Assessing Bryan Murray

On April 8th, 2011, with one game remaining in a failed season, the Ottawa Senators re-signed GM Bryan Murray to a three-year deal ( nhl/article/971687–senators-re-sign-gm-bryan-murray-to-three-year-deal).  The most obvious question is why?  Clearly ownership see’s Murray as the best man to rebuild the team that crumbled beneath him, but based on what?  The best way to assess that decision is to look at his record as Ottawa’s General Manager.

Bryan Murray took over from John Muckler on June 18, 2007, just six days before the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.  I’ve read criticism of Murray regarding that draft (particularly the selection of Jim O’Brien), but there’s no question that the selections were made with Muckler’s scouting staff and guided by their philosophy.

2007 Draft

Considered a weak draft at the time (for that opinion content.asp?CID=604850, for a more optimistic view 2007/writers/allan_muir/06/19/mock.draft/), Ottawa made four selections, trading away their final three picks to Tampa for a fourth round pick in the 2008 draft (Derek Grant).

1-29 Jim O’Brien (NCAA,
Finished his sophomore season in Binghamton, which was a leap forward as a pro.
2-60 Ruslan Bashkirov (QMJHL,
Playing a tier below the KHL (the VHL) where he’s likely to remain.
3-90 Louie Caporusso (OPJHL,
Completed his senior year at the University of Michigan and will play for Binghamton.
4-120 Ben Blood (USHS,
Is going into his senior year at the University of North Dakota.

2007-08 Contracts

June 22 – Dean McAmmond – 2 years/1.4; a solid player, but his numbers dropped considerably before he was shipped out to the New York Islanders
July 3 – Matt Carkner – 2 years/0.5; normally I wouldn’t list a player intended for the AHL, but given that Carkner eventually made the team he belongs here
July 24 – Ray Emery – 3 years/3.166; re-signing the starting goalie in the Cup run seemed like a no-brainer
July 31 – Chris Kelly – 1 year/1.263; based on his strong play when Spezza and Fisher were injured
August 7 – Luke Richardson – 1 year/0.5; a depth signing
September 17 – Mike Fisher – 5 years/4.2; I thought at the time it was too much money and too much term and time hasn’t changed that opinion
October 3 – Dany Heatley – 6 years/7.5; thought to be solid signing at the time (
October 16 – Randy Robitaille – 1 year/0.625; a depth signing out of Russia, the Sens hoped he would provide some scoring depth ( 16/robitaille-senators.html?ref=rss), but he did not.  The following season saw him playing in Switzerland
November 2 – Jason Spezza – 7 years/7.0; I liked the contract at the time and still do

2007-08 Coaches

Murray hired John Paddock, who had been his assistant the past two years and was a long time AHL coach (with a distant and lousy NHL coaching record from his days with
Winnipeg, 281-106-138-37).  Paddock got the team off to a fantastic start (15-2), but wore out his best players and the team quickly slid down the standings. Paddock was fired February 27, after two embarrassing back-to-back shutout losses, finishing with a 36-22-6 record.  Murray took over and the team barely made the playoffs where they were promptly swept by the Penguins.

While the Paddock hiring may have seemed like a logical step to Murray—a solid minor league resume  and his assistant—he was hardly the best coach available, so Murray deserves criticism for the hire (as he has suggested himself since).


June 20 – Ottawa waived and then bought out Ray Emery; his play was only partially the issue.  Because of his age the cost of the buyout was much less than for a player in his prime.  Emery had to go to the KHL to salvage his NHL career, which is even now in question.

2007-08 Trades

June 23 – Ottawa’s 5th (Matt Marshall; finished his third poor year in the NCAA), 7th (Torrie Jung; plying his trade for the Laredo Bucks in the CHL), and 7th (Justin Courtnall; finished his sophomore season in the NCAA) to Tampa for a 4th in 2008 (Derek Grant; after two strong seasons in the NCAA he will play in Binghamton next year). The thought here was that the following year’s draft was much stronger and
deeper and it appears as though Murray was right.  This is a win for Murray.

July 17, 2007 – Traded Peter Schaefer to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Shean Donovan. Muckler had overpaid Schaefer, whose cumbersome contract wound up being buried in the minors and then bought out by the Bruins.  Donovan was a solid soldier for Ottawa.  This is a win for Murray.

