Murray Speaks – Preparing For The Trade Deadline

When it comes to sports journalism in Ottawa, Le Droit’s hardworking Sylvain St-Laurent deserves more attention. I’m sure some of this is attributable to the language barrier that some non-bilingual Anglophones may experience, but if you’re not already, follow Sylvain on Twitter (@Syl_St_Laurent) and give his work a read.

That being said, on his sports blog published on the La Presse website, Sylvain posted a near 10-minute interview with Senators GM Bryan Murray regarding management’s approach to the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline. Expect the bulk of this interview to be featured in an upcoming piece, so keep an eye out for that.

From the YouTube video accompanying the blog post, here’s a transcript of the Murray interview.

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

How do you approach the trade deadline one month out?

“I think what I have to look at is where we are at that point. So we have to wait roughly another month to really see if this team is going to contend. Are we getting a number of the injured players back? And are they healthy? And are they able to play at a good level because of missing a number of games? I think when you evaluate all of that, we can make the call that says, ‘Do we add and pay a price – a future price – to give ourselves a real good shot at playoff time? Or do we continue to show patience and because we don’t have a couple of key guys playing, do we just wait and hopefully, as we look past that, look at the bigger picture?’ ”

As shitty as the Eastern Conference looks this year, and as much as I’m looking forward to the returns of guys like Spezza and Michalek, I’m not holding out my breath that guys like Cowen or Karlsson will be ready to return this season. Without Karlsson, and the effect that he has on this team’s 5v5 offence, looking at the big picture is the route that I’m most comfortable seeing this team take.

On having any set plans?

“I have a variety of thoughts on what I would like to do. The one thing that I have maintained all along though is that we’re not likely going to trade a top young prospect at this point to get a veteran player for a playoff run. If we got a player back that was mid-twenties or late-twenties for a younger player and that player would be with us for a year or two beyond, that’s a different discussion. But, I haven’t got that name yet or that situation cropping up yet.”

Love it. As a fan, you cannot complain with this approach to want to add young pieces that fit with the bulk of this team’s young core and give the team the biggest window of opportunity for contention moving forward. Unfortunately, for those who are looking for this kind of move now, you’re going to have to wait. Teams aren’t exactly clamoring to move young players off their roster midseason and conversely, you can lump Ottawa into this boat with its three goaltenders. I’ll come back to this point later.  

On that trade scenarios being the most difficult to find for a GM…

“Those are the hard ones and you can only do that, in all likelihood, with a team that is not going anywhere right now or in the next year or so. And that’s the judgment they make and they are ready to sacrifice something that can continue to play for a real top, young player.”

Precisely.

On Cowen’s injury and the strong play of the defence affecting the opportunity to acquire a veteran defencemen…

“(The injury) happened very quickly too, unfortunately. We had talked about (acquiring) a real quality, veteran guy. There was a couple of guys out there that we had targeted, but almost immediately, we started to get a couple of injuries and that went by the board. But it went by the board for a couple of reasons. A couple of our young people came up from the minors and competed very hard. They looked like they could play and I could only foresee them getting better as we went into the year. And I think that’s the case, so the urgency (to make a move) was not quite the same. I really suspected after losing Jared, that there’d be guys filling (his spot) but that they would not be adequate to play and help us win. But I was wrong because some of them have stepped up. You bring Gryba in now later, but even Borowiecki came in and played. Patrick Wiercioch came in and played. And they are more than adequate. They are going to be good NHL players, so why not ride them, let them grow, let them get better game-to-game? The end result will be because of the injury to Jared, and now Erik, we’ve got two or three other defencemen are really going to benefit from it.”

It’s interesting to hear Bryan candidly express his belief that the incumbent group of defencemen weren’t good enough to help this team win consistently. He is right in asserting that the team is better off in the long run giving some of these young prospects the ice-time. Earlier in the season, it may have even been before the season actually, Paul MacLean expressed a sentiment indicating that there was a proportionately balanced desire to weigh success with player development. You can’t have one without the other. There needs to be an emphasis on allowing young players to get the ice-time and learn from their mistakes. And conversely, the organization needs to accept the natural occurrence of mistakes that these young players will make.

On having too many bodies once the other defencemen get healthy…

“We may be able to do something to get some other need filled. But, I don’t know that we’ll ever have too many in this league; this year anyway, with the way that players keep falling. There are so many… the games are so intense and it’s almost at times careless in the contact that you have to have more than enough bodies to carry on.”

Much like the impending decision that will eventually need to be made, having a wealth of defencemen who, regardless of talent, have demonstrated that they can play in the league is a huge benefit for the Senators. In parlaying quantity for more quality, these kinds of moves will help the organization graduate from playoff contention to Stanley Cup contention status.

