Bob Murray's latest press conference contained fire. He alluded to all of the important factors of the team's failings. Coach can't lose 4 game 7s in a row? Check. Core players need to play better and earn their contracts? Check. General Manager failed to acquire a legitimate impact player and was forced to once again live and die by the success of that underperforming core? Wait...Not his fault.
If Murray wants more accountability from his players, perhaps he should start by showing some responsibility of his own. For me, this is the money quotation taken from Yahoo Sports:
It’s what we get forced into. If you follow, and to some degree that’s what happens, a couple big contracts get signed, that what you end up getting pushed into. They expect it, and we all are guilty of [providing] that, but sometimes you’re going to have to push back.
No one put a gun to Murray's head and forced him to give Bieksa an extra 2 years and a no-movement clause (yes, no-movement, not no-trade), before Bieksa had ever played a single game with the Ducks. Even if he had to negotiate an extension to facilitate waiving the no-trade clause Bieksa had, Murray didn't have to offer that strict of a clause. If Bieksa wouldn't have accepted a trade without that clause, Murray should have walked away. Thats his prerogative as the GM. It's his responsibility to make the decisions that are good for the organization. Bieksa has been trending down for at least 3 seasons, but Murray threw 4 million at him anyway. It's not as if Bob didn't know the RFA contract negotiations were coming. It could be argued that Murray was trying to replace a departed top 4 defenseman in Beauchemin. He saved some money by not signing Beauchemin, but even Beacuhy didn't get a no-movement clause. In fact, the only free agent defenseman who did get that clause was Andrej Sekera, arguably the biggest blue line prize of the season. In addition, the Ducks could have gotten Barret Jackman for 2 years and 2 million AAV. Zbynek Michalek signed in Arizona for 2 years and 3.2 AAV. That Bieksa contract was a hefty price that didn't really do anything except tie Murray's hands this offseason.
Additionally, Kesler got an expensive contract after one solid year in Anaheim. He prioritized an older Kesler over his RFAs. Kesler will get nearly 7 million a year starting next year, and he has a full no movement clause. That's a hefty contract to a player on the wrong side of 30. Regardless of how you feel about Kesler the player, Murray made his job tougher by handing out that contract. He could have waited until after this season to extend Kesler. He also could have offered him a limited no-trade instead of full no-move. Kesler's contract isn't that far from Getzlaf's. It's not as if Kesler was in a position to demand an extension. Murray should be taking responsibility for these actions, not passing the buck to an abstract trend in contract negotiations.
Murray's situation is 100% of his own making. He signed Stoner. He over paid Bieksa and Kesler. He continued his long history of seeking bargain bin additions instead of finding impact players at the deadline. It seems the only time Murray can find fault with his moves is when he's blaming the "core". I know he struggles with responsibility because he went on to say this.
We’ve basically got three second [lines] right now. I do not mind playing with three second [lines], if I could get them. For a while it looked like we had it, but it wasn’t there when it counted
I can buy that Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg can constitute a second line. Not necessarily a great second line, but a second line nonetheless. However, on what planet do Jamie McGinn, an aging Shawn Horcoff, and Chris Stewart constitute a second line? Furthermore, do you really have a top line when Ryan Garbutt and his career high 32 points are playing on it? If Bruce Boudreau is having to put bottom 6 forwards like Garbutt and Thompson in the top 6, are the Ducks rolling 3 second lines? It seems Murray is overestimating the quality of his teams. This is endemic of his time here. Murray is showing up to a bbq with hamburger patties and screaming at the grill master for not serving him filet mignon. Murray has trouble making bold moves, which makes his demand for more from the players all the more reprehensible.
Since he took over during the 08-09 season, the Ducks have kept a first round pick every year. In fact, the only time they traded a first round pick was when they used their surplus pick to acquire Ryan Kesler. Murray has always kept his eye on next year, espousing the idea that the team can't sacrifice the future to win now. As a result, Murray has hoarded assets while potentially franchise altering players have been moved, such as Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel, and Ryan Johanssen all got moved. Moreover, he's been unwilling to engage in the pursuit of high priced rentals to push the Ducks over the top. Andrew Ladd and Milan Lucic could have helped this post season. Prying Loui Ericsson out of Boston would have been a great boon to the lineup and a good way to spend our surplus cap space. Johnny Boychuk went for a pair of second round picks. He would have been an extremely valuable pick up for a blue line that's had trouble consolidating talent. The Ducks have been plagued by having to spread Lindholm, Vatanen, and Fowler over the 3 pairings. Imagine Lindholm/Boychuk and Fowler/Vatanen patrolling the backend instead of Bieksa. The list of hypotheticals is long; it would be unproductive to list them all. It also isn't necessarily the point. The real concern should be that Murray has been unwilling to make a team changing risk. He spends all his time playing it safe. His keeping-an-eye-to-next-year attitude has filtered down to his players. This raises a fundamental question: How can Murray demand the players go all out, when he has been unwilling to do the same?
In Murray's defense, the owners deserve some of the blame...maybe. Ownership should have given Murray the green light to spend to the cap and win the Cup. It's entirely possible that Murray wasn't allowed to spend the rest of his cap space. If that's the case, ownership is equally to blame for not showing faith in the team and absorbing some of the risk. If Murray didn't spend the money he was afforded, well...
A lot of excuses will be made for favorite players. That's fine. The players aren't guiltless, and many have said as much. Corey Perry has decided to shoulder his fair share of responsibility, which is proper. It's fine for a General Manager to try and hold his players accountable. That's part of the job. However, it is irresponsible for a GM who has shied away from taking risks and refused to put his full commitment into constructing the roster to demand more commitment from his players. Accountability starts at the top, Mr. Murray. If you are unwilling to risk everything on a roster-yes, even your job security-you have no right to question the commitment of your players. If you want more out of your players, perhaps you should try being the example you wish them to follow.