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When the General Joins His Men in the Trenches

There’s still more questions than answers, but Bob Murray believes the best way to fix this team long-term is from ice-level.

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Irfan Khan - Los Angeles Times

After what felt like 12th opportunity to fire a coach presiding over one of the worst stretches of play in franchise history, Randy Carlyle was finally fired for the second time in team history.

And instead of promoting an assistant in the interim or having a replacement ready, General Manager Bob Murray decided to take the reins himself behind the bench for the first time in his professional career.

It’s highly unlikely that this move is about contending. In fact, quite the opposite. The Athletic’s Eric Stephens thinks as much in his extensive piece covering the decision to relieve Carlyle of his duties and take them on himself; this paragraph in particular:

“Let’s call this for what it is. Murray is an interim in the strictest sense with zero designs on doing the dual role beyond the Ducks’ season finale April 5 at Honda Center. The final 26 games of the season will not be about pulling the team out of its tailspin and making a mad push for the playoffs. It will be his own close-up inspection of how the team went 2-15-4 and fell from a playoff position to the bottom of the Western Conference. (And do you think he wants to cost the rare chance at a top-five or even top-three pick? Um, no.)”

While having the General Manager behind the bench after firing his coach is rare, it’s not unheard of. Tom Rowe of the Florida Panthers took over head coaching duties after firing Gerard Gallant in 2016. Lou Lamoriello did it on three separate occasions with the New Jersey Devils. Scotty Bowman famously held dual-roles with the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins as well. And former Ducks executive Bryan Murray assumed coaching responsibilities with the Ottawa Senators.

Let’s be real, though. Murray isn’t full of himself enough to think that he can coach the Ducks back into playoff contention. Very often, in the few instances per year Murray speaks with the media, he absolutely nails the state of his team. He may not always take public accountability for its shortcomings and he is often a little too patient with the assets he has, but he’s far from some of the GMs that have repeatedly shown gross ineptitude in constructing their team (cough Chiarelli cough).

I’m not sure I believe that Murray will get anything more out of watching his players closely from ice-level either. Sure, being in close-proximity can reveal some subtle nuances of a team’s game as opposed to the high-level overlook of the General Manager’s box, but he watches the vast majority of games in person anyway and has a staff of evaluators you would think he trusts to an extent.

This is likely more of a locker room move; one that will allow him to feel the energy in the room to try and get a more honest assessment of the players themselves. And with two weeks until the trade deadline, he wants to figure out who is part of the team’s future, and who will move on.

But will the players alter how they go about their day-to-day business with the guy in charge of their fate integrated amongst them? It’s reasonable to think that the core guys will not change how they work. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler hold more control over their fate with their full-NMCs than Murray does.

It’s the players that don’t have as much security who could find themselves looking over their shoulders: Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg, Brandon Montour, Cam Fowler, Rickard Rakell, Josh Manson, and others. There’s no doubt that Murray knows this roster needs changes. Do these players accept the fact that they have limited control over their destiny and just put their heads down and go to work until the hammer falls? Or do they change the way they work in order to please the boss?

What moves, then, could Murray make to kick off a rebuild? Obviously, Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler, won’t go anywhere unless they shock the hockey world and agree to waive their no-move clauses. There’s also only two roster players on expiring contracts who could potentially bring back valuable future pieces (read: 1st or 2nd round draft picks): Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Miller. Anyone else who could be moved for these kinds of assets has term. Henrique, Manson, Montour, Rakell, and Fowler (to an extent with his four-team trade list), all who originally figured to be in the Ducks long-term plans, could suddenly find themselves on the move depending on how the next two weeks play out.

It’s pointless to run through possible scenarios at the moment because there is still too much up in the air. Will this roster look mostly the same come February 25th? Or will multiple significant pieces be playing elsewhere? Regardless of the outcome, we’ll have a much clearer picture of the Ducks future from a roster perspective in two weeks.

Another, more noble possibility, is that Murray feels part of being a good leader is going down with his ship. If the Ducks really are going to make an intentional run at a lottery pick and try to atone for the sin of a season of agonizing hockey, then this could be the most direct admission of accountability that we’ll ever get for the construction of this roster.

He’s notorious for not speaking to media for large portions of the year. Now, by taking over as bench boss, he is knowingly forcing himself in front of media questioning on a nightly basis. Whether or not he handles this newfound responsibility well remains to be seen, but it will certainly give everyone a never-before-seen opening into the mind of a previously closed-off NHL executive.

The remaining 26 games on the season will give Bob Murray the chance to experience his own creation from inside its inner-workings as opposed to gazing from 100 ft in the air. He knows that there is something fundamentally wrong with the organization, and putting himself behind the bench is how he feels he can best understand the problem and address it as effectively as possible.