“He addressed about six different things,” team president John Davidson said. “It was 100 miles per hour, it was fast, it was organized. They didn’t even stop for a water break, I don’t think.”
Murray, 55, characterizes himself as a turnaround specialist. He landed with a franchise in dire need of such services, given their predicament. The Blues were in last place overall in the NHL after a seven-game losing streak that cost Mike Kitchen his job, this after new management overhauled the roster following a last overall finish last season that ended a 25-year playoff run.
Davidson, the former longtime NHL analyst hired by the new owners to preside over the rebuilding job, promised repeatedly in the pre-season and on several commercials that his team would not be outworked.
“On some nights that hasn’t happened,” Davidson said. “And I feel responsible for it.”
The president is hoping that Murray, even though he’s unfamiliar with the roster after being hired to a multi-year contract on Monday, can make a difference starting Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“The boost you get is players trying to prove themselves to a coach they’ve never had,” defenceman Dennis Wideman said. “I think we should have some more jump, yeah.”
The Blues passed out mission statements that set forth Murray’s “belief system,” before introducing him at a news conference at their practice facility, with subcategories on the front page for: setting an example, listening, paying attention to detail, being demanding, caring and finding the positive.
“The players make the difference,” Murray said. “We help them get ready.”
Murray is back behind an NHL bench only nine months after being fired by the Los Angeles Kings near the end of his seventh season. He remembers the competitive Blues before the previous ownership gutted the roster to facilitate a sale, and believes there’s enough talent, and enough time, to make a charge.
“They’ve got a lot of quality players,” Murray said. “These players are auditioning, just as I’m auditioning every day.
“You don’t do that by thinking of the future.”
The Blues were 7-17-4 with three of the victories coming in shootouts and only one point during the losing streak. Besides trailing the field in the standings, they were last in scoring with 65 goals – an average of 2.3 per game – and attendance at 11,142 or 58 per cent of capacity.
“They’ve dropped off a little bit, and it’s our responsibility to get it back,” Murray said. “I’m excited about the opportunity.”
For a while it figures to be a learning experience for both the coach and his players. Murray was scouting mostly Eastern Conference opponents for the Montreal Canadiens and said he had not the Blues play at all.
He doesn’t know the roster, either, aside from a small handful of veterans, and mentioned Lee Stempniak – not by name, but by his No. 12 jersey – being in line for more power-play duty. Dallas Drake and Keith Tkachuk played at Winnipeg in the 1990s while Murray was an assistant there.
“It almost feels like a fresh start,” Stempniak said. “He doesn’t know much about us and we don’t know much about him.
“We’ve got to go out and prove to him that we want to play and be excited and work hard.”
Murray leads the Kings with 215 coaching victories and he also led Canada to gold medals in the 1997 and 2003 world championships. He’s widely perceived as a coach who’s better with youth, and the Blues don’t have much of that after an overhaul in which veterans Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Martin Rucinsky, Jay McKee and goalie Manny Legace were added.
Davidson’s pool of candidates wasn’t deep given the timing. But he also noted that the decision was made with the long haul in mind.
“It’s easy for somebody to look at this and say ‘Boy, I don’t know if he can coach older player,”‘ Davidson said. “That’s not the point. That’s not our future.”
Davidson reiterated that he wants Kitchen, who had been with the Blues since 1998, to stay with the organization in some capacity. He said he told Kitchen to take a few weeks to let his dismissal settle in.