Building On a Budget: Why Bryan Murray Has Been Excellent

Phillip MacCallum

In the wake of a franchise-defining day that has produced a whirlwind of emotions for Senators fans, it is time to stand up and recognize what Bryan Murray has managed to do in Ottawa.

Firstly, I'd like to get something out of the way: I miss Daniel Alfredsson. I wish he was either still playing for the Senators or retired. The thought of him playing for another team makes me incredibly sad, regardless of the reasons.

That said, I am of the firm belief that the Senators are a better team and in a better position to be a top team today than they were on July the 4th. I also believe that a huge round of applause is in order for GM Bryan Murray.

Much has been made of the Senators' (and owner Eugene Melnyk's) financial situation. The Senators are not owned by Bell and Rogers. They are owned by a funny little man who spends his time in Barbados, who doesn't appear to have as much money as he once did. Where the Ottawa Senators were once a cap team, they are now a team with an internal budget.

So how is it, that on a day where $400 million dollars in contracts were handed out, where mediocre players were being overpaid left and right, the Ottawa Senators managed to add what they needed to add while complying with their budget? How is it that a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs last year (with their two best players playing far below 100%) managed to get even better, all while having a payroll near the bottom of the league?

The answer appears to lie in a changed Bryan Murray. Gone are the days of $10 million dollars for Alex Kovalev. Gone are the days of first round picks for Chris Campoli, second round picks for free agent Andy Sutton.

Nowadays Bryan is engaging in shrewd asset management. Ben Bishop for a second round pick becomes Cory Conacher and Tobias Lindberg. David Rundblad and a second rounder become the team's leading scorer and strong young second line centre Kyle Turris (who was subsequently locked up to a very reasonable long term deal).

In addition the Murray years have been characterized by the huge importance placed on finding and developing young talent, both through the draft and through entry-level free agents. This has all allowed Bryan Murray to take this team to the next step, parlaying quantity into quality and landing a star player in Bobby Ryan, while still leaving the cupboards brimming with talent.

In terms of contracts, gone are the 7-8 Million dollar per year deals with huge signing bonuses and no trade clauses. In are smart contracts, with good value. Erik Karlsson, a Norris winner at age 21, is locked up for the foreseeable future at just 6.5 million. The Senators have not been bogged down with deals that have them paying a player until 2021, Karlsson's deal is longest and is up at the end of the 2018-19 season. Very impressively, Murray hasn't had to use the crutch of a compliance buyout to find his way out of a mess, because he hasn't made one. Contrast this with teams like the Flyers, Blackhawks, Canadiens, and Maple Leafs who have all used both allowed compliance buyouts already, and it's pretty cool to think Murray won't need his get out of jail free card. This is a direct result of Murray sticking to shorter terms on contracts, especially with unrestricted free agents. Targeting bargain players like Clarke MacArthur goes a long way to improving the team, while not handcuffing it financially.

The best part of all of this? We are entering year three of the three year rebuild. At every turn, Murray has identified a need and filled it. Filled it with a young player, or one in their prime, who will be here for years. Scoring winger? Bobby Ryan. Second line centre? Kyle Turris. Defensive d-man? Marc Methot. Top 6/9 player with speed? Cory Conacher. Stable starting goaltender? Craig Anderson. Heck, even a fighter? Matt Kassian. He is filling needs, rounding out a roster that is truly his, and is growing together towards bringing a championship to Ottawa.

As it stands today, the Senators will have an opening day roster with an average age of 25.3 years. This is a full year younger than any other team in the league. This team has room to grow, and Murray has planted the right seeds in all the right places, and he deserves all the recognition and accolades, especially when considering it was done on Eugene's budget.

Has it been all roses with Murray at the helm? There was the Dany Heatley debacle, and now the loss of Daniel Alfredsson for nothing. There were the dark days when it seemed Murray would never find a coach. There were a few gambles that didn't pay off - Nikita Filatov springs to mind. But Bryan Murray has built a successful, stable group that is young and anchored by strong goaltending, a superstar defenceman, a point per game centre and a perennial 30 goal scoring winger, all under budget. For that, he deserves our applause.

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