Tag Archives: Bryan Murray

Time to fire Bryan Murray

“Brian Murray is one of the best general managers in the NHL.”

This is a refrain I hear too often, but there is absolutely nothing that can back up this claim. In fact, almost the opposite argument can be made. Bryan Murray is an overrated general manager who gets too much credit for a team that has routinely struggled since he took over.

Will C photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Bryan Murray should be fired as Sens GM.

And with the Sens having problems once again this season (six points out of a playoff spot), the pressure is on for Murray to do something. But Murray is the reason the Sens are where they are today.

I believe, and I’ve written about this before, that all this is karma for the Sens firing John Muckler days after the Stanley Cup finals ended. You know, the finals that featured the Ottawa Senators.

The story goes that the Sens brass didn’t want to lose Murray, and were willing to fire Muckler instead of taking a chance that Murray wouldn’t stay with the organization. It was a big gamble. But it has backfired big time.

Since then, Murray has done more wrong things than right, and it shows with the on-ice product.

Here are seven reasons (one for each season he’s been general manager) why Murray should be let go:

1) Playoff record.

The playoffs say it all. In five seasons with Muckler as general manager, the Sens won seven playoff series. They made the playoffs every season, and only once failed to make it out of the first round. Their playoff record was 39-28. Their series record was 7-5.

Let’s look at Murray’s record. In seven seasons with Murray as general manager, the team has won one playoff series. They’ve missed the playoffs two years. Their playoff record is 12-17. Their series record is 1-4.

2) Regular season record.

230-197-55.

That’s not a good record. The Sens have lost more than half of their regular season games since Bryan Murray became general manager.

3) Coaching carousel.

Sure, Murray hired Paul MacLean, who has done some good stuff with the team. But Murray had four chances to get it right. One of them was bound to be successful.

Murray started off by hiring Jock Paddock, who lasted 64 games. He then put himself behind the bench, and went 7-9-2 in the regular season, and was swept in the playoffs. Murray followed this up by hiring Craig Hartsburg, who lasted 48 games before being fired.

The next coaching guy was Cory Clouston, who actually managed to last more than a season, going a little more than two years before getting canned.

And now there’s MacLean. But that’s a lot of bad coaches over the years, all hired by Murray.

4) Daniel Alfredsson.

It’s been covered by many people about how Alfie left the team. I think the Sens should have showed some loyalty and given Alfredsson what he wanted. But fine, no loyalty, and that might not have been Murray’s decision anyways.

But Murray could have taken the high road while all this was happening. Instead, he chose to blame everything on Alfie. And when #11 told his side of the story, Murray said Alfie had it all wrong.

The face of the franchise for so many years, and this is how you reward him?

5) Free agent signings.

Can you name the last free agent signing Murray made that had an impact on this team? Alexei Kovalev? Bobby Butler? Jarkko Ruuttu? Corey Locke? Zenon Konopka? Guillaume Latendresse? Randy Robitaille? Brendan Bell? Brad Isbister?

Sergei Gonchar is about the only free agent signing Murray ever made that had something positive, and it took three years before it happened. Gonchar was brutal with the Sens the first two years of his contract (he had 27 and 37 points in each season, and was a combined minus-19). And he was grossly overpaid.

6) Trading prospects/picks

Muckler gets blamed a lot for trading prospects and picks and going for it, which is actually a myth. In his five years as Sens GM, he drafted young guys like Spezza, Emery, Schubert, Eaves, Elliott, Regin, Meszaros, Greening, Condra, and Foligno. And what young prospects did he trade away?

Instead of listing them all, I’ll just mention the names you might recognize (under the age of 25 at the time of the trade): Jani Hurme, Tim Gleason, Brooks Laich, Brandon Bochenski, And that’s it.

He never traded away a top prospect, as he let them mature and actually play with the Sens. And only twice did he trade away a second-round pick (not including trades that happened at the draft). And he never traded away a first rounder.

Anyways, Murray started off his GM career with Ottawa much the same way. He traded for Cory Stillman, Martin Lapointe, Mike Commodore, Andy Sutton and Matt Cullen. None of those guys stayed with the team after the season was done.

In case you’re curious, since Murray has been GM, he’s traded away (again, 25 and younger) Patrick Eaves, Andrej Meszaros, Antoine Vermette, David Rundblad, Jakob Silfverberg, three first round picks and four second round picks.

Yet, Muckler gets blamed for giving up on the future. It’s revisionist history at its best.

7) Not signing Gary Roberts.

Sens fans don’t like to admit now, but during the 2007 playoffs when the team was getting creamed by the Ducks, there was a lot of blame directed at Muckler for not trading for Gary Roberts.

In fact, it has been rumoured as one of the main reasons Muckler was let go (here’s a link to a Hockey News story that says the same thing, but here’s a blog post from the time it happened that mentions it). Owner Eugene Melynk even hinted at it during a press conference at the time.

But Murray hasn’t been able to bring in a Gary Roberts-type player either.

So how can one man’s downfall not be his successor’s downfall?

Conclusion

I don’t understand how Sens fans could be happy with Murray at this point. He’s overhauled the roster completely since he took over. They lose in the regular season. They lose in the playoffs.

They’ve traded away prospects, first and second rounders. They mistreated their legendary captain. They’ve had five coaches in seven years. They haven’t made one good free agent signing.

Somehow, Murray is still a great GM? Anywhere else, he’d be gone.

It’s time for him to go.

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33 NHL thoughts

Once again, my 33 NHL thoughts, including my playoff predictions. I also list my choice on who is going to win the Stanley Cup.

Marcusvfx photo, via Wikimedia Commons

When the opposition scores, it's a good bet Chris Phillips is on the ice.

1. Bryan Murray was re-signed with the Sens. Some believe he deserved to be brought back after the trades he made this past half a season. Of course, it was his fault he had to trade away bloated contracts that he gave players, but that’s besides the point. Or so some would have you believe.

2. One thing I don’t understand. If Murray was able to fix his mistakes and the team competitive in the latter half of the season, why was his job safe and not Cory Clouston? Shouldn’t Clouston have also been rewarded for making a team of AHLers competitive?

