The opening behind the bench was created Monday after the Senators fired general manager John Muckler and promoted Murray to the GM’s chair less than two weeks after Ottawa made its first appearance in the Stanley Cup final. The 64-year-old Murray chose to give up coaching in order to focus solely on the GM position.
“I’ve done that before and you’re certainly able to do it, but it takes a lot of effort and awfully good assistance in both areas,” Murray said following a news conference at Scotiabank Place to announce the front-office shuffle. “I felt this time around it would be wise to go get another person to focus on the coaching part of it.”
The 73-year-old Muckler still had another year to run on his contract. Murray’s deal was set to expire June 30.
It was long believed Murray would be the natural successor to Muckler, who spent five years in Ottawa. When it became clear that Murray might be headed elsewhere, the Senators acted quickly to retain his services, appointing him the seventh GM in the team’s modern history.
Murray was GM of the Anaheim Ducks from 2002 to 2004 and was the NHL’s executive of the year in 1996 when he served as GM of the Florida Panthers. Murray also held the position with the Detroit Red Wings from 1990 to 1994.
“He has shown what he can do as a general manager,” said Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who joined the news conference via telephone. “We just thought if there’s going to be a crossroads, it’s got to happen now and it has to happen prior to the draft.
“You have to think in the long term. The one thing we didn’t want was to become a one-trick pony where we have one great year and then we starve for the next four or five.
“The assistant GM (Peter Chiarelli) left last year and there was no successor that was obvious other than Bryan. It just happened to be the end of his coaching contract.”
It’s been suggested that some of Muckler’s inactivity at the trade deadline – particularly in the area of acquiring more grit for the playoff stretch – didn’t go over well with Melnyk, who approached Murray last Wednesday with the offer. The two reached agreement on a multi-year deal Thursday.
Melnyk downplayed any rumours of a rift, thanking Muckler for his service and giving him credit for helping to build a team a team that made it to the final before losing in five games to the Ducks.
“For every disappointment, I can point to three successes,” Melnyk said.
The relationship between Murray and Muckler has also been described as tense, but Murray insisted that was normal.
“I expect that the coach I have will have an opinion on players as well and won’t always agree with mine,” Murray said. “There were a couple of occasions where John and I talked about players, we didn’t see totally eye to eye and it was never anything other than, ‘I don’t agree with you,’ type of thing, but that was it and beyond that, I thought I got along real well with John and I would hope he would say the same thing.”
Muckler was surprised when informed Friday of the team’s decision, according to president and chief executive officer Roy Mlakar.
News of the impending move first leaked out in a report Sunday.
Melnyk said Muckler was offered another job in the organization, likely as a consultant similar to Scotty Bowman’s role with the Detroit Red wings, but has decided to pursue other options.
“The final decision really wasn’t made until late Sunday afternoon,” Melnyk said. “We came to the conclusion that John wanted to move on and that was basically it.”
While Melnyk and Murray seem to be close, Mlakar and Muckler have also enjoyed a close relationship – leading to speculation that Mlakar may be out as well. On Monday, he stated he would be back for the final year of his contract.
“I’m definitely not stepping down,” he said. “I’ll definitely fulfil my contract and I look forward to it.”
Murray’s first order of business as GM will be the NHL draft, which goes Friday and Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.
“I hope I can, No. 1, bring them to the next level, which is winning a Stanley Cup and help continue to make this an ongoing, continually good franchise,” Murray said.
Murray said the team will begin searching for a new coach in the next couple of weeks.
Murray also has decisions to make regarding several players. At the top of the list is goaltender Ray Emery, who was solid for most of the playoffs and is a restricted free agent who has arbitration rights.
Centre Mike Comrie and defenceman Tom Preissing are unrestricted free agents while Christoph Schubert and Chris Kelly are restricted free agents.
One player Murray won’t have to worry about is centre Dean McAmmond, who came to an informal agreement on a new deal with Muckler. Murray said he’ll honour the handshake deal, believed to be for two years.
Murray said he’ll miss being behind the bench, but he’s looking forward to having a hand in molding the team.
“I have to say I really enjoyed coaching, being around the players on a daily basis, working with the coaches that we had on staff and it’s hard to give that up,” he said. “But it’s certainly a different opportunity to make the Senators a top-notch organization … and I think that being in the role of the general manager, we have that opportunity to make it happen.”