Bryan Murray is a well-respected man around the NHL. He has been in the game for decades, and he's been with the Ottawa Senators since 2005-06, as well as being their General Manager since 2007-08. There's no doubt that people like him and he'll have a great legacy once he's gone from hockey.
When the news came that he had stage 4 colon cancer last year, it hit the hockey world hard. Senators fans were understandably upset, and even if you don't like him as a GM, it would be horrible to ever wish something like this upon him. The most important thing at the time (and right now) is his health. I can't comment for him, but he looks like he is doing better. He obviously lives and breathes hockey, so being around the rink is probably good for him in reality. The fact that he looks to be doing better is great, and I hope his cancer is still treatable despite what the doctors said one year ago.
As early as May 2015, he had said that 2015-16 was going to be his last season as GM and he would stay on as a consultant as it was in line with his contract anyway. However, in September he said not so fast. It was a strange turn of events after just a few months, but clearly the hockey season got him wanting more. If being around hockey makes him feel healthier, I can't blame him for not wanting to leave.
However, while we as a fan-base have sympathy for Murray, should we even want him back next year? It's a sensitive topic, which is why I called this the "awkward Bryan Murray situation." The Senators fans I interact with online seem to think like I do in that it's best if Ottawa gets a different GM for next season. It's not that we don't respect Murray, but he needs to step down.
Since 2007-08, the Senators have won one measly playoff round, which was then followed-up by a 4-1 series loss that Ottawa had no business being in. In these past eight seasons, there have been five head coaches, and six if you want to include Murray as an interim coach. How many GM's have survived through that many coach firings in such a short span? It's not as if they have had playoff success either.
The Ottawa teams in the past eight years have been built to potentially make the playoffs and maybe win a round, but they have never had a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup. I don't know about you, but I follow sports teams in the hopes that eventually they will be able to win a championship, and right now I just can't see Ottawa doing that any time soon...At least if Murray is in charge. Don't get me wrong, the Senators have very solid pieces, and a lot of credit has to go to Murray for building this young core.
But it's extremely frustrating to see a team so close to contention that won't make that next step. I have been generally fine with most of Murray's move in his tenure, and looking at his trade history I would give him a slight edge. The Kyle Turris trade was brilliant, and the only trade that looks really bad is the Ben Bishop one. His free agent signings were never that bad as people make them seem, as Alex Kovalev was probably the worst but he was only here for a season and a half.
My issue with Murray and the rest of the Senators management lies in their analysis of players and their lack of moves more than anything. For example, for years Murray has wanted his "power top-six forward." For a while, that was a legitimate need. But last year the Senators showed that their offence was more than capable of playing with the big boys. The defence on the other hand, was atrocious. It has been even worse this year, as they are giving up 33.1 shots against per game at 5 on 5, which is last place.
You would think that most teams on the cusp of contention would try to remedy this. Nope. Instead, Murray and the rest of management insist on preaching patience because they have some young players who can get better. He still seems to think the Jared Cowen can be a capable NHL defenceman, when he has been anything but. The same goes for Mark Borowiecki, and the two of them have been amongst the worst defensive pairings in the league, with a 37.2 CF% in 105 minutes together.
While I am not completely done on Cody Ceci just yet, he hasn't been what he was supposed to be when he was drafted. He is probably more of a third pairing player, but because Ottawa's defence is so bad, he has to play with Patrick Wiercioch. The thing is, I honestly think that Murray thinks Cowen and Borowiecki are a good "tough" pairing, and that Ceci is a solid top-four defenceman that they have always needed.
That is speculation on my part, but if I was wrong, wouldn't we be hearing lots more about Murray wanting to acquire a defenceman? In his press conference on July 1st, we heard nothing about looking for a defenceman, simply because he wanted to give Cowen another chance. I will give him the benefit of the doubt for a bit, because Bob McKenzie is reporting that the team is finally looking at addressing some issues:
Mckenzie "I think the Sens would like to make a deal I don't think they're happy with how things have gone, especially in the last week"
— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) November 12, 2015
While it's nice to see that they are concerned, they might be concerned about the wrong thing:
Mckenzie "if the Sens could add a scoring forward they'd move any D not named Karlsson and maybe Methot"— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) November 12, 2015
So if Murray wants to move either Cowen or Borowiecki to give Chris Wideman more ice-time, then that's great. But I'm not sure the team is actually looking at acquiring an impact defenceman this season. I honestly do believe that if Ottawa added someone like Cam Fowler from the Anaheim Ducks, another top-nine forward, and scratched players like Chris Neil, Zack Smith, Cowen, and Borowiecki, that they would be a Cup contender or close to it. That's really not that tough of a task, even though teams aren't always willing to give up someone like Fowler.
Still though, my point is that it's possible to add a second pairing defenceman, which would make this team much better. A 3rd pairing of Ceci-Wideman is infinitely better than the one we have right now. The thing is, I'm not confident at all that Murray and the Senators will add someone. I found this fact particularly nauseating:
Over past 5 seasons, here are the sum total of external D-men acquired by Sens: Gilroy, Lundin, Corvo, Methot. This is kind of insane.— Tyler Ray (@DefenseMinister) November 8, 2015
For a team that hasn't had a good defence corps since 2007, that is a terrible track record. I still like the Marc Methot trade, but that is the only good trade they have made. Sergei Gonchar is also another one, but he was quite the inconsistent player with Ottawa and was past his prime.
My point is that I'm not sure I trust Murray's judgement anymore, and I really wonder if the team still wants him at the helm. Because of his awkward situation, he'll have the job until he wants to re-sign, which puts the team in a terrible spot. I just want a fresh start, and the organization badly needs some new eyes. Hire a young analytical GM, and then reap the rewards. Oh hello, Mr. Julien BriseBois!
This whole situation is sensitive and nobody wants to bring it up, but it has to be said: Murray needs to step down after this year if the team is going to get better. I'm sick of being stuck in mediocrity and change is needed. Like I said, I respect the man greatly and he has been a good employee. But everybody's time comes eventually, and I hope he realizes that this job is too much nowadays.
Murray may want to return next year, but I know I would like to see somebody new.
(EDIT: As SensChirp mentioned on Twitter, it is a bit unfair to not talk about the internal budget. While that certainly comes into play here, you can't just always use that as an excuse. Good organizations will spend their money wisely, which Ottawa has not done. They still have some bad contracts like Jared Cowen, Chris Phillips, Colin Greening, etc. So we have to give Murray a bit of a break, but that can't be used as 100% evidence as to why he hasn't got the job done.)