3. Remember Murray giving Chris Phillips that bloated contract at the trade deadline? The one that will see Phillips get a little more than $3 million a year for the next three years? Since that deal, Phillips has been a minus 10, despite the Sens posting a winning record of 11 wins, eight losses and one overtime loss.

4. Phillips finished last in the league with a minus 35. That’s what $9 million gets you nowadays.

5. In the Habs-Sens game, Chris Neil challenged Scott Gomez to a fight. It seemed strange to me, considering he was getting a facewash from Hal Gill at the time. But that’s what Neil does. Instead of going after the other team’s tough guys, he decides to go after guys he knows he can beat. Of course, if my fights against tough guys went like this, I’d probably stop challenging them too.

6. I know the playoffs start today, and the Habs series starts tomorrow, but is it too late to fire coach Jacques Martin? I don’t get what the appeal is with him. He seems to get outcoached many times. He doesn’t even get credit for the playoff success last year, as a lot of the accolades went to Kirk Muller.

Tim Thomas should win the Hart trophy, but he won't be nominated.

7. Lots of talk about the Hart trophy, and about whether Daniel Sedin deserves it over Corey Perry. But as much as I hate the Bruins,  Tim Thomas put on a show that deserves the trophy this year. Perry finished with 50 goals, and Sedin just over a 100 points. But that’s not actually too rare. Thomas dominated this season, and had numbers that goalies haven’t had in more than a decade.

8. There’s actually been a lot of talk for various goalies being nominated for the Hart trophy (Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist), but I don’t think any of them get nominated. Not even Thomas, despite my previous point.

9. Coach of the year has got to be Penguins coach Dan Blymsa. He lost Jordan Staal for the first half of the year, and then Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for the second half. Yet they still finished fourth in the conference, and was actually making a push towards the division title down the stretch. That’s unbelievable.

10. Compare that to other teams, and think of their coaches. Could Vancouver have had the success they did if they missed Ryan Kesler for the first half, and the Sedin twins for the second half? Does Tampa make the playoffs if Vincent Lecavalier misses the first half of the season, and Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos the second half? I don’t think so.

11. I understand injuries play a role, but I’ve never understood why Jacques Martin likes to break up lines when they’re working. Case in point, the PhD line. Benoit Pouliot, Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche played great when they were on the same line. But they were broken up way too early. Hopefully, we’ll see them back together in the playoffs. 

12. No one got 60 points in Montreal? Not good. And there’s not a lot of cap space to go out and get help.

13. The Habs aren’t the only ones with that problem. Despite the “new” NHL leading to more scoring, there are plenty of teams without a 30-goal scorer or a 60-point guy.

14. What is Andrei Markov worth this summer? After three major injuries in the last two years, I’m not sure what the market will be like for Markov this summer. A team like Colorado might go after him, but really, I think Markov needs to sign a one-year deal with the Habs, have an awesome season, and then look to sign a big contract the following year.

Bridget Samuels photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Nazem Kadri won't be eligible for the Calder trophy next year because he played an extra four games this season.

15. Nazem Kadri won’t be eligible to win the Calder trophy next year. I understand the Leafs wanted to get the kid some games, but playing him in 29 games is a little silly, especially when the cutoff for rookie of year candidates is 25. They could have sat him out of an extra five games, and he would have had something extra to play for next year.

16. Scott Gomez finished the season with seven goals, meaning he is getting paid $1 million per goal. I wouldn’t mind if he was an Adam Oates type of player, getting tons of assists. Or if he was a hard hitter. Or if he actually contributed anything to the team. But he doesn’t. But because he makes so much money, he’s always on the top two lines. His minus 15 doesn’t help matters either.

17. The question now becomes, should the Habs buy Gomez out this summer? Of course they should. According to CapGeek.com, if the Habs buy him out, they would save $5.5 million next season. For that price, they could sign five guys who could score only seven goals a season.

18. I love PK Subban, but his penalty minutes need to be lower. Getting 42 minor penalties is way too much. That’s the worst in the league, and it’s way too much for such an important player on the Habs.

19. Don’t like the fact that Andrei Kostitsyn has more hits on the Habs than anyone else. Even though the Canadiens play a speedy game, they still need to have a couple of grinders that can help wear the other team down.

20. Leafs fans should curb their optimism about next season. Career year from certain guys helped, and so did a rookie goalie. But you can’t expect everyone to meet those same numbers next year.

21. Sens finished one goal ahead of their lowest scoring regular season in modern history. And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of offensive help coming. Can you count on Bobby Butler over the course of 82 games? History says no.

Moe photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Having Zach Parise for a full season will help the Devils next year.

22. If all the Devils do is re-sign Zach Parise this summer, they’ll be a playoff team next year. There’s no way guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur start off the season as bad as what they did this year.

23. Is there any hope of Florida ever being a playoff team? Things look bleak there. I’m a huge NHL fan, but I don’t think I could name five Panthers.

24. It feels like there are more coaches than ever being fired right now. So far, Dallas, Minnesota, Ottawa and Florida have all fired their coaches already, and the playoffs haven’t even started yet. If there are a couple of first round upsets (Washington, for example), then there could be a couple of more coming, plus more from teams already eliminated. Not sure what the record is, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a new one set for coaches fired in a single offseason.

25. It’ll be interesting to see how many playoff teams have trouble in the postseason thanks to the shootout inflating their points. Both the Kings and the Pens won 10 shootouts, with the Rangers winning nine. And the Kings, for example, only one won game in overtime during the whole season. It’ll be interesting to see how that translates to postseason success.

26. Interesting to note: Only one team has a winning percentage when losing after the first period. The Washington Capitals. So never count them out of a playoff game.

27. Way back at the start of the season, I tried to make some crazier predictions (see them all here). Some of them, I was way off, especially when it comes to the trades. Probably the worst prediction was saying Kris Versteeg will finish with 80 points. He had 46, and was traded once it became apparent he couldn’t be a top-line player.

Bridget Samuels photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Who would have guessed Michael Grabner would have such a good rookie season? Oh right, I did.

28. My favourite prediction that I came close on?  Michael Grabner for the Calder trophy. He probably won’t win, but he should be a nominee.

29. Other predictions I was right on: ” Daniel Sedin gets more points than his brother, Henrik.” Most people had it the other way, considering Henrik won the Hart trophy and the Art Ross last season.

