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Helene Elliott

Murray is what the Kings need -- or not

July 18, 2008|Helene Elliott

Scotty Bowman not having a brother available for hire, the Kings on Thursday introduced Terry Murray -- younger brother of Ottawa General Manager Bryan Murray -- as their new coach.

Murray, who will be 58 on Sunday, has several virtues.

Chief among them is that he is known as a good teacher, which will be useful as the Kings become young enough to double as a day-care center.

Also that he's not Marc Crawford, the previous coach, who relentlessly hammered the young players who are expected to form the team's core for years to come.

Murray, who hasn't been a head coach since 2001 but was an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers the last four seasons, is not a long-term solution. He won't be here when the Kings win the Stanley Cup, if the Cup and the NHL still exist on that distant day.

He's not flashy. He's not a screamer.

He's patient but insistent that his entire team be responsible defensively, and won't that be a healthy change.

He's also blunt. Maybe too blunt, as in his infamous 1997 declaration that the Flyers, about to be swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Cup finals, were in "a choking situation." When the finals ended, so did his tenure as Philadelphia's coach.

He is, essentially, a bridge between the Kings' wretched recent past and the rose-tinged future they're crawling toward.

And while it's difficult to shake the thought they could have done better, perhaps by hiring up-and-comer Mike Johnston to grow with a young team, they could have done worse.

They could have hired a mullet-wearing former broadcaster who will coach the Tampa Bay Lightning next season after being away from coaching for more than 13 years.

"This ain't a guy who's been in the TV booth," Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said of Murray, who also did some scouting for the Flyers after he was fired as Florida's coach 36 games into the 2000-01 season.

Murray said all the right things Thursday during a news conference in the locker room of the Kings' El Segundo practice facility.

He talked about the promising young players in the organization -- pronouncing it "organ-eye-zation" in proper Canadian fashion -- and said he had been through rebuilding projects before and has the persistence to plow through another one, challenging though it surely will be.

"There's going to be some very hard nights, very long nights," Murray said, "but as we work our way through the process and come out the other side we're going to have some young players, they're going to be the core players of this hockey club and they're going to take ownership of this hockey club.

"Let's get it started."

Before the process can begin, he said he would have to immerse himself in a media guide so he can put names to the faces of the players who will look to him for guidance and growth.

It's probably just as well that he didn't see much of the Kings last season while they were bad enough to miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time but not quite awful enough to position themselves for the top overall draft pick.

Or that he hadn't studied their media guide before he agreed to a three-year contract at a relatively paltry $2.65 million.

If he'd looked it up, he would have discovered he will be the 22nd coach in franchise history. Only six have had winning percentages of .500 or better, including Rogie Vachon's 4-3-3 record.

Crawford missed the playoffs in his two seasons behind the bench.

That would be forgivable if the Kings had been competitive last season, but too often they simply gave up.

They didn't have the goaltending or consistently solid team defensive effort that might have made the losses bearable.

No wonder Lombardi called coaching the Kings "the toughest job in the National Hockey League right now."

There's an understatement.

Murray said he's coming into this with his eyes wide open, that he trusts Lombardi and assistant GM Ron Hextall -- like him, former Flyers executives -- and the plan they outlined to him during interviews and meetings last week.

He gets points for not sugar-coating what's ahead because it will be grim for a while.

Young defensemen typically take longer to develop than young forwards, and the young defensemen who carry the Kings' hopes -- Jack Johnson, Thomas Hickey and Drew Doughty -- will make many mistakes.

Murray can polish them or ruin them.

He can turn the Kings into a better team or leave them a wreck.

"You're going to have to go through a lot," he said. "A lot of pain. Hard nights, long nights, pain.

"Psychologically, young players, how they deal with the issues of the NHL, physically, mentally. How they're dealing with being a pro player. We have to bring that along the right way."

If he can do that, he could be Toe Blake's brother and no one would care.

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Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.

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ON THE WEB

Kings general manager says new Coach Terry Murray has the "toughest job in the NHL."

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