Detroit Red Wings, 1990-1994
Florida Panthers, 1994-2000
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, 2002-2004
Ottawa Senators, 2007-present
Norris Division Title, 1991-1992
Central Division Title, 1993-1994
Playoff Appearances: 1991-1994, 1996-1997, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2012
Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1996, 2007
Bryan Murray is the fifth NHL GM who, according to my calculations, has achieved top fifty ranking both as a GM and NHL head coach. But how does Murray rank among his peers in the NHL?
According to my rating system, Murray ranks 11th (between St. Louis’ Doug Armstrong and Stan Bowman) in terms of career value and 17th (between Darcy Regier and Phoenix’s Don Maloney) in Average Season Rating.
Murray’s managerial career has spanned three decades but his impact in those decades was not that deep. Based on my calculations he was the 11th best GM (between Bob Pulford and Ron Caron) of the 1990s in terms of value; he ranked 17th (between George McPhee and Larry Pleau) during the 2000s; and today, during the 2010s, he ranks even worse (20th between Jay Feaster and Anaheim’s Bob Murray).
In short, a competent career but not yet a superlative one.
Bryan Murray got his managerial start after setting the 1980s on fire with a brilliant run as head coach of the Washington Capitals. His sterling work drew the attention of Jim Devellano of the Detroit Red Wings. Devellano was moving upstairs in the Wings managerial chain so he offered Murray the twin portfolios of both GM and head coach.
Detroit had improved immeasurably but had not yet won the Stanley Cup. Bryan Murray was selected to take the Wings to the summit.
Unfortunately for Murray the climb to the mountain top was ultimately unsuccessful. The Wings had a losing season in his debut season although they reached the playoffs. In fact the Wings reached the playoffs during all four seasons that Murray managed the team but each time was eliminated in the first or second rounds.
Before he became a general manager, Bryan Murray had long since been cursed with horrible playoff luck. During his head coaching reign in Washington, Murray had repeatedly led the Caps to the playoffs only to suffer early elimination. He never reached the Stanley Cup finals during the 1980s and this was the prime reason why Murray was fired by the Caps.
The mark of playoff misery was still etched upon Murray’s forehead and, in time, it led to his removal as Detroit’s GM.
Still, during his quadrennial with Detroit, Bryan Murray left his mark on the team. He was responsible for drafting Chris Osgood, Martin Lapointe, Darren McCarty, Anders Eriksson and Mike Knuble into the NHL. And it was Murray who got Kris Draper from the Winnipeg Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes) for future considerations—a brilliant steal and a job well done.
Murray was not unemployed for very long. When Panthers GM Bobby Clarke returned home to Philadelphia Bryan Murray was hired to become the second GM in Panthers franchise history.
Florida under Bobby Clarke went with a youth movement to build the team. Murray bolstered the youth movement by drafting from the Europe: selecting Radek Dvorak and Filip Kuba in 1995, Jaroslav Spacek in 1997, and Niklas Hagman in 1999, all of whom played extensively in the NHL.
Bryan Murray inherited the late Roger Neilson as head coach when he took over as Panthers GM but after one season Murray fired Neilson because he did not like Neilson’s defense-first tactics. Murray wanted greater offensive strength. Murray replaced Neilson with Doug Maclean and what followed was the most extraordinary season in Panthers franchise history.
In only their third season of existence the Panthers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals (only to be annihilated by the Colorado Avalanche in four straight). Bryan Murray was named NHL executive of the year. The Panthers appearance in the Stanley Cup finals set an NHL record for expansion franchises—one that will unlikely ever be broken.
It was also a personal vindication for Murray as a GM. He had broken his curse. (As an NHL head coach though Murray still had a long way to go before he broke his playoff curse).
For the remainder of his stay in Florida, Murray never equaled what he did in 1996. By the end of 2000 he was fired as the Panthers GM and quickly found work in Anaheim, first as head coach and, later in 2002, as their general manager.
Bryan’s managerial stint with Anaheim bears close scrutiny. Murray’s eye for hockey talent developed into a keen, shrewd edge. During his two years as Ducks GM Murray drafted Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Joffrey Lupul, and Shane O’Brien into the NHL.
Greater still, he had an impact in hockey history by giving Mike Babcock his first NHL coaching stint when he hired him to serve as Anaheim head coach in 2002; thus beginning a stellar NHL coaching career that has seen Babcock become (by my calculations) the finest NHL head coach of the 21st Century (thus far). When Mike Babcock is elected to the HHOF as a builder he better give thanks to Bryan Murray for giving him the opportunity to prove himself. Babcock in his rookie season led the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup and came within one game of winning the Cup.
Bryan Murray was a buttress of strength for Babcock, bolstering Babcock’s roster by adding veterans Petr Sykora and Rob Niedermayer to the team.
When in 2004 the team failed to equal what they did in 2003, Murray resigned as GM and returned home to Ottawa to become head coach and, later GM, of the Ottawa Senators where he has remained ever since.
Murray finally overcame his heartbreak tendencies as a head coach, leading the Sens to their sole Stanley Cup final in 2007 (only to lose ironically to Anaheim).
As a GM he has not had the same draft luck with Ottawa as he did with Florida or Anaheim. His sole gem in the draft pick (thus far) has been the young Erik Karlsson, the 2012 Norris Trophy winner.
Murray’s Sens have earned three playoff appearances in five seasons. Furthermore Murray has had trouble finding a competent coach on par with his own sterling coaching skills. Murray stepped down as head coach in 2008 and he has made four coaching changes since then but he has struck gold with Paul Maclean. Maclean led the Senators to the 2012 playoffs and was a 2012 finalist for the Jack Adams award.
The Senators today have roared out of the blocks and are competing for the Northeast Division lead but the challenge that remains for Bryan Murray and the Ottawa Senators is whether they have the talent to win the Stanley Cup—a significant for both the Senators and Bryan Murray.
(My next column will feature former Rangers and Islanders GM Neil Smith.)