THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Good luck, Terry Murray. You’ve just been hired for the toughest job in the National Hockey League.
That’s what Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said Thursday when he introduced Murray as the 22nd head coach in franchise history at the team’s training facility.
Murray, who turns 58 Sunday, signed a three-year, US$2.65-million contract to succeed Marc Crawford, who was fired June 10 after two unsuccessful seasons.
Unsuccessful has been the byword for the Kings in recent years since they haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2002. They had 71 points last season – tied with Tampa Bay for the fewest in the NHL.
“When you’re in a rebuilding process, you have to keep your eyes on two things: What’s in front of you, and where you want to go,” Lombardi said. “If you have a very good team in place, it’s easy to focus on the next game. When you’re dealing with young players, it changes day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. That’s what I mean about the difficulty of the job.
“I think what I mean when I say the toughest job is it’s more multi-tasking. We want to put together a nucleus that can stick together. Sometimes there’s no good or bad coaches, it’s right fit. The No. 1 thing is that getting young is a process. He’s been through the process.”
Lombardi said Murray is “honest and direct.”
“He knows and distinguishes those who are kissing his butt from those who are busting their butt,” the GM said.
Murray guided the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals 11 years ago, and has coached 737 regular-season NHL games. He has been an assistant with the Flyers since 2003-04, and hasn’t been a head coach since being fired by the Florida Panthers following the 2000-01 season.
“I did think I would (get another head coaching job) someday,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity – the opportunity to work with good people, the opportunity to work with a team that has a plan.
“I’m coming into this job with my eyes wide open. We have some very good young hockey players in this organization right now. This is a very difficult league to play in; this is a man’s league. We’re young, we’re going to get younger. We need to get younger. We need to get the young guys going.
“It’s going to be hard, I’ll tell you that right now.”
Murray has a 360-288-89 regular-season record and a 46-43 post-season mark as a head coach with Philadelphia (1989-94), Washington (1995-97) and Florida (1998-2001).
“I’ve been in this situation before,” he said regarding the Kings’ rebuilding mode. “When I took over the Flyers, we had missed the playoffs five times in a row. I’m hoping to draw on that experience, bring it here, get it going in the right way.
“My philosophy coming in, it’s patience, it’s communication, it’s on-ice structure. The expectations are to become better, it’s a process. We know what’s in front of us. We’re going to follow that plan.”
Murray said making the playoffs is always a goal, but added: “Doing things the right way is everything. We want to become a good team down the road. That’s the important thing.”
Lombardi’s expectations seem reasonable.
“As far as the core right now, it doesn’t measure up,” he replied when asked if he expected the Kings to make the playoffs right away. “That’s what you’re trying to build. It doesn’t match up right now.”
But, Lombardi added hopefully, anything can happen.
Murray said he will earn $750,000 in his first year as coach, $900,000 in his second and $1 million in his third.
“I’m really excited about the challenge,” he said. “The amount of work that’s been put in from the end of the season to now is incredible. We as a coaching staff are required to put in the same kind of work. As we work our way to the other side, we’re going to have some young players who are going to be the core of this hockey club.”
Murray said he hopes to make a decision on the coaching staff shortly.
“I need to go through that with the people here, real soon,” he said. “I hope to accelerate that and get it done quickly.”
Murray is not related to former Kings coach Andy Murray, but his brother, Bryan, was the coach and general manager for the Anaheim Ducks.
The 47-year-old Crawford coached the Kings to a 59-84-21 record in his two seasons on the job. He had one year left on his contract.