30. “Despite all their rookies, no one on the Oilers will be nominated for the Calder trophy.” The nominees haven’t come out yet, but I feel pretty confident in this one.

31. My first round Eastern playoff predictions: Capitals over Rangers, Sabres over Flyers, Canadiens over Bruins and Lightning over Penguins.

32. Playoff predictions for the West: Blackhawks over the Canucks, Sharks over Kings, Wings over Coyotes and Ducks over Predators.

33. Stanley Cup finals will be between the Ducks and the Sabres, with the Ducks winning the Stanley Cup.

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Sens make usual mistake, sign tier 2 goalie

So the Ottawa Senators have decided to sign goaltender Craig Anderson to a contract.

Matt Boulton, via Wikimedia Commons

Craig Anderson will be a disappointment in Ottawa, as he's proven that he can't be consistent enough to be a #1 starter.

The deal sees Anderson stay with the Sens for four years at $3.18 million a season ($12.75 million total).

While it’s baffling that the Sens ownership allow GM Bryan Murray to continue to make decisions on the future of this team when he doesn’t have any part of it himself, this seems to be a silly move, and a normal mistake from Sens general managers.

To be blunt, Anderson is simply not a #1 goalie. And nor should he be.

Yes, Anderson has been simply wonderful in some games. He’s really stepped up against Florida (twice), Toronto, Atlanta and the Devils. Or better known as non-playoff teams.

But Anderson has looked dreadful in other games. Four goals allowed against the Rangers. Four goals against the Sabres in only 22 minutes. Five goals against the Pens. Those three games have come in his last five started.

And that’s the thing with Anderson. He’s wildly inconsistent. There’s a reason he’s been the #1 goalie once in his NHL career.  Yes, that one season was fabulous, until you realize he was also inconsistent in Colorado. At one point, he allowed four goals or more in five of six starts. At another point, he allowed three goals or more in seven of nine starts. And down the stretch, he allowed at least four goals in five of six starts.

Sure, he had good stretches, but like I said, wildly inconsistent.

He’s also on the wrong side of 30, and has already hit his prime. Most goalies in the past 20 years hit their prime from the ages of 25 to 29.

Martin Brodeur’s streak of four straight 40-win seasons? Happened between the ages of 25 to 29.  Roberto Luongo’s 47-win season? He was 27.  Ryan Miller’s best two seasons? Last year at 29, and a few years back at 26.  Miika Kiprusoff’s streak of dominance came between the ages of 29 to 32.  Ilya Bryzgalov’s best season happened at the age of 29.  

And the list goes on. Tomas Vokoun’s two best seasons at the age of 26 and 29. Henrik Lundqvist has posted 30-win seasons every year, but he didn’t start playing in the NHL until he was 24 (he’s only 28 now).

Craig Anderson? Will be 30 years old at the start of next season. And he doesn’t have the pedigree of a lot of other goalies to think he will put up consistent numbers.

The other problem with the deal is the length. If the Sens believe Robin Lehner is the goalie of the future, then he’ll probably be ready to be the #1 starter in about two years, maybe even sooner. That will make Anderson a past-his-prime $3.2 million a season backup.

He’s going to be making more money than Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Jonathan Quick and Antii Niemi. If Sens fans had the option, they would gladly trade Anderson straight up for any one of those goalies. (Side note: If a Sens fan argues otherwise, then they either don’t pay attention to the NHL outside of the nation’s capital, or they’re too much of a homer).

It’s a silly move, as there would have been cheaper alternatives available this summer for a less-lengthy contract.

But that’s not the way Bryan Murray works. He overpays for players who are past their prime in hopes that he might find the one gem that might buck the trend.  

Now that he’s weighted down the next general manager with another silly contract, what does Murray do for an encore?

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33 NHL thoughts

I tried this once before, and I liked it way it turned out. I have a lot of different thoughts about the NHL, and this is a chance to get all of them out in one quick column.

Mark Canter photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Why would Chris Phillips want to stay in Ottawa?

So once again, here are my 33 NHL thoughts for the week.

1. There’s been rumours that Chris Neil may wind up in Montreal. That’s not a good fit though. The Habs play a fast speedy game. Taking one allegedly “tough” player and putting him in that system wouldn’t scare teams like the Boston Bruins or Philadelphia Flyers. If anything, it weakens Montreal’s style, since Neil is neither fast nor speedy.

2. Sens defenceman Chris Phillips wants to stay in Ottawa and be part of the rebuild. Isn’t this just like Tomas Kaberle? For years, some in the media have thought Kaberle just didn’t care to win, and wanted to stay on a losing team instead of accepting a trade elsewhere. Now Phillips is saying the same thing.

3. Just noticed that James Wisniewski’s stick is half white. I wonder if that gives him an advantage when shooting as goalies may not see it winding up as quickly as normal sticks. Also, would it give an advantage to Wisniewski’s shot blocking?

4. I’ve been really impressed with Benoit Pouliot this year. He’s probably the only Habs player that hasn’t played a bad game. He plays well, no matter what his linemates. He forechecks well, plays strong in the defensive zone, and makes plays. While he may not score in every game, he gives it his all, and that’s all you can ask of him.

5. Not understanding the love for Ryan Kesler for the Hart trophy. He’s not even one of the top two choices on the Canucks, much less one of the top three in the league. Yet there are plenty of stories being written about him having a shot at the trophy.

6. If I had a vote, my pick for the Hart would be Steven Stamkos. My second choice would be Tim Thomas (he doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done when it comes to the Hart voting). Third is Daniel Sedin.

Bridget Samuels photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Grabner should win the Calder trophy.

7. While everyone has been talking about Jeff Skinner, Logan Couture and Michael Grabner for the Calder trophy, I think Rangers rookie Derek Stepan is a dark horse choice to be nominated.

8. That being said, Grabner is my call to win the Calder. He’s a plus-11 on a horrific Islanders team, has three shorthanded goals, leads all rookies with 25 goals and has only six penalty minutes. And he gets about three minutes less of ice time per game than most other rookies.

9. Would love to see a rematch in the playoffs with the Bruins-Flyers. A hard-hitting series with the Bruins looking for revenge for last year’s playoffs, when they lost a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers.

