Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Murray Finally Stepping Out Of Past GM's Shadows

Strange and interesting times here in Senators Land.
Just take GM Bryan Murray. Only a few short months ago it was assumed he was toast.
His team was in a death spiral to the bottom of the standings, there were rumours he tried to fire his coach but was rebuffed by Eugene Melnyk (a story that has never been confirmed), and pundits were already picking out likely candidates to be his successor, such as Pierre McGuire and others.
Like I said, he was a goner.
Things have changed.
All signs point to Bryan Murray staying on another season.
Just look at the long-term contracts to Chris Phillips and Craig Anderson. The crucial decision to dump core players in their prime such as Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly for draft picks.  The fact that Eugene Melnyk has stated he is ecstatic about how the team is playing out the stretch after all the changes.
Then there's this thing they call "The Plan".
Both Murray and Melnyk have talked of this "plan" in mysterious, hushed tones like it was the Caramilk secret.
We don't know the details of the plan but we've seen the initial part play out like a dream so far. The goaltending has been stabilized with Anderson. The young kids are helping this team win games. Even the fans have decided to put out their torches for the time being and calls for Murray's head have recently been far and few between on the call-in shows and the blogs.
So what's Phase 2 of the great plan? Does Murray get shuffled aside?
That is starting to look unlikely because Murray is clearly shaping this team for next season already. Important decisions have already been made which a new GM would be expected to make.
And who says that's such a bad thing?
Murray has been around the game a long time and is a well-respected hockey executive. To be fair to him, when he took over the Senators from John Muckler, there were numerous ticking time bombs on this team ready to detonate.  There were big contracts to be worked out with core players, swelling egos in the dressing room due to prolonged periods of success, looming salary cap issues and a bone dry farm system due to poor drafting.
Because of the team's success under Muckler, Murray wasn't about to rip it apart to remake the roster in his own image. In fact, you could say that Murray's role for the first few seasons was as a caretaker.
Who tears apart a team after going to the Stanley Cup final the year before? Who tears apart a team who made it to the final two seasons ago? And on and on… into this season when it became clear that the core needed to be split up.
Basically, now is the first chance for Murray to really mould this team from the core out.
Perhaps Melnyk is willing to give Murray that chance, even though he failed to keep Muckler's team glued and stapled together.
If this was one of those newspaper editorials right before election day when the paper traditionally espouses a certain candidate, then I would be standing behind Bryan Murray for GM next year, if only to see what he can do when he's not trying to sustain a team built by somebody else.
The early signs are good. But who knows what's to come after these last 9 games are played.


Anonymous said...

Haven't you heard?

"The Plan" is the Caramilk secret. They'll be handing out Caramilk bars at the concessions next year, in order to boost attendance.

But seriously, I don't think that the criticism of Bryan Murray has disappeared. I think that it's more like that fatigue has set in. It's a tiring to be negative all the time.

The young kids have given this team a nice "sugar high". You commented yourself that it's nice to see young guys crack the lineup for the first time.

Let's not kid ourselves, major issues still need to be resolved. People will be angry again after they see some really good hockey during the playoffs.

One interesting way to look at things, is that we had an 11 game losing streak this year. Last year we had an 11 game winning streak.

If take out both those streaks, we were basically the same team in both years. The difference was, in large part, that last year Brian Elliott went on a tear where he had a .930 save percentage during the streak.

Another point of major concern is goal scoring. The Sens were perennially one of the highest scoring teams in the league. Everyone remembers the powerhouse teams of 2005-06 and 2006-07.

But, in 2003-04, during ultra-conservative Jacques Martin's last year as coach, we were the highest scoring team in the league. This is the Jacques Martin that preached defensive responsibility.

Now we have one of the second worse offense in the league. New Jersey is worst.

As for the new guys, I think that it's important to mention that many of them were drafted while Muckler was GM. Greening, Condra, Wick, Gryba, Regin, O'Brien ...

Not that it matters. A Sen is a Sen. I don't care who drafted them. Kudos goes to Murray for allowing them to develop properly.

That's another thing that jumps right out at me. Many of these young guys were drafted in later rounds. But, they were given lots of time to develop. They weren't rushed. They didn't expect to be "the future".

They were developed in low pressure environments. I think that's paying dividends now. The pipeline was not bare.

The thing that I fear with Lehner, Cowen, Wiercoch, and even Rundblad, is that they think that they are the future. And, they haven't proven anything yet.

Will their development be hurt if they don't meet the high expectations placed on them by the fans and the organization? They have already been built up so much. Let's hope not, because they all seem to have a lot of natural talent.

Andy said...

"we had an 11 game losing streak this year. Last year we had an 11 game winning streak.

If take out both those streaks,we were basically the same team in both years..."

Why would you take them out? Wins are wins. Would you count those 11 wins if they were interspersed with some losses?

