Hot on the heels of owner Eugene Melnyk’s conference call with the media, Bryan Murray held court and answered questions pertaining to the Ottawa Senators’ 2013-14 season.
Chris Lund of the Senators’ organization was kind enough to publish a transcript of Murray’s comments, but if you would like to hear them, you can do so via the embedded video below. (Note: Lund also published a transcript with Cyril Leeder as well, so be sure to check it out as well.)
I don’t want to pilfer all of Lund’s content, so be sure to read the whole thing. I’ve pulled some of the more interesting quotes from the transcript out and added my comments. As is the norm, they will be in bold.
On where this team ranks amongst his most disappointing seasons…
“I’m not sure that I can rank it, it’s a disappointing finish, there’s no question. In the league today there are a lot of teams that are pretty close to the same level, 14 teams miss the playoffs, but it’s disappointing because we felt going into the year, and I feel today, that we had the calibre of player that would certainly give us a shot to be a playoff team — not just a contender, a team — with an opportunity to move on. I think when you have a couple of years where a young group looks like they’re improving, and they did, and we win a round, to face the little bump in the road, or big bump, obviously it’s disappointing.”
One of the recurring trends throughout the course of the season is that this organization, especially Bryan Murray and ownership, think that this collection of players is close to contention without ever explaining why. The defence and the team’s inability to stay structured led to poor defensive zone coverage. The team was undisciplined and without sweeping change that sees the organization rid itself of some repeat offenders, it’s doubtful that this problem will simply remedy itself.
For whatever reason, in the post-Muckler era, this organization has fallen into this trap of making reactive trades designed to keep the team semi-competitive without ever making proactive trades with some long-term plan to bring this team closer to Stanley Cup contention. Somewhere along the line, the goal has changed from winning the Stanley Cup to just making the playoffs and it’s disappointing.
On Spezza’s season…
“I’m not sure why Jason is the single guy that is being evaluated, number one. I guess maybe he wore the ‘C’ and that’s part of it. I believe we have five guys that are going to be going into their last year and decisions have to be made and will be made at the right time. We’ve spent two days now in great conversation, I think, with number one, our players, and number two, our coaching staff. We will make that determination. As I said there are four other guys that are going into their last year and a couple of guys that are unrestricted right now and every one of them will be evaluated. Do we want the budget to sign them all or will we make a decision to move some of them. Jason will be one of them, we’ll talk, he’s our captain at this point, he has a year left in his contract. We’ll see where we go with him.”
At this point, no one has unequivocally gone to bat for Jason the same way that Melnyk vouched this afternoon that Paul MacLean would return as head coach.
On changes he plans addressing short term:
“I think we probably need another harder forward for sure. I think as we evaluate there may be other changes too but we certainly — I know everybody points to the defence. We have to cut goals against down, we have to be much better in our own end. That was the big bugaboo for me. We had so many careless plays in our own end, at times guys looked confused and we’d give other teams second and third chances because of a careless play or a bad play or bad positioning. The big thing going into it is we’ve got eight young defencemen — seven younger and Chris Phillips who’s the veteran guy in the group. The coach will have a choice of what they want and who they want to play but I do think we do need another bigger forward that can play a harder game for us.”
Okay, so I’m not really looking forward to seeing the Chris Stewart to Ottawa rumour mill come back in full effect.
On what changes the coaching staff needs to make in the approach:
“My note to him today was the players liked the old Paul. They liked the guy that sat and talked to them, that treated them in a more easygoing fashion, that taught and not confronted. There were some mistakes made obviously, you don’t go to some of your better players and confront them early in the year and expect change. The change is usually in the negative form. I think what Paul did in the two years leading up to this was a real strong indication of the type of coach he is. I think as you go through your career you learn lots of things and, again, I think it’s a stage where he’ll be much better because of it.”
The problem with that is that the organization oversold the “rebuild” and it created lowered expectations. It’s easier to play without pressure and without expectation and now that the Senators are expected to vie for a playoff spot, the honeymoon is over – for the coach, for the players and for management and ownership.
On not giving MacLean a vote of confidence on the radio:
“I made a mistake in that, I should have said I’m not answering the question but if I said that you would have asked the same question today and said I didn’t give him a vote of confidence or whatever. I should have waited for 80 games or 82 games and then made the statement. I tried to be diplomatic at the time and it was the wrong way to do it. I’m an old guy and I even learn that now that I can’t do that with you guys in the press.”