10. What has happened to Jonas Gustavsson? He went from being the Monster, to #3 in the Leafs organization. He was supposed to be a stud goalie, but he’s quickly turned into a dud.

11. Chicago’s penalty kill is going to give them trouble in the playoffs, if they make it in. They’re 27th in the league om the PK. In the playoffs, when special teams matter, that’s going to give them trouble.

12. Craig Anderson in Ottawa is not a good thing. Sure, he looked good against the Leafs, but that’s not really telling anything, since the Leafs have traded more talent away in the past two weeks then the Sens have completely. But it would be a mistake if Ottawa GM Bryan Murray signed Anderson. The Sens should have learned from the Pascal Leclaire fiasco: do not go after goalies who have only had one great year. You’ll be disappointed.

13. By the way, shouldn’t the new Ottawa GM be making these decisions? Murray will be gone this summer, so why saddle the new GM with Anderson?

14. Congrats to Dave and Holly. Two of my good friends got married a couple of weeks ago. Dave reads this site regularly, and is a big Habs fan. Even though we don’t agree on everything, he’s pretty knowledgeable when it comes to the NHL. And Holly is also a huge Habs fan, and a pretty solid defenceman on our co-ed team to boot. Congrats again guys!

15. Marc Savard’s injury is the only reason the Bruins could trade for Tomas Kaberle. That cap space saved from him being on the injured reserve cleared the way for the Bruins to make a big move.

Bridget Samuels photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Colorado overpaid for Erik Johnson.

16. Colorado overpaid for Erik Johnson. Kevin Shattenkirk is probably not too far behind Johnson in development, and Chris Stewart is a dynamite young forward who was tearing up the league before injuring his hand earlier this year. Bad move on Colorado’s part.

17. Not sure why Colorado would want Brian Elliott. The guy hasn’t proven to win, yet they’re hoping he can bring them to the playoffs? Colorado has made some bad moves lately.

18. The trade deadline will be dead this year. With so many teams already making their deals, there won’t be a lot of dynamite deals left. Take Montreal, for instance. They have already made their moves to shore up their defence, first getting Wisniewski, and then Paul Mara. Unless they decide to trade for more offence, there won’t be any more major deals coming from them. 

19. Less and less no trade clauses should be coming in the next few years. Teams have found it extremely difficult to get rid of players they don’t want because of no trade clauses. Kaberle, Phillips, Gonchar, etc. All tough to move if they won’t waive their clauses.

20. Something that would be nice to include in the next CBA: a chance for teams to pay for salaries of traded players. For example, Wade Redden. If the Rangers could trade him, and agree to pay half his contract, both teams are happy. The Rangers would save $3 million in cap space each year, while the team trading for him would only accept $3 million in cap space. It would also do away with a lot of drama that comes with players and whether or not teams could afford them. It could make way for more trades, as teams near the cap could make more deals.

21. Joe Thornton is getting old, and look for this season to be a sign of things to come. He’s having an off year, and I don’t think he can get 100 points again. He’s 31, about to become 32 years old. You know how many players had 100 point seasons at the age of 32 or over? Only 10 (Gretzky, Esposito, Howe, Dionne, Jagr, Francis, Bucyk, Ratelle, Sakic and Alfredsson).  I don’t think Thornton will join them. The Sharks should probably trade him before his value dips too much.

22. If the NBA and the NFL don’t have seasons next year (or delayed ones), the NHL is in a great spot to capture new fans. Baseball had trouble getting fans back after the cancelled World Series in 1994, and hockey was only able to come back so quickly thanks to the new rules. If either the NBA or NFL are out for a while, then hockey will be one of the only sports to watch, once the World Series is over.

23. Everyone’s been blasting Mario Lemieux recently, and I think it’s well deserved. It’s crazy that he comes out, when his team leads the league in fighting and penalties, and talks about how bad the Islanders were during the brawl (and that’s not even including the fact Matt Cooke is the dirtiest player in the game). But the worst is the end of his statement, when he threatened to take his ball and go home. Look Mario, the league survived fine without you for years, and if you don’t want to be a part of it, then leave.

Connormah photo, via Wikimedia Commons

The problem with Ovechkin's scoring is simple: he's not as dirty.

24. The problem with Alex Ovechkin this season is simple. Last year, he was one of the dirtiest players in the game. This year, he’s changed his style so he’s stopped injuring people. That means he’s not as aggressive, and it’s showing. But, it’s a lot better he play this way than his reckless style that he used to do.

25. Even though the Penguins keep winning without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, they won’t get far in the playoffs with a top superstar. Every team needs a player that is required to come through when it counts. Pittsburgh doesn’t have that right now, and would be lucky to win a round with the squad they have.

26. Sens fans need to be patient with a rebuild. Look at the Oilers now. Despite young top level talent from good draft picks thanks to bad seasons, they’re still one of the worst teams in the league. It’s the same with Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa, etc. When you’re rebuilding a team, you need quite a few years to turn things around.

27. Anaheim has shown this season what can happen when you overwork your #1 goalie. Jonas Hiller needed to take time off for fatigue, and the Ducks have suffered since. Montreal and Buffalo are a couple of teams that should pay attention to that.

28. My picks to miss the playoffs in the West out of the logjam: Nashville, Calgary and Dallas. Nashville because they don’t have that top level talent at forward to carry the team on his back, Calgary because their players will have to come back to normal sooner or later, and Dallas because of the fact Brad Richards is out for a bit with a concussion. Crosby has shown that there’s no such thing as a mild concussion.

29. In the east, I don’t really see anyone catching Carolina. The Rangers would be my only guess as to who has a chance to miss the playoffs, but as long as Marian Gaborik stays healthy, they should be okay. (Note, I wrote that line hours before Gaborik received a concussion in the Rangers game yesterday, but thought I should keep it in).

30. It still amazes me at how good Detroit is. They’re the highest scoring team in the league right now (per game average). And that’s with a lot of injuries to a lot of key guys. It’s crazy how good that team is, from top to bottom.

