Bryan Murray Speaks on Hockey Central – Talks Trade

Senators GM Bryan Murray joined the Fan 590's Hockey Central at lunchtime today to discuss a number of poignant matters. Often, as these interviews have a tendency, hit on some topics that I didn't have particular interest in, so if you want to listen (and watch!) the full interview, you can check out Sportsnet's video of the interview that I've embedded at the bottom of this post. 

As per the norm, my thoughts are in bold.

On what you point the finger for the reasons why you have turned things around…

“Well, we were not very good at the start of the year, so it wasn’t very hard to get better. The way I feel. I think there’s a lot of reasons why we’re playing better. First of all, it’s a team growth type of thing. We’ve (got) a number of young guys coming off, in some cases, injuries. Our better players are certainly playing better. Our goaltending has been considerably better. I think (the players) have kind of bought into the idea that maybe we better work hard every night if we want to get into this race at all for a playoff spot.”

It's tough to disagree with him. Cowen and Karlsson, the two young players coming off significant injuries have healed and it's reflective in their play. Jason Spezza has been better of late. Michalek is still Michalek, but hey that contract is one step closer to expiring with each passing day. Craig Anderson's numbers have normalized, although there certainly are reasonable arguments to be made that this team could be further ahead had it opted to annoint Robin Lehner as its number one. 

On whether he’s surprised that it took this long to start playing better…

“Yeah, I was disappointed that it did. I thought we had a better team than we were playing like. But certainly disappointed that our record was what it was by Christmas time. I thought we’d be above it, but it’s an uphill battle now and we have to play well every night but I do see some growth in a number of our young people.”

The young players keep growing and getting better. Build around the young players Bryan! Keep adding young assets to retain and put on the parent roster or use them to flip for better young assets! 

On Spezza’s trouble scoring at five-on-five…

“It bothers us of course and I know it bothers Jason as well. We’ve talked in great length about it and I think part of it is, Milan Michalek… what a great character guy he is, but he hasn’t been able to score much this year. He’s coming off a real good year and for some reason, the puck hasn’t gone in for him. Only recently has Paul (MacLean) been able to move (Mika) Zibanejad to right wing. We really like him at center, but he’s moved him over to help that line and I think the fact that he’s a young guy and not a big goal scorer at this point in his life and career has been a big factor to Jason as well. Because, as we all know, Jason’s more of a playmaker than a shooter and that’s what he’s best at and likes to do, and if you don’t have the complementary people with him, you pay the penalty for that.”

Milan Michalek is coming off an injury-marred season that necessitated going to Germany in the offseason so that a doctor could extract blood from his arm, spin it in a centrifuge and use that blood in a serum that was then injected into Michalek's knee(s). Coming off a real good year indeed. Of course Murray was actually referring to Michalek's 2011-12 'We should have sold high! Why didn't we sell high?!?' campaign.

I've re-read Murray's comments about five times and still cannot explain why Murray would single out Mika as being a factor for why Jason has struggled to produce offensively at five-on-five. 

On how he helps a guy like Bobby Ryan come off the disappointment of not being selected to the U.S. Olympic team and whether that has affected his performance…

“Probably a little bit. I don’t know how much of a factor that has been, but I don’t think there’s any question that a guy like Bobby that played on the last team, that is a fairly high-profile American player, was affected by what happened and in some cases, what was said about him. But, he’s played real hard lately and he’s created some offence. The puck just hasn’t… I don’t think he shoots enough and we all say that about goal scorers, but I think the line has still been good, he just hasn’t been the shooter on the line as much as we’d like to see.”

He doesn't shoot enough because he needs more drive, motivation and defiance!

On the prospective top six options that may be available to him in a trade and whether he has the assets to go out and get a piece. Or whether he’s confident with the group that he’s got…

“Well I’d like to find another guy. I’d like to find another forward to at least send the message to our team that management and coaches are trying to help you. We have lots of assets, lots of young prospects. We don’t have the (2014) first (rounder), but over the last few years we’ve accumulated a real good group of young prospects. I guess it depends on the return that is expected from other teams if you try to acquire that kind of player. I’ve done lots of talking to people, but there’s nobody at the moment that appears willing to pull the trigger on something like that.”

Conspicously absent from the list of entities in Bryan Murray's message to the players is that the 'ownership' is trying to help them. I'll slide it slide though, I don't want to read too much into this. There's already enough of an anti-Melnyk sentiment going around the fan base these days.

On for what he’s done for Tim Murray, certainly Tim Murray would be willing to give him Matt Moulson…

“He said basically ‘It’s all business now.’ The (bloodline) disappeared, I think.”

On the perception of the secondary deadline to get deals done before the Olympics and whether he buys into teams not wanting to acquire assets before the deadline because they don’t want to pay them during the Olympics…

“No, not at all. I think if you’re making a trade, you’re probably moving money back and forth as somewhat equal. So that wouldn’t bother us at all. I think it’s an artificial deadline. We all know that, so the pressure of doing a deal prior to isn’t as big as it will be on the actual deadline. But, I don’t think money really comes into play in this case at all.”

Okay, so Ottawa's not afraid to make a move before the deadline. Good to know. 

