Over the weekend, the hockey world lost a legendary coach and GM as Bryan Murray passed away following a three-year battle with colon cancer at age 74.
Murray’s career was remarkable, spanning more than three and a half decades in the NHL alone, over which time he spent time with five organizations. He began his coaching career in his hometown, Shawville, before moving onto the Canadian college game and later Canadian junior, where he would spend time in the CJHL and later the WHL, where he would have a one-season tenure as coach of the Regina Pats before moving on to coach the AHL’s Hershey Bears. And it was from the Bears that Murray would work his way into the NHL with the Washington Capitals.
After breaking into the league, Murray plied his trade with the Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and, finally, with the Ottawa Senators, with whom he spent the past 13 seasons in either coaching or management positions. He coached the Senators from 2004-05 until 2007-08, pulling double duty as GM that final season before moving solely into the management role from the 2008-09 season until he stepped down in 2015-16. Even this past season Murray was a fixture with the Senators, though, working as a senior advisor for the franchise.
"Bryan was one of the greatest men that the game of hockey has ever known and also a great father, mentor and teacher," Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said in a statement. "We extend our sincere condolences to his wife Geri, daughters Heide and Brittany, and the entire Murray family on their loss."
In memory of Murray, take a look back at 10 of the most memorable moments from his career:
Wins Jack Adams Award — 1983-84
Woeful doesn’t even begin to describe the Capitals before they brought Murray aboard in 1981-82. From the time Washington joined the league in 1974-75, they hadn’t managed a single winning season. In fact, the best the team had fared was 26-36-18 in 1980-81. And whatever hope that campaign had instilled was gone almost instantly the next year as the Capitals came out of the gate with a 1-13-0 record in their first 14 games.
When Murray was hired, though, things started to look up, and, despite some tough stretches, Washington actually finished a somewhat respectable 25-28-13 under Murray. It was a sign of things to come, too, as the very next year Murray would guide the Capitals to their first winning record and the first playoff berth in franchise history. Murray’s squad really stepped it up in the 1983-84 campaign, however. Washington fought tooth and nail all season with the defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders for the Patrick Division title, eventually falling three points short but putting up a team record 101-point season in the process.
Despite failing to win the division, the campaign was enough to garner Murray serious support for the Jack Adams Award, and when the NHL announced its end-of-season awards, Murray, who was less than three full seasons into his big league career, was named the NHL’s top coach. Murray didn’t stop there, though. The following season, the Capitals repeated their 101-point performance and then achieved a rare 50-win season in 1985-86, racking up a record 107 points. It was the best campaign the Capitals had ever had and remained as such until the 2008-09 season.
Acquires Kris Draper from Jets — June 30, 1993
Looking through Murray’s history as an NHL GM, it’s awfully evident that he was the architect of some incredible trades involving some Hall of Fame players. However, while it may not include a talent of that calibre, the Draper acquisition stands as one of the most unique in NHL history because of what the deal cost Murray, then GM of the Detroit Red Wings, to complete: one dollar.
At the time, Draper was a relative unknown, four years removed from being drafted by the Jets in the third-round of the 1989 draft. But the Red Wings saw something in the youngster, who had played only 20 NHL games to that point, and acquired him for future considerations, the result of which was the exchange of one single dollar.
Murray would never get to see the deal pay off as he was off to the Florida Panthers by the 1994-95 season, but Draper would become an integral part of four Stanley Cup-winning teams in Detroit, skating in more than 1,000 games with the franchise and winning a Selke Trophy in 2003-04.
Expansion to the Stanley Cup final with the Panthers — June 1, 1996
When Murray joined the Panthers in 1994-95, the organization was only one season into its existence but had actually managed to put together quite the team. Florida finished one game below .500 in their inaugural season and managed 83 points on the campaign, and the hope was Murray could take the team to the next level. That wasn’t the case at first, though, as the Panthers actually regressed and finished two games below the .500 mark in their sophomore season.
