Thoughts on Bryan Murray’s Performance as GM

I thought about going ham and doing a complete retrospective of Murray’s career, but rather than that massive wall of text I decided I’d pick a few idiosyncrasies that I think illustrate his struggles in Ottawa (and however much fans might want to give him a pass because of Eugene Melnyk’s interference, what we’re about to see is pure Bryan Murray).  For those who prefer retrospectives that are  roses and puppy-dogs, Senschirp is here for you.

Aging Veterans

If there’s one thing Murray loved it was players well past their prime:
2007-08 (1st round sweep)
Luke Richardson (38) – 76-2-7-9 (re-signed then retired early)
Cory Stillman (T) (34) – 24-3-16-19 (played 3 more seasons)
Martin Lapointe (T) (34) – 18-3-3-6 (retired)
Dean McAmmond (33) – 68-9-13-22 (played 3 more seasons)
Randy Robitaille (32) – 68-10-19-29 (6 more seasons in Europe/AHL)
Shean Donovan (T) (32) – 82-5-7-12 (2 more seasons)
2008-09 (missed playoffs)
Jason Smith (35) – 63-1-0-1 (retired)
Jarkko Ruutu (33) – 78-7-14-21 (2 more seasons)
2009-10 (1st round in 6)
Alex Kovalev (36) – 77-18-31-49 (2 more seasons)
Andy Sutton (T) (34) – 18-1-0-1 (2 more seasons)
Matt Cullen (T) (33) – 21-4-4-8 (active player)
Jonathan Cheechoo (T) (29) – 61-5-9-14 (6 seasons in Europe/AHL)
2010-11 (missed playoffs)
Sergei Gonchar (36) – 67-7-20-27 (4 more seasons)
(Francis Lessard) (31) – 24-0-0-0 (1 more AHL season)
2011-12 (1st round in 7)
Alex Auld (30) – 3.35 .884 (1 more in Europe)
Zenon Konopka (30) – 55-3-2-5 (2 more seasons)
2013-14 (missed playoffs)
Joe Corvo (36) – 25-3-7-10 (retired)
Ales Hemsky (T) (30) – 20-4-13-17 (active player)
2014-15 (1st round in 6)
David Legwand (34) – 80-9-18-27 (active player)
(Todd Bertuzzi) (39) – did not play (retired)
2015-16 (missed playoffs)
Scott Gomez (36) – 13-0-1-1 (theoretically “active”)
Dion Phaneuf (T) (30) 20-1-7-8 (active player)

Ostensibly you add veterans to make a Cup run, but there’s no corollary here.  It’s worth noting that the one season Murray didn’t add an aging vet (12-13) is the only season his team won a round in the playoffs.  Lessard is in brackets because he was on a two-way contract, but who signs a guy like that to a two-way and then plays him in the NHL?  Bertuzzi is also in brackets because he ultimately got hurt before he ever played with the Sens, but the hope was that he would.  A few of these players delivered in one way or another, but many of these signings are well beyond the keen of any sense whatsoever–Richardson, Smith, Lapointe, Donovan, Cheechoo, Auld, Konopka, Corvo, Legwand, and Gomez were all players who were done–there was nothing left in the tank and that was obvious to even casual fans on the outside.  One of Murray’s main problems was his outdated belief that veterans brought magical “character” to the room and would help in the playoffs–a bit like wearing a lucky rabbit’s foot–something that might have been true 20 years ago, but has been irrelevant since the end of the Dead Puck Era.

College/CHL Free Agents

Next let’s look at various swings at the fences when it comes to signing college and junior free agents (he did not sign any free agent players from Europe to ELCs):

Jesse Winchester (NHL 285-20-50-70; technically on Colorado’s roster)
Bobby Butler (NHL 130-20-29-49; bombed out in Europe)
Craig Schira-WHL (last four seasons in Europe)
Stephane Da Costa (NHL 47-7-4-11; last two seasons in the KHL)
David Dziurzynski-BCHL (NHL 26-3-3-6)
Pat Cannone (no NHL games played)
Wacey Hamilton-WHL (no NHL games played)
Cole Schneider (NHL 2-0-0-0)
Buddy Robinson (NHL 3-1-1-2)
Andrew Hammond (NHL 49 games played)
Ludwig Karlsson (career ECHLer)
Garrett Thompson (split his time between the ECHL/AHL)
Troy Rutkowski-WHL (career ECHLer)
Matt O’Connor
Macoy Erkamps (WHL)

While we can’t judge the latter two yet, this is an atrocious record.  It’s a collection of marginal to poor talent with no bonafide NHL players other than perhaps Andrew Hammond (I think you could argue maybe Da Costa could have played in the right situation and the jury is still be out on Schneider, but that’s it).  The sad thing is there’s no real sign of improvement here–no noticeable trend–just shots in the dark over and over again (and their Western junior scouts need their heads examined).

I bring up these two particular elements in Murray’s playbook because they are all within his control.  There was a gradual reduction in signing older players, but that change is also tied to budgetary constraints, so it’s not clear he actually learned his lesson (despite repeatedly saying it’s “a young man’s game” he also continuously kept and signed aging vets).  As for free agents, getting one backup goaltender out of so many ELCs is a poor track record (you might count Winchester is another “success”, but I felt he was shoehorned into the NHL), and it’s sometimes difficult to understand the thinking behind the signings (Karlsson and Thompson are particularly egregious).  These self-inflicted wounds hampered the organisation and are one of the reasons Ottawa struggled so hard to just make the playoffs.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)