ... W Patrick Eaves decided he could play with a sore foot, leaving both Brian McGrattan and Denis Hamel as healthy scratches last night.
BETWEEN PERIODS: Presented the prestigious "Sword" and a spot in the Sabres hall of fame during a brief ceremony before the game was Phil Housley, a defenceman who was drafted sixth overall in 1982 and broke into the league impressively as an 18-year-old. Taking part in the moment was his former teammate, Gilbert Perreault, and his former coach, Scotty Bowman. "Scotty and the Sabres took a chance on a kid from a Minnesota high school and I will never forget that," said Housley.