That third campaign, however, was one for the ages. Murray brought aboard coach Doug MacLean, relied on the offense of Scott Mellanby and Rob Niedermayer and the Panthers got solid goaltending from John Vanbiesbrouck. The result was a 92-point playoff team that was set for a run no one saw coming.
In the first round, the Panthers dominated the Boston Bruins en route to a 4-1 series win. Florida’s run continued in the second round when, thanks to back-to-back overtime wins, the Panthers were able to get by the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. Finally, in a series that few would have given Florida a shot in, the Panthers managed a seven-game victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The run, which helped create the rat-throwing tradition in Florida, would come to an end in the Stanley Cup final, however. The high-powered Colorado Avalanche ran roughshod on the Panthers, winning in four-straight.
Brings Pavel Bure to Florida — Jan. 17, 1999
The Draper trade was one thing, but Murray’s involvement in bringing a bonafide superstar to the Sunbelt is one of his crowning achievements as GM. In 1999, Bure, the most electrifying scorer in the game, demanded a trade out of Vancouver and that set up more than half a season in which ‘The Russian Rocket’ sat on the sidelines awaiting a deal. Eventually, it was the Panthers, who Murray had taken over, that got the deal done, sending Ed Jovanovski, Dave Gagner, Mike Brown, Kevin Weekes and a first-round pick to the Canucks in exchange for Bure, Bret Hedican, Brad Ference and a third-round selection.
Upon his arrival, Bure was no less a star in Florida than he was in Vancouver. In his first full season in 1999-00, he scored 58 goals and won the Rocket Richard Trophy while leading the Panthers attack to what was then the best record in franchise history. The 43-win, 98-point season propelled Florida to its third playoff berth and first in three seasons, though the team would be eliminated in the first round.
Murray was gone the following season, but Bure defended his goal-scoring crown with 59 goals in 82 games. By the 2002 trade deadline, Bure’s time was up in Florida as he was shipped off to the New York Rangers.
Lands Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen from Islanders — June 24, 2000
Murray has pulled off some notable deals in his career, but few will be remembered for being quite as lopsided as the deal that saw the Panthers land both Luongo and Jokinen for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. It may go down as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.
Luongo was three years removed from being selected fourth overall in the 1997 draft, but his brief foray into the Islanders’ net was tough. He went 7-14-1 in 24 appearances, posting a .904 save percentage and 3.25 goals-against average. And that was enough, it appeared, for New York GM Mike Milbury to lose hope in the then-20-year-old netminder. So, when Murray came calling looking for a goaltender, Luongo was made available.
Now, if it was just Luongo dealt for Kvasha and Parrish, that alone would be enough to make the deal awfully one-sided. That wasn’t the entire trade, though. In addition to landing Luongo, Murray managed to net Jokinen, as well. Jokinen was three years into his career and had struggled rather mightily since being selected third overall in 1997, but Murray wanted to take a chance on the big pivot. And, boy, did it pay off.
By 2002-03, Jokinen became one of the most consistent scoring threats in the league and put up a whopping 173 goals and 374 points in 409 games over a five-season span. That’s more points than Parrish and Kvasha combined during their 677 games in New York.
Coaches 1,000th game — Nov. 28, 2001
After Murray was fired by the Panthers in December 2000, he took the remainder of the campaign off but was back in the mix for an NHL gig as soon as the 2001-02 campaign rolled around. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, looking for a change after a tough season under Guy Charron and Craig Hartsburg, decided to bring Murray aboard to guide them despite the fact it had been nearly a decade since the last time Murray was a full-time coach and four years since he had last stepped foot behind the bench.
The campaign wasn’t exactly the most successful of Murray’s career, as the Mighty Ducks managed a mere 29-42-8-3 record, but the year behind the bench was notable for Murray in that it saw him reach a milestone that few coaches had. On Nov. 28, 2007, Murray coached his 1,000th game, becoming the eighth coach in league history to manage the feat.
Unfortunately, Murray didn’t exactly get to celebrate at the final horn. Anaheim was shutout by the Edmonton Oilers, 2-0.