On the status of Sergei Gonchar and his impending UFA status and the prospective decision to move him…

“Right now, we’ve thought of it and talked about it a lot; as we do with most every player, and in particular, guys in last years of their contract. I think we’re going to let it play and see where they go. We like Sergei. He’s been a real nice fit for this hockey team. He passes the puck. He runs the power play. He’s been a proven winner, so we’d be remiss if we don’t really consider what we’re doing with him next year. But I’m not prepared at this time to make a contract offer or do anything for the next little bit, at any rate.”

The way Murray was talking about Gonchar, it sounded like he was prepared to move on.

On considering moving Gonchar…

“Yeah, I don’t even want to think that way, but yeah, there are different things that could happen depending (on) where we stand in the latter part of… actually in the latter part of this month.”

Ho-hum…

On staying competitive, in the playoff hunt and possibly making a Gonchar trade…

“We can’t subtract people, that’s for sure. I think, and my philosophy has always been, you’ve got to give your team the best chance possible to win. And if you’re subtracting and not getting something really good in return, then that doesn’t make any sense for the group that’s left. So, we’re going to be again, (we’ll) watch as we go forward here and try to make the right judgment at the right time.”

It will be interesting to see what the organization can fetch for Gonchar and in turn, how they weigh it against whatever odds they have to compete for a playoff spot or win a round or two. I can’t imagine Gonchar fetching that much in return, so if it’s anything less than a second round pick, depending on Ottawa’s place in the standings, I can’t see Murray moving him unless the team is a seller.

On the goaltending situation and the decision to move some of this quantity…

“I’m like the fans in Ottawa, my whole career has been one where very good teams for the most part, contending teams for… I said to Denis Potvin the other day, I came down and he was shaking his head when we beat, I think it was the Canadiens. We won and I said, ‘Well, this is what (you) must have felt like every night when Billy Smith stopped pucks for you.’ I had, at times, a better team in Washington, but you have to have quality goaltending. You have to have guys that give you a chance to win. We have three people that can do that at this point in time. Is it too many? Well, one is a two-way contract and a young player, and it will sort itself out. Whether I have to trade one of them eventually to make sure the other two get lots of game time or whatever, that will have to be, again, a decision (I make). But, at this point, I’m very happy that we have the three. We talked about moving one early in the year and now, we have an injury and we have an adequate second guy every game to play, if necessary. So, I just want to be very careful. Like, I’m the fans would applaud if we can win because of goaltending, I’m happy to (satisfy) that.”

More appropriately, two question remains: how do you maximize value for one of Anderson or Bishop? And are you willing to live with the tradeoff or consequences in letting Lehner be the guy or sit on the bench and platoon with Andy? Anderson has always seemed to thrive when carrying the bulk of the workload, so you have to wonder how the workload can be shared to keep his game sharp and develop Lehner at the NHL level. It’s a huge decision for management and it’s going to be another intriguing storyline to follow over the coming months.

On this quantity of goaltending and the comfort knowing that they can move a surplus to address a need…

“Ottawa now has some assets, there’s no question. The drafting that Pierre Dorion and his staff have done over the last three years, a couple of trades that the pro scouts and Tim (Murray) have helped execute have given us some depth in positions that we didn’t have in the past. I know for a few years there, we had nobody really to call up. Now we’ve got people to call up, so (that’s) number one. Number two, if there’s an extra part or an extra player that may not get a fair chance in Ottawa because of numbers, you would like to use that asset to help – whether it be for a draft pick – so we can continue to grow the organization or find another player that fits better. And that’s the judgment that we have to make as we go forward.”

It sounds like he just described Stephane Da Costa’s situation in the organization.

On determining the process for determining which goalie you move going forward…

“Well, I think just winning games. I think that you look at the three of them that we have. Craig Anderson is a proven guy in the NHL. He can win games and he’s done it this year already; the team’s not going great but he just won the game. Ben Bishop came in, and we knew he was a great backup when we got him, we were very confident he was that. To me, he’s more than that. I told a couple of teams that have called me about him, ‘I thought he was a certain level of player. He’s above that level (now).’ He’s a big, competitive guy. He looks after himself real well. Fills the net. Seems to have the mental ability to win games in a crisis point. And Robin Lehner, we keep and have said all along, he’s an outstanding talent. He’s young and he’s just becoming a top-end goaltender. I don’t know that there’s a unique characteristic for each or every one of them, but they have all shown the ability to win games. And they’re all physically fit. They’re young. They’re competitive people. So the judgment you make is just that – you make a judgment on one of them at some point, and probably keep the other two.”

Again, it’s a great problem for the organization to have and considering the past few seasons that he has had at the helm, I have confidence in the current management regime to make the appropriate decision.

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