31. At the same time, Montreal needs more scoring help. They’re 25th in the league in goals for per game, and 28th in shooting percentage. Sure, injuries to guys like Andrei Markov and Mike Cammalleri hurt, but every team deals with injuries, so that can’t be used as an excuse. It’ll be hard for them to sneak up on teams in the playoffs this season and create upsets. Teams will be ready for them.

32. Since the all-star break, no team has scored more goals than the New York Islanders. Once they get Mark Streit back next season to help man their powerplay, the team should be playoff-contenders, especially since their young guys will have more experience. They still need a top goalie, but teams have done more with less.

33. Is there a curse of the Kraft Hockeyville? Since having a competition where an NHL exhibition game would be played at a community arena in a small town, teams participating haven’t had a lot of success. If the Sens and the Sabres miss the playoffs (both are out of a playoff spot right now), that means only three of 10 teams participating in Kraft Hockeyville made the playoffs in the season they participated in.

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How I would fix the Senators

With the Ottawa Senators continuing to lose (1-6-3 in their last 10 games), it’s only a matter of time before the general manager Bryan Murray is fired, and with good reason.

By Cindy Pierson Dulay [CC-BY-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Eugene Melnyk looks happy that he named me as the new Sens general manager.

Now, I have no idea who the new GM would be. It’s been rumoured that TSN personality Pierre McGuire could be the replacement, but I don’t know about that. I do know the new GM has a lot of work to do.

Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be asked to be the man in charge, which is a shame. Because I have a 10-step plan in place to get the Senators back on track.

Now, even though I’m not a Senators fan, I thought I would show my 10 steps here, just in case the new GM needs some help.

1. Call a press conference. Maybe it’s part of the announcement that I’m the new GM. Maybe it’s the day after. It doesn’t matter. But it’s important to tell fans to have patience, because the team us going to suck for the next few years.

To rebuild a team, you need to acquire draft picks and let them develop. You need to make trades that improve your team a little bit at a time. You need to sign free agents that don’t have any place to go, because it’s going to be difficult to convinve high-end free agents to come to a city that is losing.

But, you also need to tell Sens fans that the team isn’t going to pull a Pittsburgh or Chicago, and have five horrible years to get top-three draft picks every year. The fan base wouldn’t put up with it. Instead, a rebuild would need to be done along the lines of the Boston Bruins. Coming out of the lockout, the Bruins came dead last in the Northeast division for two straight years, but rebuilt with smart draft picks, smart free agent signings, and smart trades.

That is the model the Sens will need to follow. There are no quick fixes (just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs and Phil Kessel). But it’s important that the fans know there is a plan, and it may be a painful couple of years, but they’ll try to be competitive.

By Jonathan Milley from Halifax, Canada (DSC_3844) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Talking to Daniel Alfredsson would be one of the top things on my list to do.

2. Talk to Daniel Alfredsson. Have a heart-to-heart with him. Tell him the plan for the team. There’s going to be some tough seasons ahead. The team isn’t going to be very good for a few years, and he has a choice. If he wants to stay, he can stay the whole time, be a leader to the young guys who are coming in, but know he probably will never see postseason success.

His other option. Be traded to a team that has a chance to win a Stanley Cup. He can make a list of teams, and he’ll be traded to one of those teams. If the list is eight teams, then it’s one of them. If the list is three teams, then it will be one of those teams. Even if the Sens don’t get much back in return, Alfie deserves the right to dictate where he wants to go.

3. Trade Chris Phillips for a second rounder. At the trade deadline, Phillips will have a cap hit of $771,505. That’s not too bad for a shutdown defenceman. But Phillips is missing Anton Volchenkov a lot this year, and his numbers aren’t that great. He doesn’t belong with the Sens anymore. And he won’t be re-signed in the offseason.

So he has an option. Either help out the team by accepting a trade and having a chance to try someplace new and win a Cup, or pull a Mats Sundin and stay with the team, leave in the summer, and not give the Sens anything.

Why a second rounder? Because that’s generally the going rate for a trade deadline rental. Four second rounders were traded last year at the deadline, (that doesn’t include trades that happened before the deadline, such as Dominic Moore for a second rounder. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, 10 second round picks were traded). The year before, nine second rounders were parts of trades.

So Phillips for a second rounder? Sounds good to me.

4. Don’t rush Robin Lehner. Instead, sign a goalie for a couple of years, until Lehner is ready.

The worst thing the Sens can do is rush Lehner up before he’s ready to be a bona fide #1 goalie. He needs to spend at least one, if not two, years in the AHL before he could be ready to join NHL as a full-time #1 goalie.  The reality is goalies generally come into their own in their mid-to-late 20s.  

Martin Brodeur’s streak of four straight 40-win seasons? Happened between the ages of 25 to 29.  Roberto Luongo’s 47-win season? He was 27.  Ryan Miller’s best two seasons? Last year at 29, and a few years back at 26.  Miika Kiprusoff’s streak of dominance came between the ages of 29 to 32.  Ilya Bryzgalov’s best season just happened at the age of 29.  

And the list goes on. Craig Anderson’s best season at 29. Tomas Vokoun’s two best seasons at the age of 26 and 29. Henrik Lundqvist has posted 30-win seasons every year, but he didn’t start playing in the NHL until he was 24 (he’s only 28 now).

Rushing Lehner up to the Sens could do more harm than good.

So in the meantime, they need to sign a goalie that can win games, but would be happy with a cheap, two-year contract. So that excludes guys like Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov. Instead, they should sign someone like Jose Theodore to a two-year, $5 million deal. The Sens get a goalie that can be the #1 guy for a couple of years, not much will be expected of him and he’s still good enough to win some games single-handidly.

5. Get a new coach, someone with a lot of NHL experience. I don’t know  why Bryan Murray decides to get coaches that either have no NHL experience, or haven’t coached in the big leagues in years. Maybe it’s a ploy to make himself remembered as a better coach than he was. Don’t belive me? Look at the coaches the Murray has hired since becoming GM.

2007-08 season: John Paddock: Coached less than a season in Ottawa.  He hadn’t coached in the NHL since 1994-95. How long ago was that? Quebec, Hartford and Winnipeg all had hockey teams. Ryan Smyth was a rookie. Eric Lindros won the Hart trophy and was a dominating force. There was a reason Paddock spent a dozen years in between NHL jobs.