Becomes fifth coach to win 600 games — Feb. 20, 2007
Murray’s coaching tenure in Anaheim was rather short, spanning one season, but he stuck with the organization as its GM for two more seasons, during which time he built a Ducks team that shocked everyone by earning a Stanley Cup final berth in 2002-03. The following season, though, the team took a step backward and Murray, to the surprise of everyone, left the organization to pursue an opportunity with the Ottawa Senators as their coach.
Murray couldn’t have picked a better time to head to Ottawa, either. The club was loaded with talent from top to bottom and, in his first season with the Senators, Murray led the team to a 52-28-9 record, tying the franchise’s previous best mark. The following season was arguably Murray’s most magical as an NHL bench boss, however, as Murray joined an exclusive club when the season began to wind down.
With a victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 20, Murray won his 600th game as an NHL coach, joining Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Pat Quinn and Dick Irvin as the only bench bosses to achieve the milestone. The win was part of one of the greatest seasons in Senators history, which only got better when…
Guides Senators to 2007 Stanley Cup final — May 19, 2007
Ottawa had iced some excellent clubs in the early-2000s, but none were able to get over the playoff hump and really lay claim to the throne as the Eastern Conference’s best club. However, in 2006-07, with Murray at the helm, the Senators had a breakthrough. Led by an outstanding trio of scorers — Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza — the Senators dominated opponents through the first three rounds of the post-season.
In Round One, the Pittsburgh Penguins fell in five games, simply overpowered by Ottawa’s offense. The second round saw the Senators face off against the tough Devils, but Ottawa broke through the stingy defense and made quick work of New Jersey, ending the series in five games. The Eastern Conference final went much the same, with the Senators getting past the Buffalo Sabres in five outings, two of which needed overtime to solve. It was Alfredsson’s overtime winner in Game 5 that sent Ottawa on to the Cup final.
As luck would have it, though, Murray’s Senators would be going head-to-head with the Anaheim Ducks squad he had left only a few years earlier. It was a reversal of fortunes, too. Ottawa lost three one-goal games and were blown out in Game 5 as Anaheim captured the Stanley Cup.
Swaps first-round picks, drafts Erik Karlsson — June 20, 2008
Sometimes the subtle moves are the ones that matter most, and it’s a trade that few give Murray credit for that may end up being the masterwork of his career.
At the 2008 draft, the Senators had their eye on a young Swedish defenseman named Erik Karlsson, and as the midway point of the first-round neared, Ottawa made its first deal of the draft in front of a hometown crowd. The trade didn’t amount to much in terms of then-current roster players, as not a single one changed hands, but the Senators sent the 18th-overall selection and a 2009 third-round pick to the Nashville Predators to move up three spots in the draft. Ottawa then used the choice to take Karlsson.
At the time, the trade may not have moved the needle, but, with the power of hindsight, it certainly looks like one of the best deals Murray made during his tenure as GM. Karlsson has since developed into the best defenseman in the NHL, an all-world offensive talent and is the Senators’ captain. He has two Norris Trophies, has been the runner-up for two-straight seasons and almost single-handedly guided Ottawa to the Stanley Cup final this past season, as the Senators finished a goal shy of winning the Eastern Conference title.
Inducted into the Senators’ Ring of Honour — Jan. 24, 2017
In December 2016, the Senators announced they would be unveiling a Ring of Honour, used for the franchise to pay tribute to members, both on- and off-ice, that have had an outstanding impact on the team, and Murray was selected by the team’s Player Honouring Committee as the first member.
"Bryan Murray's distinguished career places among the finest executives in NHL history, not only as coach and general manager, but as a leader and mentor," Senators Melnyk said at the time of the announcement. "I could not be more excited to announce Bryan as the first member of the Ottawa Senators Ring of Honour, a lasting tribute where our fans, both present and future, can be reminded of Bryan's many contributions to our team, our city and our community. On behalf of the Player Honouring Committee, our hockey club and our fans, I want to extend my most heartfelt congratulations to Bryan and his family on this tremendous honour.”
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.