Senators’ general manager enjoying reversal of fortune

SAN JOSE — About a year ago at this time, Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray was in the midst of a season that couldn’t hardly have been any worse.
The team was in freefall, fans were calling for his head, and about the only common ground among the players was that they disliked the coach, Cory Clouston.
It isn’t a lot of fun to think about those days.
“You think you know the game, but then you see it the way we played it last year and it was most disappointing,” Murray said on Wednesday morning.
“We went out to pick up some veteran guys to help our team and it didn’t work. Nobody was happy in the room. There was no chemistry whatsoever.
“It was just an unhappy group that didn’t play very well.”
So Murray cleaned house, fired the coaching staff at the end of the season, hired a new coach in Paul MacLean, and brought in a handful of younger players who had success in leading the Binghamton Senators to the Calder Cup championship.
Murray wasn’t anticipating that the turnaround would be either so quick or so dramatic, but it has been.
His team is solidly in the playoff race, MacLean, is a candidate for the coach of the year, and the franchise’s future is bright with the anticipated arrival next season of some top prospects: Brandon Wheat King right wing Mark Stone, Brynas left wing Jakob Silfverberg, and Djurgardens centre Mika Zibanejad.
Suddenly, this is a franchise on the rise with even better days ahead of it, presenting Murray with decisions he couldn’t have seen himself having to make in September.
The most immediate, and perhaps the most influential in charting the team’s future, is deciding what piece or pieces to add before the Feb. 27 trade deadline to bolster the team’s playoff hopes.
Murray said he’ll evaluate his team over the next two weeks, but his decision has already effectively been made. If he finds the right piece, he’ll be adding. He doesn’t think that this team is a fluke.
“We play too hard every night, everybody plays too hard every night, to fall by the wayside,” he said.
“If they did it once in awhile that would be one thing. But this group appears to believe so much in themselves.
“Even (Tuesday night against the Maple Leafs), going into the third period, I knew we were going to win.
“I shouldn’t say it that way, but I just felt ‘Ok, we’re back now.’
“We weren’t very good early, but we’d find a way to win in the third period, and we found a way to win. And to me that’s the story of what this group is about.”
Who and where to add will be a complicated decision.
The acquisition of Kyle Turris has already satisfied the need for a top-six forward, though players who can score are always nice to have, he said.
But during the playoffs it’s always good to have experience and depth since injuries invariably strike.
He might find that depth in Binghamton, in players such as defenceman Mark Borowiecki and right wing Andre Petersson.
But Murray has just finished hosting the team’s annual scouting meeting, at which his staff ranks players who might be available at the trade deadline, so he’ll keep his eyes open.
Then, if a deal presents itself, he’ll have to ask: How much will it cost?
“My thought at deadline time has always been, if you can add something to your team that the players believe is a good addition, that really adds a lot to your roster, because they see we’re trying,” he said.
“For this year’s deadline, we’ll take a look at it in a realistic manner. The plan was to build and hopefully be competitive this year. If we’re going to be a playoff team, then we’ll take a different view, no question.
“We’ll take a look at the roster we have and I’ll talk to Paul (MacLean) and obviously (owner) Eugene (Melnyk). And if we try to get a player from another organization, financially you have to make a decision, No. 1, and No. 2, you have to decide what you’re going to pay for that asset.”
As the team begins a four-game swing through the western United States, beginning tonight against the Sharks, the Senators aren’t likely to catch any team by surprise.
They might have been able to in the early months of the season, but the run they’ve been on since Christmas has changed the way the rest of the league looks at the Senators.
“Maybe, a little bit,” said Murray.
“Most everybody didn’t know a number of our young players that had played some games and then gone back to Binghamton. These kids have come back and helped.
“But the other part that’s been the most important by far, of course, has been the veteran guys – Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza and Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar, guys who maybe didn’t have the greatest years a year ago, have turned it around and are what we thought they were going to be.
“And obviously the big player in this is Craig Anderson, the way he’s played, too.
“So I’d like to think the perception of the team has changed dramatically since September.
“At least I hope it has.”

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