ST. PAUL, Minn. — King Coach Andy Murray, who has earned increasingly strong support for NHL coach of the year honors, earned something else Monday.
A contract extension.
It is not the longest deal in the history of hockey -- one more season after this, plus a one-year club option for 2005-06 -- but it is enough to guarantee that Murray spends more time with the Kings than any other coach in team history.
Murray's three-year deal at about $700,000 a season was to expire at the end of this season. He is believed to have received a 10% to 15% raise, putting his new deal at about $800,000 a season.
King assistant coaches Ray Bennett, Mark Hardy and John Van Boxmeer and goaltending consultant Andy Nowicki also signed one-year extensions, with one-year club options for 2005-06. Under terms of the deal, all members of the coaching staff would receive a percentage of their salaries -- believed to be half -- in the event of a lockout next season. In addition, the club would honor the option year if there were a lockout.
Murray, 52, has guided an injury-depleted team to the brink of a playoff spot in his fifth season with the Kings. The Kings made the playoffs the first three seasons under Murray but did not qualify in 2002-03 largely because of the absence of injured forwards Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh.
Despite an even higher number of injuries this season, the Kings are in a four-way tie for sixth in the Western Conference, an effort that has propelled Murray into coach-of-the-year consideration. The Kings have lost 434 man-games to injury and are closing in on the Boston Bruins' unofficial league record of 573 man-games lost in 1991-92. (The NHL does not keep official count of man-games lost.)
"He has a way of keeping players sharp and fresh despite difficult circumstances," General Manager Dave Taylor said. "I think he does a real good job during the games. He can make adjustments during periods and certainly between periods.
"I think part of the art of coaching is getting your message across to the players. You have to do that under a lot of difficult situations at times. Andy's been able to do that."
Injuries aside, the Kings already have experienced challenging times that included a 14-game winless streak, the third-longest in team history. But they emerged from the slump with a current 5-1-3 surge that has put them in playoff contention with 28 games left.
"Dave and I had talked a long time ago," Murray said. "He said, 'Would you like to stay, because we'd like to have you.' I said yes. He said, 'Do you have any things in particular that you want?' And I said I want to make sure the staff is taken care of. It took Dave time to put those things together. Dave wanted to keep us, and we wanted to stay."
Murray is 171-132-47-21 with the Kings and needs eight victories to break Bob Pulford's team record for victories. Murray can break Pulford's team record for games with his 397th game March 10 against the Phoenix Coyotes. Murray can tie Pulford at the end of the season for longest tenure as King coach, with five seasons.
"It's good," said center Eric Belanger, in his fourth season with the Kings. "There's only one year we didn't make the playoffs, and I think this year we'll be back at it.
"It gives them and us some stability. Stability for players and for coaches is very good and very important."
Bennett and Hardy were part of Murray's original staff from June 1999. Van Boxmeer joined them in July 2002.
"We all have our own delineations and responsibilities," Bennett said. "Andy's got a good sense or feel for delegation. One thing about Andy is that he's a lot like I'd imagine a head football coach is. He delegates responsibility and he's aware of what you're doing, but he's not watching over your shoulder. The way he's set it up is there's an offensive coordinator [Van Boxmeer] and a defensive coordinator [Hardy] and a technical person like myself."
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Andy Murray's coaching record with the Kings:
*--* Year Record Fin. Playoffs '99-00 39-27-12-4 2nd Lost in 1st round '00-01 38-28-13-3 3rd Lost in 2nd round '01-02 40-27-11-4 3rd Lost in 1st round '02-03 33-37-6-6 3rd Did not qualify Note: Finishes are in the Pacific Division.
Elliott reported from St. Paul and Bresnahan from Los Angeles.