2008-09 season: Craig Hartsburg: Coached Ottawa for 48 games. Hadn’t coached an NHL game since the 2001-02 season. In his seven seasons of coaching (including the two where he got fired halfway through), he only led a team to better than third in the division one time. Not conference, but division.

2008-2009 season to present: Cory Clouston: Not one bit of NHL coaching experience. Yet, this was the choice to lead a team that had struggled with its previous two coaches.

So the Sens need a coach, and they need one with experience, who knows how to deal with NHL players, and has had some level of success. I wouldn’t go after Ken Hitchcock, as his brand of defensive hockey is pretty boring (although successful). Candidates include Michel Therrien and Pat Quinn, but I think the front runner would be Craig MacTavish. MacTavish worked with some pretty brutal teams in Edmonton, and in eight seasons, finished below .500 only once.

He is the best bet to lead the Sens through a rebuild.

By Dan4th (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dan4th/4354880364/) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Jason Spezza needs a sniper on his wing.

6. Get a sniper for Jason Spezza. Look, I think Spezza is vastly overpaid, and isn’t that great of a set-up man at all. He needs other great talent to work with in order to be successful. When Dany Heatley was his wingman, Spezza was a great setup man. But without a 50-goal scorer on his side, his assists decline a lot.

Since Spezza can’t be traded (it’s hard to find someone willing to take on a $7 million cap hit for four more seasons on a player that is one-dimensional, not to mention the no trade clause that he has that can quash any deal to a city he doesn’t like), Spezza needs to be a part of this team for a few years.

Now, I don’t think the Sens should necessarily go out and overpay for a potential 50-goal scorer. But there are a couple of cheap options out there that could help him out. There are guys like Milan Hejduk, Mike Knuble and Michael Ryder. All three are cheap scoring options for Spezza until something better comes along, and none of them would expect a long-term deal.

7. Get rid of Chris Neil. His salary is stupid, he’s not as good as people remember (only once in the past four years has Neil scored more than six goals in a season, and he’s on pace for four goals this year), and he’s not even a go-to fight guy anymore, as Matt Carkner has claimed that title on the Sens. The only thing Neil is good for nowadays is looking tough while on bench when something happens on the ice that he’s not a part of.

More than likely, no one would trade for him. So the only other option would be to buy out his contract. According to CapGeek, Neil would have a cap hit of $666,667 a year for the next four years. So the Sens would save about $1.3 million in cap space for the next two seasons.

Done and done.

8. Make a splash in the free agent market by signing one big name free agent. In the Ottawa hockey market, you need to stay competitive, or fans stop coming to games. Sad, but true.

So in an effort to solve this problem, I would need to sign a key free agent. Someone who has a history of being a good player, isn’t inconsistent, and would be worth the risk. That leaves only three players this summer: Brad Richards, Alexander Semin and Simon Gagne.

Richards is a 90-point guy. Semin is more of a wildcard, but has tons of talent and would give fans hope of seeing a highlight-reel goal any game they attend. And Gagne is a 40-goal potential player (in fact, Gagne should be considered for a linemate of Spezza, but I don’t think he would be cheap enough for the criteria I lined out in point #6).

Best of all, these guys are 30 years old or younger. Signing one of them to a four- or five-year deal wouldn’t be as bad as signing 35-year-old players on the downside of their career. Murray’s already tried that. It doesn’t work.

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It takes a good team to do better than this.

9. Get some true second liners. I mentioned this in a post a couple of weeks ago, but Ottawa is full of third-line players. They need to get some true-second liners. A second-line player is a guy who can be counted on to not only get 60 points or so, but easily fill in on the top line if there is an injury there.

These are harder to come by, and would probably need to be acquired by trade, more than a free agent signing as Tim Connolly may be the only free agent this summer who fits the second-line role. But when you look at other team’s second lines, and then Ottawa’s second line of Chris Kelly, Jesse Winchester and Ryan Shannon (or Nick Foligno, or Zack Smith), then you can see why Ottawa has so many scoring woes.

10. Get a shot-blocking defencman. As mentioned above, Ottawa really misses Anton Volchenkov. But at the same time, I think he’s now overpaid by the Devils to do what he does, so letting him go wasn’t that bad a move by Murray. Not replacing him was brutal.

Now, Sens prospect Jared Cowen could be that guy. But he can only do so much. I think they need to get at least one more shot-blocking d-man. Someone that could be a leader for Cowen, and a stable presence on the ice late in a one-goal game.

Someone like Brent Sopel would be a good fit. He’s sixth in the league in blocked shots, and should only earn about $2.5 million a season next year (and is a free agent this summer).

It’s important fans know what they’re getting in Sopel. Don’t expect him to score goals or make beautiful two-line passes. He’ll score about one goal a season, get 10 assists, and block about 150 shots. Oh, and he’ll also bring Stanley Cup experience, which can never be overlooked when a team does make the playoffs (see Hal Gill last year).

Conclusion. So there you have it. You may be wondering about some obvious moves, such as trading Sergei Gonchar, Alexei Kovalev or Mike Fisher. I really don’t see a situation where anyone would want to take on those players or their salaries.

Obviously, not all of the above steps would be possible. But it’s a good guideline for a new GM to follow. Making these moves gives the Sens some draft picks, clears cap space and allows the team a chance to rebuild.

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10 reasons why Bryan Murray should be fired

I can only imagine what it was like to be an Ottawa Senators fan in the spring of 2007.

Bryan Murray should be fired as Senators GM.

The team is riding high, having gone to the Stanley Cup finals. The future looked bright, and the Sens have a respected general manager leading the way.

Then the team fired said general manager, and replaced him with Bryan Murray.

And since then, the team has, quite frankly, sucked. Star players have demanded to be traded, bad draft picks have been made and horrible free agents have haunted this team.

As Murray retooled the team in his image, many players have come and gone. In fact, only six (6!) players from the 2007 finals are still with the team. That’s a lot of turnaround in three years for a team that almost won the Cup.

Now, the Sens struggle each season, the player personal isn’t great, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be excited about.

So how does Bryan Murray still have a job?

And now, with the Senators still struggling, some in the Ottawa media are saying head coach Cory Clouston should be fired. Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun is reporting that Murray tried to do just that, but was told by owner Eugene Melnyk that wasn’t an option.

