When Bob Murray steps behind the bench for the Anaheim Ducks’ game against the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night, he’ll become the oldest first-time coach in NHL history, beating Lou Lamoriello by a year. Lamoriello was 63 years and 60 days old when he fired Larry Robinson and stepped behind the New Jersey Devils’ bench for the first time. Murray will be 64 years and 79 days, fewer than 300 days from being able to collect social security checks, when he fills out his first lineup card.
With that age comes a certain amount of wisdom and self-awareness. By taking over after the mercy killing of Randy Carlyle, Murray is taking ownership over the tire fire that has become the Anaheim Ducks, as he should. The number of admissions Murray is making by stepping behind the bench as the interim coach for the rest of the season are mind-boggling.
The first is that the Ducks may be six points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, but they might as well be 600. Yes, the Ducks have been absolutely smashed by injuries this season, but it is a very, very flawed roster. The Ducks have been outscored 46-11 in their past seven games, all losses, and have held the lead for three minutes and 50 seconds in 420 minutes of hockey. The Ducks’ American League affiliate, the San Diego Gulls have an NHL-ready coach in Dallas Eakins, but it’s obvious Murray doesn’t have any confidence Eakins will be able to right this ship and get into the playoffs, so he’s decided it would be best to keep him down with a pretty good AHL team.
The second is that he obviously doesn’t think that coaching the team will get in the way of him working the phones at the trade deadline because the Ducks have almost nothing the rest of the league would want. If Murray is interested in trading one of his defensemen or goalie John Gibson, he’d have a ton of suitors, but that won’t accomplish anything. What the Ducks need to do is shed contracts, but the Ducks are flush with untradeable players up front on long-term deals. Ryan Kesler, bless him, can still take faceoffs and has a competitive spirit, but it’s painful watching him try to get around the ice. Corey Perry is broken. Ryan Getzlaf looks as though his spirit is broken. And thanks to Murray, they’re all under contract for multiple years. The Ducks are clearly providing a cautionary tale in the perils of rewarding players for what they’ve already done, a trend that long ruled the NHL and now seems to be reversing itself. A guy like Adam Henrique would have been a good rental to trade had Murray not re-upped him to a five-year extension worth $5.8 million. The Ducks are in a unique kind of salary cap hell with no easy way out of it.
The third is that Murray figures he did his coach no favors, so he might as well step in and take the pounding himself. The one good thing that could come out of this is that the Ducks continue to sink in the standings and give themselves an opportunity to build around a franchise player such as Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko.
Chances are, Murray is doing this to get an idea for himself, to see with his own two eyes, the roster he has put together. Being around the players every day and seeing them on their turf, watching their body language during games and seeing how they react to losses, will give him a good idea of what, if anything, he can do to start the long process of fixing this situation. Chances are he’ll do little actual coaching, since he has never coached an NHL game in his life, and more observing.
Murray would have preferred to have Carlyle actually earn the money remaining on his contract and coach until the end of the season before making the change. To be sure, the super budget-conscious Ducks don’t particularly like paying people to not work for them. But the way the Ducks have been playing, there was no sane or humane reason to continue to put a good man through that kind of abuse. Now Murray gets to experience it for himself and it will almost certainly not be pretty.