As exit interview day goes, this was an unusual one for Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray. His Ducks had missed the postseason for the first time since 2012, just the third time since he joined the organization in 2005, and he had just completed a 26-game stint as interim coach. On the day where the players packed their things and headed into the offseason, and with a lot of uncertainty facing this team going into 2019-20, Murray spoke about what he learned behind the bench and the future of the Ducks.
On his time as interim coach
As things were going, you start to doubt the character of people you would have never thought you would doubt. That part was good for the most part. Some of the ones I was really worried about, where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, wasn’t as bad as I thought. This team right now, there is an issue with that has come into this group – accepting losing. Some nights they put their big toe in the water and if they don’t like what they feel, they’re not going to compete, and that was never here before. Obviously, that is one of the things that has to be changed. I had to find out what was going on. I couldn’t put somebody else down there. I just wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been fair to somebody else, it had to be me. And that’s how disturbing that was.
On the character of the team
We still have old school guys here who when they are hurting will play. You’ve got to kick them off the bloody ice. We have some others that, if they’re hurting a little bit … there is a difference between hurting and injured. If you’re injured, you don’t play. When they’re hurting, there is a thought within this group of “Oh well, we’ll wait until the next day.” That has to get lost. I’ve had quite enough of that. I don’t know where it comes from, I don’t know where, I don’t know where it’s come from, but a couple of these things have crept in, we’re going to address real quick.
On how far away this team is from competing for a playoff spot
This group should have competed for a playoff spot. Should have. Even once I went down there [to the bench] they even had a chance, and then they lost those five games in a row. We’ve got to turn it over and change it. It depends how far we want to go. Again, I haven’t spoken to anybody, I have sent out a number of things to my staff, the guys I trust in my staff over the last month. I haven’t talked to too many people, I’ve been concentrating on something else. I said ‘I need this from you guys, I need this from you guys.’ I’ve had them looking for things. I’ve got all the lists and now in the next two, three weeks when I’m traveling with them, we’ll start talking about things.
One encouraging thing to me as a group is that they did buy into playing a decent brand of defensive hockey at some points. Because I, again, I know goals are up and you gotta score, and I agree with all that, and we did start to score some goals. But I think it also starts by how you play in your own zone. Not being defending so long, not being in your own zone so much, defending, turning pucks over and going the other direction. That’s the one thing that I kind say, “Okay, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.” I think defensive hockey is just hard work and discipline. Trusting one another, playing for one another and that was better at the end. They cared at the end about it.
On Corey Perry‘s return from knee surgery
Oh, I thought he worked his ass off to come back from his injury. I don’t have any problem with the work habits of Corey, the things he did this year. He competed and tried as hard as he could, was capable of.
On the NHL Draft Lottery
Well, we haven’t been there, so I’m curious. It would be nice to get lucky. I know enough of the top guys that I know there’s some I really like in that group. I’m heading out to see some other ones here in the next three weeks. So, I mean the lottery’s the lottery and I have great faith in my amateur scouting staff. But, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We got three picks in the top 40, and I’m looking forward to that part of it. I think there are some very good players in the top of this draft.
On what he would like to improve on his roster
There’s not one thing. There’s lots of things that have to improve. I mean it’s, you know the special teams aren’t good enough. Why is that? That could have changed a few things this year, the special teams. The improved a little bit at the end of the year, but then again, how much weight does that hold? We did demonstrate a little bit of speed at the end, but that has to get better too. It’s in the way you play and the players buying into how you create speed on the ice. As a group, it’s just the group has to get better. There are some good pieces here, and we’ll just build around them.
On improvements he instituted as interim coach
There’s a whole bunch of areas. There’s defensive zone coverage and how you play in your own zone, and all we did there was totally simplify it. That’s all we did. As a former defenseman, I hated gray areas. And so I tried to eliminate all gray areas I could. The other area I talked to, everybody talks about speed in the game now. Well, as I pointed out, some teams that play with speed have players that played on other teams that aren’t the fastest in the world. But it’s how you play as a team and it’s how you move the puck and it’s how your forwards come back to the puck and move. And when our forwards come back to the puck and move, you see a little bit of a different team that plays. I didn’t think we could do it for 60 minutes. Another issue. Why couldn’t we do it for 60 minutes? So, another on my list. But there are some good things there.
On goalie Ryan Miller becoming a free agent this summer
Well, we’ll sit down. I’ve reached out to a few of the unrestricted already. Intend to talk to [Ryan’s agent] here in the next week, I’ll give him a call and see where Ryan’s going with things. I thought Ryan was good when he played. I mean again we have the huge other issue on that checklist of injuries, that it’s just, within a whole organization it’s just not acceptable. And that’s a little concern at goal, but you know, our goalies were under siege for part of the year too, so it was a bit better at the end.
On the contributions of the young players
I think we have a bunch of good young kids in our organization. I think they’re all over the map right now where they are playing and what they’re doing. But I do feel we have a good core group of young players coming along, yes.
On the timeline of hiring a new coach
Well, there’s all these lists I’ve got. And obviously you go through in your head. Problem being is, I am going to be totally respectful to other organizations. I hated when other organizations came to you and you’re in the middle of a playoff run and they wanna talk. I think that’s totally wrong. I will reach out to some and I will say, “Hey I’m gonna need to talk to this guy or this guy when you’re done. You tell me when you want me to talk to them.” And man, I remember when I interviewed in Columbus during the Stanley Cup run, and they wanted to send me right between, on the way to Ottawa, between the first game. It didn’t feel right when I did that. And I felt guilty about that, and so, I will talk to the people I have to talk to, and I will go by what they want me to do.
On Ryan Kesler‘s outlook for next season
That plan hasn’t changed. What we’ve suggested to Ryan, the agent and I and the doctors, is that we find the best North American hip specialist we can find. I’d like him to visit a few. Two, three, four. It’s up to Ryan and his wife. Again, the most important thing with Ryan Kesler as with Patrick Eaves, is the quality of life going forward. So let’s talk to doctors, get all the information in front of us and then we’ll sit down when we have all of the information. But not until then. So, I have no idea, no comment one way or the other on that question.