So what’s the best option? Getting rid of Murray.

When John Muckler was the general manager of the Sens from 2002 to 2007, the Sens went to the finals once, the semi-finals once and the second round once (with one elimination in the first round). His record in the playoffs was 32-23. As mentioned above, Murray’s record is 2-8, both first round exits, and one season when the team never made the playoffs.

I wonder who Murray would put as coach if he fired Clouston. Hmmmm...

So why was Muckler fired? It makes no sense. He was a smart GM, who made made smart moves, smart signings and smart trades. Murray has done none of that.

Maybe it’s karma, coming back to bite the Sens in the butt for their treatment of Muckler.

Just like my post last year on Bob Gainey, I now present to you the top 10 reasons why Bryan Murray should be fired, with 10 representing the number of playoff games the Sens have played since Murray took over as GM (the Sens are 2-8 in those 10 games).

Goaltending

This has been the Achilles heel for the Sens. But at least John Muckler tried to get a superstar goalie. He did sign Dominik Hasek and Martin Gerber, who was a #1 goalie in Carolina before Cam Ward took over.

Murray though, apparently doesn’t pay enough attention to NHL goalies. He traded for Pascal Leclaire, even though it was obvious Leclaire was only good because of the defence-first system employed by Ken Hitchcock in Columbus, not to mention it was a bad omen that Murray traded for an injured Leclaire.

Murray never made an effort to get a true #1 goalie, similar to Hasek. You know, someone with a proven track record.

But hey, if you believe Leclair and Brian Elliott is the best tandem you have, then go with that. Just don’t be surprised if the team doesn’t do too well.

Dany Heatley trade

I’m actually surprised this deal hasn’t caused Murray to be fired yet. I understand his hand was forced, but has there been a more one-sided deal involving a superstar since the Patrick Roy trade?

Heatley was traded for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, and a 2010 second round pick. Michalek has been brutal for Ottawa, especially this season. Cheechoo was so bad he was sent to the AHL half-way through the season and then his contract was bought out. And that pick? Traded for Andy Sutton, who played a total of 18 regular season games with the Sens.

That’s the return from a 50-goal scorer. Yes, Heatley demanded a trade. But a year and a half after the deal, all that’s left is a 30-point guy.

In comparison, when the Phoenix Coyotes traded Olli Jokinen to Calgary at the trade 2009 trade deadline, they got a return of Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a first rounder. Lombardi had 53 points last year for Phoenix, before suffering a concussion this year. Prust, now with the Rangers, is on the same pace for points as Michalek. And the first rounder turned out to be Brandon Gormley, a highly-touted defensive prospect.

So how did Phoenix get more for Jokinen than Ottawa did for Heatley?

Murray got hosed on his deal, and for most general managers, that means an immediate firing. But Murray seems to get a pass.

Horrible free agent signing #1

So, considering many players don’t want to sign in Ottawa, Murray felt pressure to make a move. Any move. If not, then it would seem like he can’t do his job. So he decided to sign Alexei Kovalev to a two-year deal worth a total of $5 million.

Yelling at Kovalev won't help.

Maybe it’s not just goalies Murray has trouble scouting. Kovalev had one good season in seven years before signing this deal. He gave interviews in Russian criticizing the Montreal Franchise when he was still a player there. His play was so lackadaisical, that Bob Gainey had to basically ground him and tell him to stay away from the team for a weekend. He was streaky,

So what did Murray think was going to happen to a 36-year-old player on the downside of his career? That he would magically pick it up and put up 100 points?

And how did Kovalev reward Ottawa fans? Before even playing his first game as a Sen, he told the media that he would love to play for Montreal again at some point. Like that’s not a slap in the face.

On top of that, he gave Kovalev a no-movement clause, which makes him almost untradeable. Silly move. But hey, who could have seen this coming?

Horrible free agent signing #2

Okay, so we’ve already covered the goaltenders and the forwards. Maybe Murray is better at scouting defencemen. There’s no way he could overpay there, could he?

What’s that? He paid a 36-year-old d-man $16.5 million over three years to play defence? And Murray gave him a no-trade clause as well.

Gonchar is on pace for 36 points, which would his lowest point-scoring non-injury season since 1997-98, when he was a member of the Washington Capitals. His -20 rating is the worst of any player in the league that doesn’t play for the New Jersey Devils.

Maybe Murray only signs these players because he feels like he has no other choice. But sometimes, it’s better to do nothing, than to make your team worse.

Not signing Gary Roberts

Now, this may seem like a silly reason. I mean, there’s a bunch of players that the Senators haven’t traded for or signed. Why choose Gary Roberts?

Because not getting Roberts was seen as the biggest reason the Sens fired John Muckler. Even though the Ottawa Senators made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007, Muckler was fired because he wouldn’t pull the trigger on a deal for Roberts. Sens fans will deny this now, but that summer, despite the Sens playoff success, there were a lot of upset people over the fact there was no Roberts on the team.

Instead, the Penguins traded for Roberts, giving that team the leadership they needed. The Sens, got manhandled by the Ducks in the finals, and fired their general manager for it.

Yet, Murray can’t get Roberts in Ottawa either, and that’s not seen as a failure?

Making trades for free agents, and then not re-signing them

One of the keys to a successful franchise is not just keying in and trying to sign free agents in the summer. It’s also trying to get those players in advance so you can have an advantage.

Why don't players want to sign in Ottawa?

For example, last season, the New Jersey Devils traded for soon-to-be free agent Ilya Kovalchuk. This past summer, they signed him to a long-term deal.

The Minnesota Wild traded for Guillaume Latendresse last season, and then re-signed him to a two-year deal this past summer.

Last summer, the Colorado Avalanche traded for defenceman Kyle Quincey. He was re-signed this past summer.

In 2009, the Carolina Hurricanes traded for Jussi Jokinen, and the re-signed him in the summer.

Same goes for players such as Bill Guerin, Erik Cole, Mark Recchi, Mikhail Grabovski, and more.

Bryan Murray, on the other, can’t seem to do the same. Over and over, he trades for upcoming free agents, and then can’t sign them. Maybe he can’t convince them Ottawa can be a Stanley Cup contender. Maybe the players don’t like their time in Canada’s capital. Whatever the reason, it ends up hurting the team.