Same with the losses. You'd think they'd win one just out of shit luck but the fact is that they were playing really, really poorly at the time. And it's not just Elliott. He was still giving up soft goals during the win streak, just not as many while getting better scoring support.

I don't get how people think you can discount streaks. Winning a few might give you a bit of psychological edge, and losing a few might hurt your confidence, but these are the normal ups and downs of the season.

Anonymous said...


It's anon @ 2:47pm. Fair point.

I was just trying to say that either streak may have been an outlier, and that the team's play was about the same otherwise.

But you're right, a win is a win.

Anonymous said...

Probably the best written article on the current situation the team is facing. Excellent points made on Murray wanting to put his own stamp on this team and finally have the chance to do it.

Anonymous said...

One of the bloggers here mentions that Muckler was the one that drafted Grenning, Gryba, O'brien, Condra. Although it's true that he should be credited with drafting him, Murray's record can only be fairly assessed after a few years. The way Karlsson is playing, not to mention the projections of Cowen, Rundblad, this year's draft, and others will, in my estimation surpass, the projection of any Muckler picks.

Anonymous said...

Let's give it the proper context. When you're team sucks, you get to draft in the top half of the draft. So, naturally your players should be better.

That said, the regime that ran the draft under Muckler and Marshall Johnson did a great job at the draft. Remember we were picking in the mid to high twenties.

Not too many players from 2004 have played more games than Meszaros. Havlat was another late first round home run. Gleason was another good one.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but the scouting staff the ran the draft under Muckler is some of the same guys who ran it under Johnson. They were well regarded.

Audioscapist said...

Great article... and I also think a relatively fair assessment.

The other thing to think about is that the Cup run was, of course, coached by Murray. It would be difficult to blow up a team that not only made it to the Finals the year before, but that you as the ex-coach know the potential of. The biggest challenge of coaching is typically motivating the players to perform, and I think Murray - just because of experience - has more ways to do so than a young coach. And that is most important with the veteran players who have "heard it all before" and are more likely to stop listening. I think the coach-carousel of the past 4 years attests to that. Meanwhile, bring up a bunch of young players, and a coach like Clouston can have some success because they are hungrier, and will buy-in faster.

Fact is that Murray is a good GM - his fingerprints all over the Ducks team that beat the Sens in 06/07 attests to that. I think this re-tooling is going to be very interesting to watch, whether with Murray at the helm, or in an advisory role as many have predicted he will be.

Anonymous said...

The "he built the Ducks" line is a bit rich.

The 2003-04 Ducks had Sergei Federov as their centrepiece. Murray signed him to a 5 year $40M deal. They didn't even make the playoffs.

Brian Burke came in and got rid of Federov, in exchange for Todd Marchant and Beauchemin. He then brought Selanne back to Anaheim. He also added Niedermayer and Pronger.

So basically, Burke adds three Hall of Famers to the roster, and gets rid of a highly paid underachiever who many thought had an untradeable contract.

The top three D were Burke additions. The leading goal scorer was a Burke addition. You add those pieces to any team in the league, and they become contenders.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Murray building the Ducks is a bit of a misnomer. His last team GMd wasn't exactly a Top 5 team. He got Getzlaf and Perry because his team was mediocre.

Burke and Bob Murray rebuilt the entire defense, 90% of the forward corps and brought in a new coach in Randy Carlyle. But ok, that was Murray's roster in 2007. Mmmhmm.

Certainly, the roster we have here is Murray's, but it should be noted we have no idea how it will perform in the post-season, the goal of any team being to win the Stanley Cup. Is Jason Spezza a leader? Not really. He's never led anyone to a Cup. Is Erik Karlsson a winner? We'll see. He sure does like hitting the pubs though. Mmmhmmm.

Murray will be back, whatever.
He's local, he tells good jokes, he's got 30 years experience.

Whoop dee doo.

I'd rather have flushed him last year and gone tooth and nail after Yzerman. The mentality shift in Tampa has been astounding. They've gone from being a rudderless, leaderless franchise to having function, a plan, accountability, direction and winning.

Accountability...funny word that. A word uttered a whole lot in these parts but not held to task to the GM for his decisions.

But hey, it's never been about success or winning in Ottawa the past few years, has it?


Tundra said...

To continue, I find astonishing the free pass Murray has gotten in the coach hire department. He's gone through a COACH PER YEAR. He'll be hiring a new coach right? If that isn't a sign of instability and rushed judgment...not to mention the constant throwing players under the bus, the overpayment of aging Russians, hiring family instead of hiring on merit, the list goes on.

Not a peep on that.

I am embarrassed at how low standards and expectations have fallen in this town.

I long for the days where the bar will be set high and, in the words of Melnyk "failure is not an option."

Anonymous said...

Excellent read! Black Aces has by far the most consistently well thought out posts of the Ottawa Senators online community.