On how the market is right now and whether the prices are astronomical because we’re still some time away from the actual trade deadline…

“Yeah, I think if you have the person who several teams are trying to acquire, you want to get as much as you can for them. So today, the price may be a touch higher than it will on the actual deadline when the competition for the guy isn’t quite the same. I think the other part of it is that there are so many teams so close together here that we’re all a little bit hesitant to make a move that isn’t the right move. If that is the right case. So the teams at the bottom that look like they’re out of it are just going to play one (team) against the other and that’s the right thing for them to do, I believe.”

Okay, so Ottawa's not going to make a move before the trade deadline. Good to know. 

On the blue line’s growth and play over the course of the year and whether it’s come together the way he’s expected it to or whether it’s a work in progress…

“Yeah, we were not very good back there early on. We had so many turnovers and some nights you wondered whether a couple of (our defencemen) were playing for the opposition, but we had so many turnovers early on that the poor goaltending was in trouble on a regular basis. But it has come together and it is better. (Eric) Gryba has gotten a lot better in his own end. He’s a big, strong guy that played well at the end of last year and had a bit of a struggle early on even getting into the lineup. (Jared) Cowen we know is going to get better and better as we go forward. Erik Karlsson is starting to play like Erik Karlsson now with the puck. I can go down the list of the guys and (Marc) Methot has really got his game back together, so there’s a lot of reasons why our team is playing better but without a doubt, along with the goaltending, our defence have really done a much better job getting the puck out of our own end, defending the one-on-ones more often and as a result, we’ve been able to, for most games at any rate, be able to keep the goals against down.”

One of the rare times of late that someone hasn't praised fawned over Cody Ceci's emergence as an NHL player. 

On playing both sides and balancing the short-term with the long-term and whether he’d want to make a bold statement by moving a veteran like Craig Anderson…

“Well, I don’t know that we’re that bold at the moment. We know Robin Lehner is going to be a top goaltender in the league, but I think our two goaltenders are our strength of our club right now and will be for the next few years. I think the decision at the deadline will be, ‘Are we in the thick of things? Do we have a legitimate chance to be a playoff team? If we get in the playoffs, can we really compete? Or is it time to do a couple things for the future? And I think every year you can make the playoffs, you try and do that and that’s our ambition right now. I’ll just have to read it as we get to that last couple of days before the deadline and have to make a call.”

Interesting to hear Murray play both sides of the coin. It really sounds like he's going to wait until the last minute to decide on their approach, but given that management has never sold (ie. Volchenkov) at the deadline when they were in or close to the playoff picture, I'm really skeptical that they would start auctioning off expendable veteran pieces that can be easily replaced.

On whether this playoff format affects his decision-making when making a trade…

“Yeah, I think you have to look at the realistic part of it. We’ve got Boston in our side and they are without a doubt, a top, top team and to get by them will be very difficult – particularly if that’s your match right off the bat. You look at it a little bit different, but it’s still playoff time and if you get in and you have your team in some kind of good order going into the playoffs, and anybody in this league can beat anybody now for the most part, so we will approach it that way – that if we have a chance, we’re going to take that chance.”

And there you have it. Expect them to be buyers. 

On giving up the good assets to get Bobby Ryan and whether it makes it more difficult now to make the kind of move that he wants to because he’s wary about giving up more future assets…

“Well, I don’t know that I’ve ever paid a first round pick for an unrestricted free agent at the trading deadline. So the first round pick doesn’t really bother me that much. We got a great player in Bobby Ryan and we’ll have him for a few years here. We know that and he’s a star quality guy. I think it’s helped our business as well as our hockey club. We, as I’ve mentioned earlier, have some real good assets in young players. We know that we have three or four of them are going to be awfully good players for this team in the future and we’re going to protect them. But I’ve got to believe that if there’s a team out there with an unrestricted free agent that are trying to make a move, that we are as capable as most any team in this league of providing the asset that they might need to make the trade happen.”

Ugh, I hate hearing that a trade helped the Senators from a business perspective. I mean, it's great if a trade can have a positive effect on the business and ticket sales and merchandise help improve this team's bottom dollar, but at the same time, I just want to believe that these two entities co-exist but the business side or public relations side ever creeps into the decision-making process of the hockey ops department because it's usually the kneejerk, reactionary type deals that have a way of haunting a franchise.

It's interesting to note that if Bryan Murray is looking to add, he's willing to bring in an UFA rental-type player. For a mid-cap team that still is lush in assets, it seems kind of pointless to start flipping these assets so that they can simply punch a lottery ticket and try and cash in on long odds of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals when they would probably have to go through Pittsburgh and Boston in the first two rounds to do it. It's a waste of an asset that could probably be better used as part of a package to bring in a controlled asset that the organization can actually be part of the organization's short and long-term future.

On Daniel Alfredsson’s assessment of the Red Wings’ chances versus the Senators’…

“No, I’ve too much for Daniel Alfredsson. I think he made a decision to go play with some of his countrymen to have a different perspective on playing. I think when you’re playing with the same organization for a long time, sometimes it is a challenge. (Detroit’s) going to be a contending team down the stretch too. Without a doubt, we have to be better than Detroit in the last 20 games or so games if we’re going to make it. I watch Daniel play. I still like the way he plays, so I have no qualms about us doing anything but trying to win ourselves.”

I miss Daniel too, Bryan. 

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