Why Would Anyone Trust Bob Murray?

The response to Anaheim’s firing of Randy Carlyle has been barely contained glee in many quarters. Over at SBNation’s blog Anaheim Calling, the news was inititally celebrated with an ALL CAPS POST. Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski called the decision to swap Carlyle for Bruce Boudreau (fired on Monday by the Washington Capitals) a “genius move.” Helene Elliott opined that the Ducks had tuned Carlyle out.

However good the reasons may have been for firing Randy Carlyle, the decision does not reflect well on Ducks general manager Bob Murray. How so? I’ll explain.

Let’s go back to the summer. Murray was facing a coaching decision in the not too distant future, as incumbent head coach Randy Carlyle had just a single year on his contract.

The results for the Ducks the previous few seasons had not been good. The Ducks had won a Stanley Cup and posted back-to-back 100-point seasons under the watch of Brian Burke, and 17 games into 2008-09 sat fifth in the Western Conference. It was then that Burke resigned the top job (he would take over in Toronto a little over two weeks later), and Bob Murray inherited the team.

The exodus of talent started immediately. In a series of deals that season, Murray gutted many of the depth components that had made the Ducks a championship team – the so-called “Nothing Line” was dismantled, the parts scattered across the league, and others were also sent away. Murray kept a few pieces (the offensive quartet of Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan and Selanne, enforcer George Parros and goalie Jonas Hiller) but he completely reworked the team’s depth. The results haven’t been pretty – and even last year, when the club was considered by many a dark horse contender, the lack of depth at all positions was painfully obvious, as was the luck involved in making the post-season.

(For those of you without ESPN accounts, that article looks at (among other things) the record of teams with an incredible winning percentage in one-goal games in the playoffs. Of the 11 teams with a win percentage in one-goal games of 0.600 or above to make the playoffs, eight lost series in which they were the favourite, and two of the remaining teams lost in the first round to superior teams. Anaheim led the league in one-goal games last year (with a 29-10-5 record), and also succumbed to the trend, losing a series in which they were favoured.)

Randy Carlyle was the team’s head coach through all of it. He had a rich history with Murray – both Murray and Carlyle had been with the Ducks for the entire post-lockout time period. Murray would have seen him in the room in 2010-11 and in all those preceding years, and would have been perfectly placed to know whether Carlyle was a fit going forward.

Murray could have fired Carlyle that summer, and conducted an extensive search for a new head coach when he had both time and a long list of possible candidates. Instead, in August of 2011, Murray sat down with Carlyle and reworked his contract – turning that single remaining year into a three-season extension. Here’s what Murray said at the time:

“Randy has been invaluable to this club over the last six years. He has been a true leader through thick and thin, and we are very pleased to be able to reward him with this well-deserved contract.”

“We are always competitive. No matter what kind of team we throw at him, he finds a way to make the team try to win. He does very well at it, as his record indicates. He’s a good coach. His record speaks for itself.”

There’s no reason to think that Murray viewed Carlyle as anything other than the best possible candidate. He could have waited to see what happened this season before extending him, but he didn’t. Why? Presumably because he was confident in his decision, from years of working with Carlyle.

Less than three months later, Murray dismissed Carlyle in the dead of night, after a win by the team under his watch. He didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about a replacement either – Bruce Boudreau, fired earlier in the week, was immediately installed as the team’s new bench boss.

Boudreau may or may not prove to be a major improvement on Carlyle. That remains to be seen. It does baffle me that Murray’s judgement in the matter is trusted – if he made the wrong decision two months ago despite ample time and a firm read on the candidate involved, why would a decision made in the space of a couple of days two months later be better?

Even without knowledge of what Murray’s done to the Ducks, this would come across as an ugly reversal.  Combined with that knowledge, one wonders how long it will be until the general manager follows the coach out the door.  One doesn’t wonder whether it will be deserved.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    This is all well and good Jonathan but I wonder if the premise of your article discounts the prevalence of dissembling and dissimulation in public speech in general.

