- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — How many times must Bryan Murray have thought of what he gave up back in Shawville, that tiny English-speaking enclave surrounded by French-speaking Quebec, all those years ago when he decided to see if he could coach with the big boys.

If nothing else, Murray, 60, is a work in progress. He’s been hired and fired and landed on his feet so many times he should be on a lecture circuit. He has decided, though, that his current gig as general manager of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim will be his last in the NHL.


“I mean who knows — maybe they decide to fire me after the season,” the silver-haired executive said yesterday as his team prepared for tonight’s Game2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, almost as unlikely an entrant as there has ever been in this tournament. The other team on the same preposterous level would be the 1995 Florida Panthers, a 3-year-old club, and Murray was their general manager, too.

Now his Ducks are down 1-0 to New Jersey, and the outlook is not sunny. Murray has been there before, starting with the Washington Capitals in 1983, when he took them to their first playoffs and a rookie defenseman named Scott Stevens was goaded into a fight worthy of an ejection, thereby trimming the number of able Caps defenders by 50 percent, Rod Langway having to go alone. Twenty seasons later, Stevens plays for the Devils.

Two seasons ago, Murray was hired to coach the Ducks; a season later, he was hired to manage them. In his first season, he saw what was needed, both to make the team run smoother and to improve it, and he has done both.

“Bryan’s been huge for the organization if you look at what he’s done from the start,” said star forward Paul Kariya. The first thing Murray did was turn an organization top-heavy with animosity into a people-friendly team that made players feel so welcome and important that they wondered why they ever played anywhere else.

Kariya saw it coming and was the first to lend a hand. He urged Murray to go out and get an aging free agent named Adam Oates, then went to Oates and urged him to sign on. Suddenly a serious drain on the Disney image and bank account started to change.

“Signing Adam made us much better than last season,” Kariya said. “Bryan has made other great additions, too [Rob Niedermayer, Sandis Ozolinsh, Petr Sykora and Steve Thomas]. It set the tone for everybody. All of a sudden, we expected a lot more from our team.”

Said Murray: “We wanted to change the culture. I think the players understood we were serious about winning.”

Murray always has been. It started one day in 1981, when Caps owner Abe Pollin granted his minor league coach a courtesy job interview, Don Cherry already having been picked for the job. Murray was going to use the session as practice for future interviews, but he so impressed Pollin that he got the job. He lasted 81/2 years and still holds all Caps coaching records.

“I’ve always been so proud of what happened in Washington,” he said. “I’ve always been so disappointed we didn’t win a Stanley Cup; there were two years where we probably could have. But the fan support, the competitive nature of our team every night, going from very few people in [Capital Centre] to selling it out nearly every night and making the playoffs … The big disappointment was, I thought we had two teams that could have won Cups, but we lost to the Islanders one year when we probably should have beaten them and the year when [Bengt Gustafsson] broke his leg when Denis Potvin hit him. We could have taken them out that year. But I was so proud of the reputation we had in Washington — competitive every night, hard-working, best-conditioned team. Around the league we were recognized. I only wish we had done a couple things better at different stages.”

After leaving the Caps, Murray went to Detroit and was fired. He went to Florida and was fired. Now he’s in Anaheim and has done what most thought was impossible — taken a laughingstock club into the final round.

His record as a general manager is 409-357-131-11. His record as a coach is 513-413-131-14. Only five men have coached more games; only six have won more. Murray’s coaching record would have been much better but for two of the men in front of him, Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour, whom he could not beat.

Nonetheless, it was a lot more fun than teaching driver’s education back in Shawville.

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