February 11, 2008 – Traded Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves to the Carolina Hurricanes for Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman. Corvo demanded a trade, so Murray didn’t have many options; Eaves just never developed enough.  Commodore turned out to be a complete bust for the Sens (and subsequently Columbus, who bought him out), but Stillman was an adequate rental.  None of the four players are still with the teams they were traded too.  Given that the trade failed to help the Sens in the playoffs, this is a loss for Murray.

February 26, 2008 – Traded a sixth-round draft pick in 2008 (6-169, Ben Smith, coming off a good rookie season in the AHL) to the Chicago Blackhawks for Martin Lapointe. Lapointe was supposed to provide grit for the Sens, but his best days were long behind him and he was a disappointment.  Lapointe hasn’t played in the league since.  This is definitely a failure on Murray’s part.

2008 Draft

Considered a good draft year ( and the selections can be said to truly reflect Murray’s philosophy.  All the players selected have been signed except for Emil Sandin.

1-15 Erik Karlsson (SuperElit,
Coming off his second NHL season he finished 17th in blueline scoring.
2-42 Patrick Wiercioch (USHL,
Completed a difficult rookie year in Binghamton.
3-79 Zack Smith (WHL,
Spent most of the year with Ottawa, providing grit to the lineup.
4-109 Andre Petersson (SuperElit, andre_petersson)
After two seasons in the SEL he’ll play in Binghamton this year.
4-119 Derek Grant (BCHL,
After two strong seasons with Michigan State University before turning pro; he’ll play with Binghamton this year.
5-139 Mark Borowiecki (CJHL,
Spent three years at Clarkson before signing a pro contract; he’ll play with Binghamton.
7-199 Emil Sandin (SuperElit,
Failed to be a regular player in the SEL and hasn’t been retained.

2008-09 Contracts

March 25 – Jesse Winchester – 2 years/0.55; signed as a free agent out of college, Winchester hasn’t produced offensively as planned, but has turned into a solid
June 21 – Chris Kelly – 4 years/2.125 million; signed prior to becoming a UFA, Kelly continued to put up his usual numbers before being traded to Boston
July 2 – Jarkko Ruutu – 3 years/1.3 million; signed after reaching the Cup final with Pittsburgh, he didn’t deliver what was expected while he was here and was eventually traded to Anaheim
July 2 – Shean Donovan – 2 years/0.65; a cap friendly contract, but Donovan had nothing left in the tank and only played 90 games over those two seasons
July 8 – Jason Smith – 2 years/2.6; a bad contract for a player who didn’t have gas left in the tank, he retired before the second year of his deal
July 31 – Antoine Vermette – 2 years/2.75 million; unable to produce enough as a top six player in Ottawa, he was traded to Columbus in the first year of his deal for Pascal Leclaire and a second round pick (Robin Lehner)
September 27 – Luke Richardson – 1 year/0.5; unable to stay in the lineup, he retired November 27th
October 30 – Daniel Alfredsson – 4 years/4.875 million; an excellent contract that should see Alfie through to retirement

2008-09 Coaches

Murray hired Craig Hartsburg, who was coming off back-to-back World Junior wins.  Hartsburg had a good track record in junior, but his NHL record was mediocre (albeit more extensive than Paddock’s, 443-184-184-69).  Hartsburg was not a strong system coach and the team struggled under his regime.  Finally, on February 1st, Hartsburg was fired after accumulating a 17-24-7 record.  Cory Clouston, enjoying a strong season in Binghamton, was brought up as the interim coach.  The team responded well under Clouston and he was signed to a two-year deal.

Murray deserves criticism for the Hartsburg signing, who again was not the strongest candidate available.  The team struggled all season long and he was allowed to linger longer than was needed.  The Clouston hiring was much like the Paddock hiring–done without competition.

2008-09 Trades

June 20, 2008 – Traded their 1st round pick (Chet Pickard; highly regarded, but has struggled as a pro) and their 3rd round in 2009 (Taylor Beck; a great player in the OHL) for the 15th pick (Erik Karlsson). The Sens desperately needed an upgrade on their blueline, particularly on the right side; making a splash when the draft was in Ottawa likely helped the decision.  It looks like a clear win for Murray.