The Sens trade young players and prospects, and end up with nothing in return. Matt Cullen, Andy Sutton, Mike Comrie, Martin Lapointe, Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman are just some of the free agents Murray has traded for, and none of them has played more than 26 regular season games as a Senator.

Too many coaches

Has any team had more coaches in the past three seasons than the Ottawa Senators?

First it was John Paddock, who lasted 64 games. He was replaced by Murray himself, who had a brutal 7-9-2 record. So Murray brought in Craig Hartsburg. Hartsburg was the worst of the group, with a horrendous 17-24-7 record, before he was sacked. So Murray brought in Cory Clouston. Clouston was pretty good for a while, but has only a 3-5-1 record this season.

So what is it with Murray’s inability to hire good coaches. Four coaches in three plus seasons? That’s not the sign of a good general manager. And now, with Steve Simmons reporting that Murray is stuck with Clouston, it appears as if Murray doesn’t have a coach scapegoat for this team, this time around.

Too streaky a team

It’s no secret the Sens are the streakiest team in the NHL. Already this season, they have lost five of six games, won six of seven, lost five of six, and lost five of six. It’s been like this with this team since the middle of the 2008 season. They see more losing streaks than winning streaks.

How do they break out of it? Leadership. The Sens need people to step up when streaks like this occur. And I’m not knocking Daniel Alfredsson’s leadership abilities (even though I think they do lack a little bit). But to break out of them, a few guys need to step up and say enough is enough, go on the ice, knock some skulls and score some goals. Ottawa doesn’t have enough leaders who can do that.  And why not?

Because Murray hasn’t gone out and traded for, signed or drafted them. You can’t point to four people on this team that can take a game over consistently and win games for the team when they need to.

No clear vision

Does anyone know the vision Murray has for the Sena?

Is this team trying to win now, or building for the future? Do they want to make the playoffs, or give their young guys a chance to develop? Does anyone even know what they hope to accomplish?

At least with the Oilers, Islanders, Avalanche and Kings, you know they are rebuilding. But with Ottawa, it seems as if Murray wants to rebuild while staying competitive. And that’s really difficult to do, almost impossible. In the cap world, teams in need of a rebuild need to go through a few hard years to get good draft picks.

But fans in most cities can accept that, if they know that’s what is happening. They’d be willing to see a poor team for a few years if it meant a competitive team down the road. But they’re not willing to see a poor team if there’s nothing to look forward to.

And fans aren’t attending. The team hasn’t had a sellout yet this year. Surprised? I was. Scotiabank Place holds 20,500 fans. The most they’ve had this year has been 20,275. And there’s only been five out of 22 home games with more than 20,000 this season. For eight games, there’s been less than 17,000 fans. And for a game when the hated Dany Heatley came back to town, there was about 1,000 empty seats.

That’s just sad, but the blame lies at the feet of Murray. A more competitive team means more butts in the seats.

Expecting too much out of third liners

Look, I understand the need to shift guys around on different lines. Maybe you put an energy guy on the top line to get something going.

But seriously, if you honestly expect guys like Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Jesse Winchester and Ryan Shannon to be able to produce enough to possibly warrant top-line ice time, then you have a problem with your team. The highest single-season point total for any of these players is a paltry 32 points. Yet, over the past few years, all of them have been expected to be a top-line player. It’s absurd.

Throw in guys like Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu, and the Sens lead the league in third liners. But there’s not enough skill for the offence. All they have is Daniel Alfredsson (on the downside of his career), Jason Spezza (injury-prone and inconsistent), Mike Fisher (overpaid and will never be more than a 50-point guy) and Milan Michalek (not the same since he left San Jose, and on pace for 30 points this season).

Conclusion

It’s no secret that Ottawa fans are a fickle lot. They may not like to hear that, or even deny it, but when the team struggles, fans stop going to games. They only support a winner.

That’s why it’s imperative that the Sens win games, and soon. If they don’t, then they lose money. And that’s not a good thing for Bryan Murray.

And with the Sens losing, and losing a lot, then Murray deserves to go. Especially considering where they were just a few short years ago, when he took over this team. I guess he had to put his stamp on this team. Unfortunately for Sens fans, that stamp is one of losing.

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Bryan Murray’s time is almost up

It should be known by now that I have never been a fan of Bryan Murray.

Why wont anyone offer me anything good for Dany Heatley?

"Why won't anyone offer me anything good for Dany Heatley?"

Murray came in as general manager immediately after the team fired John Muckler, who only put together a team that went to the Stanley Cup finals. It can only be considered karma that the team struggled afterwards.

But now, Dany Heatley may very well do that no one else could do: get Murray fired.

Since Murray has taken over the team, he has seen the Sens freefall one year and get swept in the first round, to being horrible right out of the gate and missing the playoffs the second year.

Now, he has to trade Heatley, and is asking way too much in return (it looks to be about three roster players). In a salary cap world, it’s hard to find enough teams that afford to trade for Heatley, much less be able to give up three players.

There’s only three ways this Dany Heatley thing will end:

1) Murray trades Heatley for less than he wanted. The team struggles out of the gate, media and fans blame bad Heatley trade on Murray. He gets fired.

2) Heatley doesn’t get traded. The team starts off slow, media and fans blame Murray for not being able to make a trade. They say Heatley is a distraction in the locker room. Murray gets fired, new GM trades Heatley almost right away.

No one will ever be allowed to wear #15 after this.

"No one will ever be allowed to wear #15 after this."

3) The Sens start off the season fine (no matter if Heatley is traded or not). At some point, the team will struggle, as most teams do at some point of a season (unless you’re the Detroit Red Wings). Media and fans blame Murray for mess of team. Murray is fired for making a bad trade involving Heatley or not trading Heatley.

All three scenarios may be unfair, but that’s because the team has struggled since Murray took over. If the Sens had been successful the last few years, it would be a different story.

And I think it all comes down to how much Murray wants for Heatley. As I mentioned a few months ago, I believe most teams would be willing to give up a top prospect, a second- or third-line player and a first round draft pick for Heatley. Anything more for a high-salary player who has asked twice to be traded is way too much.

And that will be the downfall of Bryan Murray.

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