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