    Maybe I’m too cynical but I take it for granted that when people make grand public statements – like after signing a player or coach – they are going to utter a bunch of platitudes. I’m not sure how much value we should put in those statements when comparing them with actions after the fact.

  • Being the boss is a b!tch. Try to reward your long time and faithful and it bites you in the a$$. He may have been drinking his own koolaid and looking through rose colored glasses. While there may have been some indications last year there was no reason to believe the team would deflate as it has. Murry will be put on the hot seat now as most GM’s are as their team goes in the wrong direction. I think he will be safe through to the middle of next season to try and right the ship.

  • I think that when faced with the choice of walking the plank and siding with the ousted Captain Carlyle, or siding with the Mutineers and living another day, Murray chose right.

    You dont start shopping Bobby Ryan around the league unless the guy has personally told you he wants out. I think it’s fair to say that Murray must have looked himself in the mirror when Boudreau became available and realized what an idiot he was for siding with the Coach not the player.

    Coaches are made to be fired, and Carlyle types are more so inclined to be tuned out. They’re like spark plugs. You dont buy a new car just because the plugs arent working.*

    I’m not going to defend Murray’s record, but he probably knew that Carlyle didnt keep his players comfortable and was a fan of that. It can be good, afterall, to keep guys from resting on their laurels. That good changes pretty quickly to bad though when your team is playing like garbage and Stars are demanding out.

    *Car reference? WTF?

  • Muji 狗

    Coaching contracts have no merit in the NHL. I doubt anybody, even the coaches, expect much from them. So, a 3 year contract, even in the first year doesn’t mean much (unfortunately?).

    I have no problem with Murray’s hiring of Boudreau. Was Randy Carlyle on the hot seat when he got fired? Yes, his team was under-performing. Was Bruce Boudreau a good hire? Sure, he seems like a great coach. You can argue about whether coaching changes like this actually make a difference in the NHL, but Carlyle failed the “what have you done for me lately” test and Boudreau, based on his track record, has the potential to right the ship.

    That said, I still think Murray is a below-average GM for the roster moves he’s made the last few years.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Meh, you’ve got a team with 5 guys that are arguably top 25 in the league and a goalie that’s been to the allstar game, yet you sit in the basement 1/3 of the way through the season you basically have to expect the coach to be fired.

  • It would appear that if Bruce was available this summer….. carlyle woulda been gone then.
    This much we know…. Bobs handling of ownerships money in this matter sucked….. that may well be his waterloo.

    So is Bruce getting paid by both the caps and the ducks? maybe he can afford a better suit.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Ever had it bad for a girl who had a boyfriend at the time? You know you can’t get with her so you end up dating another girl. Then that girl all of a sudden becomes single, so you go ahead and dump your current girl to be with her?

    It kinda looks like Murray had a bad case of “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with”

  • John Chambers

    Coaches get fired / replaced for a variety of reasons; some of them similar to why teams pull their goalie mid-game. Why waste the entire season with a coach the players have stopped listening to rather than make the change?

    Buy out the coach’s remaining contract. $4M. Not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.

  • Jon, please don’t create controversy for no good reason and drag Murray’s name through the mud. It’s been widely speculated in the mainstream media that he was told either he gets rid of Carlyle, or they’re both gone.

  • dazzer64

    I’ve read recently some wag comment that NHL teams switch from a hard guy to a soft, nice guy and then keep alternating forever as needed.

    Watching Carlyle going against the Oil over the years, it seemed to me that he was pretty good at his job, but not great. He definitely suffered from not having much of a hockey culture compared to the Oil with that team. Edmonton may have not had great teams or coaches, but there was a culture there that helped propel the team forward. I didn’t get that in Anaheim, not enough wise, experienced hands in support.

    I’m wondering about what Burke did in Anaheim, and what Murray has been doing too. I just don’t think Burke is as good as some think, so I have to wonder what was going on there. The inside story is yet to be told. I never was a huge fan of Murray either.