June 25, 2008 – Traded Brian McGrattan to the Phoenix Coyotes for the Boston Bruins’ fifth-round draft pick in 2009 (Jeff Costello). McGrattan’s substance abuse problems and declining effectiveness made him an asset that needed moving.  This is a definite win for Murray.

August 29, 2008 – Traded Andrej Meszaros to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard and San Jose’s first-round draft pick (previously acquired) in 2009 (which was subsequently traded to the Islanders). Meszaros and the team could not come to terms on a contract, so Ottawa did well in bringing in a solid veteran and prospect.  Meszaros never did find success in Tampa, but when moved to Philadelphia responded in a supporting role.  Since ultimately neither team got what they wanted from the trade, I’ll call it a draw.

September 2, 2008 – Traded Lawrence Nycholat to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Ryan Shannon. Nycholat demanded a trade, so Ottawa exchanged their problem for one the Canucks had (Shannon had a one-way contract the following season).  The Sens definitely won the trade.

November 10, 2008 – Traded Alexander Nikulin to the Phoenix Coyotes for Drew Fata. Nikulin demanded a trade and rather than simply losing the asset to the KHL Ottawa brought in an AHL veteran.  Nikulin struggled with San Antonio and returned to play in the KHL afterward.  Fata signed with Providence after his year in Binghamton, but Ottawa received a more tangible value than Phoenix, so it’s a win for Murray.

February 20, 2009 – Traded Dean McAmmond and San Jose’s first-round draft pick in 2009 (1-26, Kyle Palmieri; he enjoyed a solid rookie season in the NCAA) to the New York Islanders in exchange for Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli. The Sens had no room for McAmmond, so took on Comrie’s onerous and expiring contract to get Campoli on a very cap friendly deal.  Comrie subsequently signed with the Oilers, while Campoli had an up and down career with the Sens before being traded himself (the acquired pick was used as part of the trade to draft Matt Puempel).  The final assessment of the trade is yet to be made.

March 4, 2009 – Traded Antoine Vermette to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Pascal Leclaire and a second-round draft pick in 2009 (Robin Lehner). Vermette had flat-lined as a player in the organisation; the Sens had to choose between he and Mike Fisher, and while Vermette has more offensive prowess, Fisher was the tougher player to play against.  The trade (including the pick) was intended to solidify the Sens between the pipes.  Vermette has done well in Columbus, while Leclaire completely failed as a Senator.  Lehner may make Murray a genius, but in the short term this is a loss.

2009 Draft

Considered a deep and talented draft, Ottawa had its first top-ten pick since the 2005.  Players are only just starting to appear in the system, with 5 signed so far.

1-9 Jared Cowen (WHL,
Finished his junior career and won a Calder Cup with Binghamton; he’ll play in either the AHL or NHL next year.
2-39 Jakob Silfverberg (SuperElit, jakob_silfverberg)
Finished his second full year in the SEL, the team would like him to come to training camp, but he seems determined to play another year in Sweden.
2-46 Robin Lehner (SuperElit,
His rookie year as a pro, he had a great run in the Calder Cup playoffs; he’ll be the starting goalie for Binghamton next season.
4-100 Chris Wideman (NCAA,
Heading into his senior year at Miami.
5-130 Mike Hoffman (QMJHL,
Had an up and down rookie year in Binghamton.
5-146 Jeff Costello (USHL,
Enjoyed a solid rookie year at the University of Notre Dame.
6-160 Corey Cowick (OHL,
Had a horrible rookie campaign in the AHL.
7-190 Brad Peltz (EJHL,
Could not make it into the lineup at Yale in his rookie season.
7-191 Michael Sdao (USHL,
Had a solid sophomore season at Princeton.