And yet, even with this acknowledgement, no one has really gone to bat for Jason Spezza and given him and his future a vote of confidence.
On if he regrets the Ryan trade or the departure of Alfredsson:
“I’d ask you, would you trade the 10th pick overall and Silfverberg for Bobby Ryan. I would do it again today in a heartbeat. I didn’t expect that we’d be picking 10. I read the comment would I trade Ben Bishop? Ben Bishop couldn’t sit here and be lost on waivers in the summertime because only two guys can play. Ben got a chance to go and play and I told you at the time but the explanation wasn’t very clear from me obviously. We got a fourth round pick coming and we had Cory Conacher for a short time. We found out we had Mike Hoffman coming who’s a little bigger and quicker, we made that change and I let Tim get a nice head start on us in Buffalo by doing that. Bobby Ryan got 23 goals, Silfverberg got 10 this year. I think Bobby Ryan is going to be a very important player here in the future, he’s at a young age, we’ve already talked about extending him and I would make that trade again in a heartbeat. As I said, there are five guys who are under contract, there are two guys who are unrestricted. We’re trying to make the determination of who we’re going to try to keep. Some of them will have a choice obviously and they will make that choice on their own, but for the most part — I’ve had a conversation with every guy that has a contract coming up this year or next year and it seems to me that there is some interest in that. Just to follow up on Daniel Alfredsson, of course, and I said that at the time. I’ve had three times in my career that this type of incident has happened to me. Stu Barnes in Florida, lost him after we went to the Stanley Cup final, it was all about a contract at that time, we lost him and we didn’t have a very good next year. Paul Kariya in Anaheim, had a deal done and he ended up going on the last day to Colorado for $1.2 million. I lost Daniel Alfredsson. The end result following each year was the same as it is today. We know these people have influence in the room and on the ice and I would be wrong if I said he didn’t have an impact on what happened here.”
The Bobby Ryan trade is arguably the biggest move that Bryan Murray has made in the “post-rebuild” era. Of course he’s going to be staunch in his defence of it, especially when Ryan is under contract and still part of this team. It is somewhat surprising to hear him defend poor asset management in respect to the Ben Bishop trade since the main piece of that deal that back, Cory Conacher, was waived. Sure, the emergence of Mike Hoffman helped make that decision easier, but that shouldn’t defend how the team failed to maximize the value of Bishop by trading organizational strength for what essentially amounts to a 4th round pick.
On if Spezza wants to remain a Senator:
“You would have to ask him that. My indication from him in conversation with him is he’s got a year left, he’s the captain of our team. We’ll have to make a decision on him contract-wise going forward. I haven’t offered him a contract and I’m not prepared to do that at the moment.”
Sounds like the organization is ready to part ways with Spezza, which sheds light on the rationale for re-signing of Phillips.
On if he’ll attempt to re-sign Hemsky:
“We were still a little bit on the bubble — the odds were we were behind the 8-ball to make the playoffs and I understand that. I liked Ales, I thought he could bring something to our hockey team. I thought you had to pay a pick for it but it would give us a great chance to bring him to Ottawa, find out what type of person he was, number one, and could he help us right now and, if we wanted to, could we entice him to come back and play in Ottawa. We had a brief conversation about it. That’s to be decided going forward.”
Despite long odds that the Senators would reach the playoffs, the Senators made a conscious decision at the NHL trade deadline not to sell. Instead, they bought Ales Hemsky and have been unable to convince him to refrain from testing the unrestricted free agent market. If he bolts, and I can’t blame him for wanting to test the market, it will be another short-sighted gamble that failed to pay off.
On Kassian’s future after the Toronto scratch:
“Matt Kassian’s not in our plans and I don’t think we’re in his plans. I think he indicated to me yesterday that he wants to have a chance to go somewhere he might get a chance to play more often. He didn’t feel he played a lot here, I’ll have further conversation with him, but we need, as I said earlier, a harder forward that can play the game hard and stick up for teammates if necessary.”
Huzzah! (Note: Matt Kassian’s TOI/game was the lowest of his career this season with 4:26, but he set a regular season career high by playing in 33 games.)
“We’re talking, I talked to him yesterday, he’s certainly interested in continuing to play here, he loves Ottawa. That will be a conversation and a decision we have to make because we can’t keep everybody and we don’t want to keep everybody because we do have some young guys that have to have an opportunity.”
If the Senators can’t retain Hemsky, and don’t want to retain Michalek, and opt to trade Spezza… finding a new second line will be high on Bryan’s to do list.