OTTAWA — Former NHL coach and general manager Bryan Murray, who spent time with five teams in his career, died of colon cancer on Saturday. He was 74.
Murray was GM of the Detroit Red Wings (1990-94), Florida Panthers (1994-98), Anaheim Ducks (2001-04) and Ottawa Senators (2007-16), and coached the Washington Capitals (1981-90), Red Wings (1990-93), Panthers (1997-98), Ducks (2001-02) and Senators (2005-08).
“Bryan Murray’s strength and character were reflected in the teams he coached and the teams he built over decades of front office excellence,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “While his warmth and dry sense of humor were always evident, they were accompanied by the fiery competitiveness and determination that were his trademarks. As we mourn Bryan’s passing, we celebrate his many contributions to the game — as well as his courage. The National Hockey League family sends our deepest condolences, comfort and support to Bryan’s family, his many friends and all whose lives he influenced.”
Murray, who was born Dec. 5, 1942 in Shawville, Quebec, was 620-465-23 with 131 ties in 17 NHL seasons as a coach. He most recently served as a special adviser to Senators GM Pierre Dorion after stepping down as Ottawa GM in April 2016 to focus on his health and to spend time with his family. Murray was inducted into the Senators Ring of Honour on Jan. 24.
“Bryan was one of the greatest men that the game of hockey has ever known and also a great father, mentor and teacher,” Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said. “We extend our sincere condolences to his wife Geri, daughters Heide and Brittany, and the entire Murray family on their loss.”
Tim Murray was mentored by his uncle and was the Senators’ assistant general manager until leaving to become general manager of the Buffalo Sabres from 2014-17.
“He is a top 10 coach, a top 10 GM, and he could have been a top 10 talent evaluator if that’s the role he had have wanted to take, except that he loved coaching so much,” Tim Murray said. “The GM part of it just came out of coaching. Coaching was his first love. There are a lot of really good GMs. There are a lot of really good coaches and there are a lot of really good scouts.
“But there are very, very few that could combine all three. From a hockey end of it, that’s his legacy that he was great at all aspects of the game, not just one aspect of the game.”
Among the NHL executives Murray mentored is Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher. When Murray was honored by his peers at the general managers meeting in 2015, Fletcher spoke about Murray’s ability as a scout.
“To this day, he is the best hockey scout I have ever seen. He has that uncanny ability to go into a rink and just recognize hockey players right away. A tremendous judge of talent,” Fletcher said.
When Fletcher worked for Murray in 2003 with the Ducks, along with Tim Murray, they disagreed about a player.
“We had a debate amongst our scouts about a guy named Corey Perry. He wasn’t a very good skater,” Fletcher said. “Tim, to his credit, liked Corey Perry. He couldn’t really get up and down the ice that well. We were playing Detroit that year in the first round and we took a side trip to Plymouth to go watch Corey Perry play.
“We watch London play Plymouth in the (Ontario Hockey League) playoffs, and (Bryan Murray) watches Corey Perry. He watches about three shifts and he says, ‘I’m not sure what you guys are worried about. This guy is going to be a star.’ He just had that ability to see players right away. He loves talent. He’s been a part of some tougher teams, but I’ve never seen a guy who loves skill like Bryan. He could see it. He could appreciate hockey sense.”
Murray coached the Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Ducks in five games. He was also the GM of the Ducks when they made the 2003 Final, losing to the New Jersey Devils in seven games, and the Panthers when they lost to the Colorado Avalanche in four games in the 1996 Final.
Murray won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year with the Capitals in 1983-84, when they were 48-27-5.
“He seemed like a coaching natural,” said Nashville Predators GM David Poile, who was Capitals GM when Murray was their coach. “Very comfortable all the time around the players in the room, behind the bench. Bryan had the ability to put an arm around a player, but he had the ability to be firm with the players. He was a fiery competitor.
“All the players of all the teams he ever coached really knew that he was probably one of the best coaches they’ve ever had. I would think almost every player thinks he made a difference in their careers.”
After the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, GM Brian Burke repeatedly credited Murray with creating their blueprint, including drafting forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Perry in 2003.
“Sad, sad day,” said Burke, now Calgary Flames president of hockey operations. “Old-school, pure hockey guy. Tremendous wry sense of humor, could always find something to joke about. Great coach and manager. He will be missed.”