2009-10 Contracts

March 4 – Filip Kuba – 3 years/3.7 million; signed after a career year with Ottawa, he’s suffered repeated injury setbacks and become a lightning rod for criticism in the city
April 4 – David Dziurzynski – 3 years/0.6 million; signed an ELC as a free agent out of the BCHL; he’s coming off a solid rookie season in the AHL
July 1 – Chris Neil – 4 years/2.0 million; signed after an awful year, Neil has had an up and a down season since
July 6 – Alexei Kovalev – 2 years/5.0 million; a surprise signing at the time that failed utterly (if my memory is correct, the reaction at TSN to this was hilarious, but I can’t find the video of it); he was traded to Pittsburgh as part of the house-cleaning this past season
August 3 – Brian Elliott – 2 years/0.85; a cap friendly deal for a likeable player; unfortunately for Elliott, he lost his confidence this past season and is going to have to prove himself as an NHL player all over again
October 20 – Matt Carkner – 2 years/0.7; the career minor leaguer finally got his shot and played well
March 29 – Bobby Butler – 2 years/0.9; the highly sought-after NCAA free agent signed a deal similar to Winchester‘s in 2008

Re-Entry Waivers

October 2 – having no room for Christoph Schubert on the roster, Murray was unable to trade the big defensemen; he was picked up by Atlanta and had a decent season with the Thrashers.  He split last year between the SEL and DEL with his NHL career apparently over.

2009-10 Coaches

The first season where who was coaching was not a question, Clouston got the team into the playoffs and was generally given good grades for his performance (

2009-10 Trades

June 27 – Traded their 2010 6th round pick (6-166 Drew Czerwonka) to Edmonton for their 2009 7th round pick (7-191, Michael Sdao). The Sens considered the 2010 draft to be weak and were high on Sdao, so they made the move.  Niether prospect is at a point where an assessment can be made.

July 8, 2009 – Traded Alex Auld to Dallas for San Jose’s 6th round pick (6-178 Mark Stone).  With Elliott established as an NHL player, there was no need for Auld on the roster.  Getting a tangible asset for one you no longer need is always a win.

September 4, 2009 – Traded Shawn Weller to Anaheim for Jason Bailey. A minor-league exchange of disappointing prospects; Weller was in the final year of his rookie contract, while Bailey’s continued through 2010-11.  Neither asset remains with their new organisation.

September 12, 2009 – Traded Dany Heatley and a fifth-round draft pick (5-136 Isaac Macleod) in 2010 to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and San Jose’s second-round draft pick (subsequently moved to the Islanders and then Chicago, 2-58 Kent Simpson) in 2010. Heatley had demanded a trade at the end of the season and this was the best deal Murray could get for him.  Cheechoo proved to be a complete bust and was bought out.  Murray was never going to “win” the trade, particularly with a public demand from Heatley, but Michalek is at least a tangible asset who is signed long term.

February 12, 2010 – Traded Alexandre Picard and their second-round draft pick in 2011 (subsequently moved to Edmonton, 2-46, Martin Marincin) to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Matt Cullen. Murray paid a steep price for Cullen, who played well in the playoffs, but the team didn’t win and he wasn’t retained.  While Picard wasn’t much of a loss, giving up a second round pick makes this a loss for Murray.

March 2, 2010 – Traded San Jose’s second-round pick (Kent Simpson) to the New York Islanders in exchange for Andy Sutton. Sutton never fit in with the Sens (rather like Mike Commodore two years before), and wasn’t retained, so this is a loss for Murray.

June 25, 2010 – Ottawa traded their first overall pick (1-16 Vladimir Tarasenko) to St. Louis prospect David Rundblad (1-17/09). Sens scout Anders Forsberg was very high on Rundblad, who wound up dominating the Swedish Elite League the following season.  Assessing this trade is still three or four years away.

2010 Draft

Considered a weak draft (referenced here 1535455/what-was-the-greatest-draft-in-nhl), the Senators had already traded away many of their picks so only made four selections.

3-76 Jakub Culek (QMJHL,
Coming off a terrible season in the Q.
4-106 Marcus Sorensen (SuperElit,
Should be an SEL regular this season.
6-178 Mark Stone (WHL,
Coming off a fantastic season in the WHL.
7-196 Bryce Aneloski (USHL,
Enjoyed a strong rookie season at Nebraska-Omaha.

