The joy of eliminating the Boston Bruins from playoff contention for the second year in a row isn't as sweet as the last time. With an inconsistent season that saw the Senators finish with their lowest point total since 2010-11 (74 points), we knew changes were coming. We just didn't think it'd happen so quickly.
Multiple reports this morning are suggesting that Bryan Murray is stepping down from his General Manager duties, shifting to a "senior advisor" position. Pierre Dorion, former Director of Player Personnel, Chief Amateur Scout, and current Senators Assistant General Manager, is expected to be promoted. Dorion becomes the team's seventh General Manager in team history in his ninth year with the club. He started his NHL hockey operations duties with the Montreal Canadiens, where he was an Amateur Scouting Coordinator and Chief Scout for 11 seasons before spending two years as an Amateur Scout with the New York Rangers.
When Senators owner Eugene Melnyk spoke earlier last month, he noted that Murray, who is currently battling cancer, will be given all the choice in deciding whether to return to his GM position, a post he has held since 2007. During his time in Ottawa, Murray has overseen the development of 'home-grown' players like Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Mike Hoffman, and Zack Smith. He's also made a number of trades for key pieces like Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan, Craig Anderson, and Dion Phaneuf. Unfortunately, his legacy is still marred with the inconsistency of a franchise that only has one playoff win (2013 - Montreal) in his tenure, despite having qualified five other times. The team has also missed the playoffs three times, a far cry from the 11 consecutive playoff births and multiple series wins of the 00s-era Senators.
Murray inherited a team ripe with quality NHL talent, but without the farm system or capital resources to take the next step. In lieu of that, Murray emphasized the importance of drafting, and revitalized the Senators development system that has gone on to produce multiple NHL players and a Calder Cup for Binghamton in 2010. High quality forwards, in particular, have been the highlight of Murray's Senators, with the team consistently ranking above average at generating shots until this season. Unfortunately, Murray has been unable to develop a defensive corps through poor personnel decisions and an ineffectual coaching staff that now becomes Pierre Dorion's immediate problem. The Senators have been a bottom-ten team in terms of shots against per game since 2011-12 and finished last in the statistic this past year.
Note: these changes are expected to be made official at the 11am news conference. We'll update this post with any additional news and details to come out it
Update: These changes were made official: Bryan Murray is now a Senior Advisor while Pierre Dorion is now General Manager of the Ottawa Senators. No other related decisions were made at this point, but Dorion suggested that there may be some responsibility/title changes after he meets with the rest of the management staff.
The press conference only had Bryan Murray and Pierre Dorion as speakers, and spent much of the time highlighting the changeover of positions rather than on-ice evaluations, which will come at a later date. Murray, who has spent 35 years in the NHL as a coach and general manager, made the decision to step down on Wednesday and informed Eugene Melnyk afterwards. Although he wanted to leave on a good note, he explained how it was time to "pull the plug" and spend time with his family.
Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee have been doing much more than their current roles (contracts, discussions with other GMs) due to Murray's health condition, and will be the two anchors of the team's collaborative management structure. On questions about day-to-day changes, Dorion emphasized that a successful general manager has a trusted support staff, and how Murray always gathered information from the rest of the team and discussed with them before making any phone calls. The main change, Dorion noted, will be conversations with him and Mr. Melnyk.
Miscellaneous tidbits to note:
- When he was hired in 2007, Bryan Murray thought he was only going to spend 3-4 years in Ottawa before retiring, perhaps passing on his job to Tim Murray. He signed an extension to stay on as GM of the rebuild back in 2011.
- Pierre Dorion's father, who was at Central Scouting and worked with the Toronto Maple Leafs, was the greatest influence of his life. He was very emotional on Murray being the #2 presence, speaking to his mentorship and compassion.
- With respect to what changes happen next and putting his stamp on the team, Dorion noted that he wants to have an extensive evaluation process with his management group, coaching staff, and players. "Sometimes, we're quick to judge. There will be changes, but we have to make the proper change and take our time doing them". I hope so, because the team can't afford to have more misevaluations + "bad" changes.
- On Dave Cameron and the coaching staff, Dorion mentioned that he'll be meeting with them and a decision will follow later on. Not exactly a vote of confidence.
- Pierre Dorion has been asked by Murray and Melnyk to still be involved in the team's first round selection, much like he has in previous years. He'll be leaving rounds 2-7 to Chief Amateur Scout, Bob Lowes.
- When asked to describe himself, Dorion mentioned: "Driven, sensitive, passion, demanding, black + white; communication is key."
- Asked about the future of the organization, Dorion went on to list the positives, starting with Erik Karlsson as the best defenseman in the league and Craig Anderson as a bonafide #1 goaltender. He then mentioned the nucleus of Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan, Mike Hoffman (YAY), Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, and Clarke MacArthur, noting that the team was 9th in goal scoring this year. He noted the blue-chip prospects of Thomas Chabot and Colin White, and the depth of Fredrik Claesson, Ben Harpur, (especially) Nick Paul; Matt Puempel, Ryan Dzingel, Max McCormick, and Andreas Englund.
- Bryan Murray was asked a great question as to why he's found it hard to hire a good head coach. He pointed that he's been hands on with coaching because stuff bothers him systems-wise. Often, he's tried to give an opportunity for people in the organization [assistant coaches, staff in Binghamton] who seem to fit when they're interviewing and evaluating as people who can "step up and fill a role". Despite this, he notes, coaching in the NHL is really difficult, especially for an assistant or minor league coach who hasn't dealt with the day-to-day process as you do in the NHL. He's been disappointed in a couple of his hires, and touched on the fact that maybe they were too quick to hire because they needed to rebound quickly to make the playoffs.
- Of the five head coaches since Bryan Murray, John Paddock and Dave Cameron were Sens assistant coaches before getting the job, with Paddock having previous NHL head coaching experience with the 90s Winnipeg Jets. Craig Hartsburg had previous NHL head coaching experience with the Chicago Blackhawks, but was promoted straight from junior (Sault Ste. Marie) when he was given the Senators job. Cory Clouston was promoted straight from Binghamton, while Paul MacLean was an assistant, but the only hire directly from another NHL franchise (Detroit).
- When asked about the positives and negatives of working for your hometown team, Murray mentioned how he doesn't think that there's added pressure. "If you can bring a local hockey player home [via signing or trade], you get a guy who's dedicated to the community and will hopefully help him play his best hockey"
- Bryan Murray on his legacy as a GM: respect, communicated well, treated people fairly, and loved the game. "I hope I'm remembered as a good hockey guy that was a pretty good person"
- Pierre Dorion's two quotes of the day: 1) "Learn the lessons from this past season so that it's not repeated" 2) "I wasn't hired to bring the team to the playoffs, I was hired to succeed in the playoffs"