Anaheim Calling to the hockey world...
I have the conn while Jen is out of town, and I thought I would use my brief time back at the AC helm to finish a thought on Bob Murray, whose job security will most likely be re-evaluated at the conclusion of this season.
I guess I have a problem with stamping "WOOPS" on an entire season, or every game between the preseason and trade deadline. And I guess that's the same problem they had in Chicago. Too many deals, too many attempts to overhaul the team every year, only to get it right, if at all, when it was too late. - February 2011 editorial on me eviscerating Murray as vehemently as mainstream media eviscerated him in Chicago
That gets to the heart of my frustration at the beginning of this season. As a sports fan, I long for the hope of a new season, its new-season smell and the promise of starting anew. But, at some point, Bob Murray took that from me. Instead of a blank slate, I came to expect that this season would look like its recent predecessors: an ill-conceived roster met with almost-scheduled adversity, then empty threats of major trades, then inexplicable job security for the coaching staff and its system, then finally, a barely successful or unsuccessful drive to make the postseason in a sport where over half the teams are guaranteed playoff games. Oh, to be unpleasantly surprised.
But let me start with a defense of the job Bob Murray has done.
Let's not forget that Anaheim is a small market team. You try making a dollar out of fifteen cents every year without falling into a familiar pattern of Spam Spaghetti Fridays. The increasing salary cap has made this job harder than it was when Burkie did it.
Let's also not forget that, while Murph has showed little respect for, and imputed little value to, the assets of the former regime (your Tangradi's, Gardiner's, etc.), neither did Burke. The large contracts of the pre-lockout Ducks were dissolved into an ether of one-way trades.
Keeping a playoff window open in Anaheim is impractical on paper. And creating the powerhouse that Brian Burke drove to the Stanley Cup seems to be a fool's errand.
But then there's the talent.
Anaheim is blessed with affordable talent (with more on the way). Murray was charged with turning those young talented (RFA!) players into superstars, as surely as the Ducks' marketing team was. That means finding the right complementary players and building the team AROUND your superstars. Does that mean that the inmates will run the asylum, the system will cater to their strengths and that you won't be able to make a credible threat of trading them if they don't shape up and bend to your (or your coach's) will? YES.
But that's the job of being a small market GM. You don't have the assets or flexibility to trade affordable superstars for less affordable ones. You do not marry your team to a coach or a system; you are married to your core players. That is reinforced during every hand wringing contract negotiation. I've never heard of a GM signing a system to a five year contract, or worried about his coach hitting the free agency market.
But that is what Murph did here; he stuck with Carlyle too long. The seasons began to look identical, and whispers that Carlyle had lost the ears of his players carried from offseason into preseason. Aaron Ward's comments on the joyless experience of playing in Anaheim (in the spring of 2010!) were surely not the lone voice of dissent in a room full of Carlyle devotees. And who knows what damage that joyless experience has done to Anaheim's current coterie? Would you really be surprised to see them blossom elsewhere and gush about how great it is to play for a certain new coach? Are you surprised to see Joffrey Lupul blossom with a little encouragement?
Boudreau may still be that coach, and this team may still flourish under Boudreau. And, if it comes to it, this team may still trade its core successfully; they've done as much with their pair of 2003 1st Rounders in Philadelphia. But, when evaluating Murray, the question should be how long he let this wound fester, how a stitch in time could have saved a season. Can Bob Murray be trusted to deliver the promise of a new season again? Or will he quickly slip back into Spam Spaghetti Fridays?