2010-11 Contracts

July 1 – Sergei Gonchar – 3 years/5.5; considered the best available UFA blueliner, Murray won him over with term; considered a great signing at the time (
July 1 – Jesse Winchester – 2 years/0.75; there was still belief that he had untapped upside, but I thought a one-year deal would have been better
July 21 – Nick Foligno – 2 years/1.2; the former first-rounder looked to be on the verge of a breakout season, but instead seems to have flatlined
July 29 – Peter Regin – 2 years/1.0; after a solid rookie year and great playoff, big things were expected; instead he suffered through the sophomore jinx
March 31 – Stephane Da Costa – 2 years/1.325; the highly sought-after NCAA free agent signed a deal similar to Butler‘s in 2010


June 29 – Jonathan Cheechoo was bought out.  I don’t think Murray deserves much criticism here, as no one anticipated Cheechoo as being as completely finished as he has proven to be.

2010-11 Coaches

Cory Clouston was seen as an up-and-coming coach who had worked some magic to get the team into the playoffs.  Not everyone was a believer ( articles/34718-The-Hockey-News-201011-NHL-regular-season-predictions.html), but the team entered the season with a lot of optimism ( general/fearless-predictions/).  Everything went wrong for Clouston.  When his goalies played well the team couldn’t score.  When the goalies didn’t play well the team still couldn’t score.  Players were disagreeing with him publically (look at November 30th  For a time it looked like Ottawa would be the worst team in the NHL.  With the season clearly over and a rebuild beginning, the team’s play picked up, but Clouston’s fate was sealed.  There was a lot of criticism over Clouston’s inability to communicate with players as well as his varying standards for how play effected ice time.  I believe the former trait made the latter worse.  For Clouston to get another chance in the NHL he’s going to have to find a new approach to handling NHL players.

After Clouston was dismissed the Senators looked for a new coach.  Both Calder Cup winning Kurt Kleinendorst and Dave Cameron‘s association with owner Eugene Melnik made many think they were the top contenders, but Murray ulimately went with a man he knew from his days in Anaheim–Detroit assistant coach Paul MacLean.  MacLean had spent eight years as Mike Babcock’s assistant, with previous head coaching experience in the IHL and UHL (winning the Colonial Cup in the latter lead in 2000-01).  Kleindorst had better winning pedigre (ECHL, BISL, and AHL championships to go along with his U-18 gold medal), but MacLean certainly deserves an open mind going into next season (

2010-11 Trades

February 10, 2011 – traded Mike Fisher to Nashville for first-round pick (1-21 Stefan Noesen) and a conditional second-round pick in 2012. The trade kicked off the rebuild.  At the time the Senators were 17-30-8 and going nowhere.  Fisher had a big contract with term left (two more years).  As seems the trend for Murray and his staff when they trade a player for a pick, they select a prospect who has some of the same characteristics.

February 16, 2011 – traded Chris Kelly to Boston for a second-round pick (2-61 Shane Prince). The likeable Kelly was better served on a team that was in contention and went on to help Boston win the Stanley Cup.  His contract (too much for a third-line center) and age brought about the move.  He has one more year on his deal.

February 17, 2011 – traded Jarkko Ruutu to Anaheim for a sixth-round pick (6-171 Max McCormick). Ruutu never found a comfort zone in Ottawa and getting something for the impending UFA was better than nothing.  Ruutu remains without a team.

February 18, 2011 – traded Brian Elliott to Colorado for Craig Anderson. The trade that gave the team hope also dashed their chances for a top-three pick.  Anderson was in the midst of a horrible funk in Colorado and needed a change in scenery, while Elliott had completely lost his confidence–he has since moved on and signed a two-way deal with St. Louis.

February 24, 2011 – traded Alexei Kovalev to Pittsburgh for a conditional seventh-round pick (7-204 Ryan Dzingel). Getting something for Kovalev was an achievement for Murray, but hardly makes up for the mistake of signing him.  This may well have been the final year in the NHL for Kovalev [he subsequently signed a KHL-deal].

February 28, 2011 – traded Chris Campoli and a conditional pick (voided) to Chicago for Ryan Potulny and a second round pick (2-48, later traded to Detroit to select Matt Puempel; Detroit selected Xavier Ouellet). Campoli was no longer in Ottawa’s plans and in picking up an AHL-asset in Potulny who would help Binghamton win the Calder Cup.  Chicago walked away from Campoli‘s arbitration award and he remains without a team.  A clear win for Murray.

