The term “dog days of summer” is used to refer to the hottest days of the season, and most baseball broadcasters use this term a lot to explain why some stadiums feel emptier than usual – the games seem to stretch on for an eternity and become less enjoyable because of the sweltering heat, and many fans would rather stay at home.
Although Ottawa is currently in the midst of a relatively mild winter, it seems that the same phenomenon can be observed: seemingly longer, duller games. Of course, this isn’t due to a lack of effort – the 2-1 SO loss to the Ducks last night and the 3-1 Sunday matinee loss to the Capitals both featured solid work but an L in the standings – but, despite most of the fan base accepting and even embracing the need for a re-build, there is a certain restlessness and lack of motivation among the team’s supporters. The tension has gotten so palpable that many fans are clamouring for Murray and/or Clouston to be shit-canned effective immediately, if only for the sake of making a move. Most would agree that even mass layoffs couldn’t turn this season around, and while I wouldn’t shed a tear for our erstwhile coach, I wonder if letting go of Murray at this point wouldn’t be a step backwards.
After 3 1/2 seasons as Ottawa’s GM, Murray’s strengths and weaknesses at the position have become more or less common knowledge among the fans. Consensus is that he’s excellent at depth-for-depth moves (Nycholat for Shannon and Schaefer for Donovan come to mind) and lights-out at drafting (Karlsson, Cowen, Lehner and even lower-drafted players like Zack Smith and Mike Hoffman look like solid picks). On the other hand, he has been unsuccessful at dealing draft picks for talent (Campoli for a 1st, Sutton for a 2nd), trading bigger names (the Vermette deal is still criticized, while many wonder if he could have gotten more out of the Heatley fiasco) and foraging into the UFA pile (Gonchar, Kovalev). These shortcomings, plus his legendary insistence that a 2nd round pick be thrown into every deal, have turned a once-loyal fan base against him. It hasn’t helped his case, either, that he had to fire two coaches. In his defence, though, he may have been justified in getting rid of Hartsburg and Paddock.
But why keep him? Well, to start, with the Trade Deadline just 41 days away, it would be unwise to fire him before the season is out and his contract is up. It would be difficult to get a good GM in-season, let alone one who would be knowledgeable enough to know which players to cut ties with. So, let’s assume that the window for firing him in-season is closed. Now, look at the situation from Murray’s perspective: your contract expires at the end of the year. You’re the scapegoat, whether justified or not, for many of the team’s problems. After this year, it’s unlikely that you get a full-time GM job anywhere in the NHL. Any progress made at this deadline towards the rebuild process will likely have no impact on you, since it appears that, for all intents and purposes, you’ll be out of a job no matter what.
I ask you this: Where’s your motivation to do a good job?
Realistically, our favourite Shawvillian with a lisp would have no reason to get personally invested. He wouldn’t even need to fake it for future employment elsewhere, and while he may take an active interest from purely an integrity level, it may be wiser to let a GM who will want the team to succeed have control.
So, here’s what I propose: re-sign Bryan for one more year. Let him handle the trade deadline and hope his love for players he’s personally coached won’t get in the way. Come draft time, let him do what he does best and secure us some future talent. In the meantime, hire a competent assistant GM – Fenton (NSH), Billington (COL) and McGuire (TSN) are the popular names – making it clear that they are being groomed for the full-time GM job. Give the new hire the season to get adjusted to the team, the way of operating and the players, specifically which ones he wants to keep and which he wants to dump at the deadline. Ideally, by the end of the season, Murray will have gradually stepped away, handing the GM reins to the new guy and possibly settling into a spot on the scouting staff, depending on how well he cooperates with the plan. Clearly, he’s got an eye for talent. Why not let him focus on what he’s good at?
One important caveat that would have to be made to keep GMBM in the fold, though: any free agency signing cannot have a NTC and should not be for any longer than 2-3 years. Any longer would result in Billington/Fenton/McGuire/whoever having their hands tied once they take over. Yes, this likely means that Richards, Parise and Semin aren’t coming here, but would one of them really push us to a playoff spot? My gut says no. Beyond those three, the UFA/RFA market is pretty shallow at F and D. As for goaltending, I’m positive the Sens could find a decent goaltender willing to take a two or three year deal. Shouldn’t be an issue.
So, I put the question to you: which method do you prefer for long-term success? A gradual, measured change of philosophy without rocking the boat, or a sudden replacement of the GM and an uncertainty of the team’s direction, yet again?