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Duck GM Is Leaving to Coach Senators

June 08, 2004|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Bryan Murray, general manager of the Mighty Ducks, will resign today to become the coach of the Ottawa Senators.

He cites family reasons for his return to coaching, but a hockey source familiar with the situation said a large part of the decision has to do with Murray's frustration over the desire by officials at Walt Disney Co., which owns the Ducks, to cut the team's payroll.

Duck officials declined to comment, but the source said Ottawa would announce Murray's hiring today.

Murray, the Ducks' coach in 2001-02 and general manager the last two seasons, was the architect of their run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2003. However, trimming the payroll would alter plans he had for improving the team.

The Ducks had a payroll of about $54 million last season and are already committed to $34 million, spread over 14 players, for next season.

That doesn't include such key players as Keith Carney and Rob Niedermayer. The Ducks must decide to pick up a two-year option on Carney, worth about $6 million, or let him go to free agency. Niedermayer will be a restricted free agent and probably will seek a contract worth more than the $2 million he made last season.

Overriding everything, though, is the lack of activity on a new collective bargaining agreement between hockey management and the players' association. The labor agreement expires Sept. 15, and if a new one has not been reached by then, a lockout is widely expected.

Ottawa officials were granted permission by Disney officials to speak with Murray recently. He first declined to consider the job, but Friday changed his mind and contacted Ottawa officials, who offered him the job.

Like the Ducks, the Senators are coming off a season in which they failed to meet expectations. Ottawa was considered a Stanley Cup contender but lost to Toronto in the first round of the playoffs.

It was the fourth time in five seasons that the Senators had lost to their Ontario rival, prompting the firing of Coach Jacques Martin, who had been the team's coach for 8 1/2 seasons.

Disney officials are not expected to name a general manager immediately.

Murray's departure leaves a void in the Duck organization. He was the third general manager in team history and, although he needed final approval from Disney officials, made the organization's hockey decisions. That allowed him to revamp a franchise that had been a cocktail party joke.

When Murray joined the Ducks as coach, he took over a team that had finished last in the Western Conference.

He was named general manager the next season, replacing Pierre Gauthier, and transformed a woeful franchise into a Stanley Cup finalist. He provided stability to a franchise that has been on the market during his three-year tenure.

According to a source close to the situation, Disney officials have asked Lehman Bros., a sports-finance group trying to broker a deal, to step up its efforts.

The source said that Disney was asking $80 million for the team but would entertain lower offers.

Murray's departure, though, has nothing to do with the team's possible sale. At 61, he was expected to retire in the next two seasons.

He leaves a positive stamp on the Ducks, who went from being tied for 13th in the Western Conference in 2001-02 to reaching the Stanley Cup finals last season. They lost to New Jersey in seven games.

Murray reworked the Duck roster last summer.

He allowed Paul Kariya, who was making $10 million, to leave as a free agent, then signed Detroit center Sergei Fedorov, considered one of the top players in the game, to replace Kariya. Murray also let veteran center Adam Oates leave and signed winger Vaclav Prospal.

The Ducks were expected to make the playoffs again but got off to a bad start and never recovered. Injuries left the Ducks wallowing and the team finished a disappointing 12th in the conference, 15 points out of a playoff spot.

Murray, though, did not break up the team at the trading deadline, saying that he'd kept the core players because the team was on the right track.

Ottawa will be Murray's fourth head-coaching job. He previously coached at Washington and Detroit.

He also has been general manager for the Red Wings and the Florida Panthers, whom he guided to the Stanley Cup finals in 1995-96. He was briefly the interim coach of the Panthers.

Murray was named the league's coach of the year for the 1983-84 season, as well as executive of the year in 1995-96 and 2002-03.

*

The Ducks agreed to terms on a three-year deal with defenseman Aaron Rome, who spent six seasons in the Western Hockey League. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Rome, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound 20-year-old, had 52 points last season with Swift Current and Moose Jaw. He was taken in the fourth round by the Kings in the 2002 draft.

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