June 24, 2011 – traded two second-round picks (their own, 2-35 Tomas Jurco, and the one acquired from Chicago, 2-48, Xavier Ouelette) for Detroit’s first-round selection (1-24 Matt Puempel). The Sens were high on Puempel, who they considered for the 21st overall pick, so jumped at the opportunity to get him.  Time will tell on the trade.

June 25, 2011 – traded their third-round pick (3-67 T. J. Tynan) to Columbus for Nikita Filatov. Filatov wanted out of Columbus, but there wasn’t much interest in the NHL.  I agree with Bryan Murray that acquiring the talented Russian is a fantastic gamble.  How Filatov performs this year will set the table for judging the trade.


February 24, 2011 – picked up Marek Svatos from Nashville on the waiver wire.  Desperately in need of NHL bodies, Svatos had a slow start with the Sens, but just when his game was picking up he was concussed by Jay Rosehill.  There was never any intention of keeping him and he remains without a team.

February 28, 2011 – picked up Curtis McElhinney from Tampa on the waiver wire.  McElhinney allowed Robin Lehner to stay in the minors and he was decent as the season wound down.  There was never any serious consideration of keeping him [he signed a two-way deal with Phoenix].

2011 Draft

The draft lacked the high-end talent of previous years, but was considered to have good depth.  Because of Ottawa’s trades they had a plethora of picks to re-stock the organisation.

1-6 Mika Zibanejad (SEL,
1-21 Stefan Noesen (OHL,
1-24 Matt Puempel (OHL,
2-61 Shane Prince (OHL,
4-96 Jean-Gabriel Pageau (QMJHL,
5-126 Fredrik Claesson (SEL,
6-156 Darren Kramer (WHL,
6-171 Max McCormick (USHL,
7-186 Jordan Fransoo (WHL,
7-204 Ryan Dzingel (USHL,

2011-12 Contracts

March 21 – Craig Anderson – 4 years/3.1875; far too much term for my liking, but if Anderson returns to the form he showed in Colorado in 2009-10 it’s a great signing
May 19 – Zack Smith – 2 years/0.7; the tough forward has always been a favourite of the organisation and his return was no surprise
May 19 – Colin Greening – 3 years/0.816,667; the big college grad impressed with his play and was locked up on a cap friendly contract
July 1 – Alex Auld – 1 year/1.0; willing to accept both a one-year term and a back-up role, he returns to Ottawa after a two-year absence
July 5 – Zenon Konopka – 1 year/0.7; one of the league’s most frequent fighters, he also is a great faceoff man
July 6 – Erik Condra – 2 years/0.625; impressed management with his intelligent play
July 13 – Mika Zibanejad – 3 years//1.775; his contract allows him to tryout for the team, but if he doesn’t make it he’ll return to Djurgarden for one more year
July 14 – Bobby Butler – 2 years/1.05; the sniper did enough to earn a two-year contract

As it stands, that is the complete record for Bryan Murray.  He has been the GM for four years during which he’s made the playoffs twice, hired four coaches, and seen the core of the 2007 Stanley Cup final wither away.  So, by category, here’s how I assess him (for another kind of assessment, see why-is-bryan-murray-still-in-ottawa-its-complicated):

The Draft: A, excellent.  The cupboard was bare when Murray took over and now it is filling up.  The 2008, 2009, and 2011 drafts were considered excellent, while 2010 remains more of a question.  The pump is primed and the Senators should have successive waves of quality players filtering into the organisation for years to come.
Contracts: C, mediocre.  Murray has struggled with contracts for older, veteran players.  His contracts while rebuilding, conversely, have been excellent thus far.
Trades: B, average.  I have his score at 11-6-8 (some of the draws are because we don’t know the result yet).  Once again, Murray seems to do better when younger assets are involved, but overall I think he’s ahead of the game in terms of value derived from his trades.
Coaches: F, failure.  So far none of Murray’s hires have worked out.
Overall: B, average.  As bad as the coaching situation has been, I think a good team does well despite their coach, so as a problem there are worse things.  To my mind, Murray has been improving in all categories, so despite the team failing this season his actions as a GM have gotten better.  The true test won’t be this season, because the Senators are going to be near the basement of the league, but instead it will be the year after–not that they will be contenders, but there should be a significant step forward.