Two posts so far and I'm sure that I'll be once again standing alone on an island! This is an opinion that I've held for a very long time and have often brought up in previous blogs over at our former home, anothersensblog (great to be here at Silver Seven!). From the moment John Muckler was allowed to walk away following a Stanley Cup run in 2007 and was replaced by the coach that he hired, I've been worried. I've been worried that we removed a guy that has multiple Stanley Cup rings
as an actual GM (Ed. Note: Although Muckler has been a part of five Stanley Cup winners, none were while he was general manager) and replaced him with a guy that has had mild success as a coach and questionable success as a general manager. I'm going to say what I've told friends for the past four years - John Muckler built a winner and Bryan Murray destroyed it.
I had the fortune of working within the Ottawa Senators organization growing up in Kanata, including during the wonderful playoff run of 2002-03. I recall vividly a ‘hot stove' meeting with the entire staff including John Muckler, who was in his first season as GM. He said something that was so great to us that I'll always remember - he said that we are here to win the Stanley Cup and we're going to talk about the Stanley Cup, because if you can't talk about winning it, then you aren't ready. It was awesome and there was this huge cheer throughout the room. John Muckler brought swagger to a team that was sick and tired of being humiliated year after year for playoff flops.
Fans always look to the mistakes in Muckler's tenure - a poor trade return from Martin Havlat, the inability to get the right trade deadline pieces (Eugene hearts Gary Roberts), and of course his decision to keep Wade Redden over Zdeno Chara. In fact, there is even a recent Wayne Scanlan article that brings up another point - that Chara was intent on walking away ever since Muckler backstabbed Marian Hossa in his trade to Atlanta for Dany Heatley. While this obviously has merit based on the fact that Scanlan printed it, we have all accepted that Muckler had a chance to keep Chara but balked and spent the bank on Redden; Chara wanted to stay, Muckler chose the other guy.
The other major knock on John Muckler is that he stunk at the draft table. In fact, you can make an argument that he didn't care much for the draft at all, often trading away picks at the deadline to make a Stanley Cup run. It is so bad that the only praise people can find for Bryan Murray at this point is how he and his nephew, Tim Murray, have ‘restocked the cupboards'.
Let me share some basic facts about the guy that last won a playoff series in Ottawa. His handling of the Hossa deal wasn't wrong. He approached Hossa, Chara, and Redden and made it clear that he wanted all of them to buy into the program in Ottawa and sign matching $3.9M contracts. He knew that at that moment, none of them deserved more than Daniel Alfredsson and he asked them to take matching hometown discounts to keep the team together. Chara and Redden agreed, Hossa didn't and he had to spend a couple of season in Atlanta as a result (things did work out for him in the end, though, right?). He was able to cast aside Hossa's salary along with another whopper in Greg de Vries at $2.5M and brought us an up-and-coming Canadian superstar in Dany Heatley. Regardless of how we feel about Heatley now, the guy had instant chemistry with Jason Spezza and was a critical part of the 2007 Finals run. To this date, Muckler is the only guy in Ottawa that has found a linemate for Spezza.
Muckler also built what was our best defensive group that we've had in franchise history. People often forget that Tom Preissing, part of the Martin Havlat trade, ranked in the top three in plus/minus in his season in Ottawa. Along with Preissing, Muckler brought in Joe Corvo, who was a solid offensive player for us beyond his happy feet and his desire to play in anonymity. Those two formed the third pairing in Ottawa. Today, under the Murray regime, our third pairing is a rotation that includes Chris Campoli, Matt Carkner, and Brian Lee.
How about taking chances? People often see Patrick Lalime as the best goalie we had, but lest we forget that Muckler went for broke and brought back Dominik Hasek. Prior to that ridiculous injury he suffered in the Olympics, Hasek played lights-out hockey for us for two-thirds of the season and put us in a phenomenal post-season position. I know that Hasek is a total basketcase and basically quit on us, but he is one of the best goalies of our generation and it was Muckler that convinced him to come to Ottawa. Under the Murray regime, we signed and bought out Ray Emery and are now spending $3.8M a year on Pascal Leclaire to sit in the infirmary.
Can he get value for problem players? Remember Alexei Kaigorodov? Muckler dealt him to Phoenix for Mike Comrie (the first time), who was a terrific second-line centre for us during the Cup run. In fact, Comrie's arrival in Ottawa was the first time that we were able to roll three strong lines throughout the playoffs.
How about coaching hires? Muckler made the difficult move of firing the once-popular Jacques Martin, who had taken us from joke to contender. He turned to a man that had coaching success and the move panned out as Murray was behind the bench in the Finals. Since then, we've had one assistant coach fired, one junior coach fired, and we're about to see an AHL coach get fired (or at least let go in the summer).
The belief that Bryan Murray has spent the past three years repairing the farm system from Muckler's follies drives me nuts. I can't argue that Muckler took care of the farm in Binghamton--he neglected it and let it fall apart. But I'm growing a bit tired of everyone saying that Murray has fixed this system. To this point, only Erik Karlsson has shown to be true NHL talent. David Rundblad is overseas, Jared Cowen is not ready, Patrick Wiercioch is definitely not ready, yet we continue to sing the praises of Murray as the guy that fixed Muckler's Bingo mess. First off, I don't even agree that Binghamton is back on track. Second, I don't know that I even care! John Muckler focused on the big team and won when and where it matters. Bryan Murray has flopped with the big team and it remains to be seen if his focus on the farm is even working. Why should I care about the minor league system, filled with Corey Locke and Jim O'Brien (a Muckler pick, I realize), when the big team can't beat the Calgary Flames?
Here's my long, drawn out point--our GMs have a long to-do list that includes putting bums in seats, managing a salary cap, building a farm system, scouting around the league for free agent pieces, et cetera. As far as I'm concerned, John Muckler succeeded in most of his tasks--we enjoyed amazing success on the ice and the building was packed. He filled the lineup with the best talent the franchise has ever seen and he is the only manager that built a team that competed for the Stanley Cup. His tenure came with mistakes and I've called them all out above, but he was a winner. Since he left, our team has been saddled in a downward spiral that nobody can seem to stop.
Three coaches later and gearing up for yet another season of early golf, can you really tell me that Bryan Murray is a better GM than John Muckler? Can you tell me that you're happier now with restocked cupboards of unproven talent? Was it a total mistake to have a GM that went for it all, knowing that trades and free agency could put pieces together? And don't tell me that Murray is simply suffering from what he inherited from Muckler. The guy has had four years and the only contract that he inherited at this point is Chris Phillips. Muckler won six playoff series in four years. At the conclusion of this season when we miss out again, Murray will have won nothing in his four years. Can you argue that Muckler was a total failure? I miss him.