When asked last Thursday if I’d be interested in contributing a few posts the following week, I welcomed the invitation anticipating a time of frenzied speculation with all sort of shiny new GM throwing their hat into the ring. Or so I thought that’s the spectacle we’d be observing. Of course hours later any questions were laid to rest at a shotgun press conference announcing Bryan Murray’s 3-year contract extension. A fait accompli with a game to go…sigh. Putting aside whether Bryan’s performance was deserving of the contract he received, my main gripe was with the process. I guess it was naive to assume the rumours were legit or at least concrete that Eugene was going to examine the organization from top to bottom after the season.
At this point it feels like excoriating Melnyk is as fruitless an endeavor as one can engage in, the phrase tilting at windmills comes to mind. The Euge may appear and speak like a two-bit politician (his propensity for the word game-changer a dead giveaway on that front) but at the end of the day he’s a businessman and the Senators his toy. All that said, with the pile of pronouncements he’s made into microphones in the midst of this election I wouldn’t blame anyone for remarking “That man should be publicly accountable.”
For brevity’s sake this Scanlan piece more or less echoes my thinking.
If you missed it, Tim’s thorough fisking of Damien Cox’s latest offering of boilerplate Senators ignorance is recommended. So why am I compelled to post even more Cox musings on the Senators from last Friday’s Prime Time Sports? My defense falls to Stephen Brunt who’s much less troll, far more journalist and the individual responsible for initiating an intriguing conversation concerning Cyril Leeder, Bryan Murray and a possibly frayed relationship. Here’s the abridged transcript, you can listen to the full segment here:
McCown: So Eugene Melnyk owner of the Ottawa Senators comes on this program and says among other things. Haven’t decided what to do with Cory Clouston the coach, or with the general manager. But does suggest…
Brunt: That he really loves Bryan Murray…
Brunt: And everything he’s done this year.
McCown: And he’s impressed with how Bryan Murray, he said at one time during the year, he said he thought this was a 3 or 4 rebuilding thing, and now he thinks the rebuilding is basically done already….so…
Cox: It’s the quickest rebuilding in the history of sports.
McCown: So now they’re going to be the co-favorites for the Stanley Cup next year.
Cox: So all the people in Ottawa who mocked Toronto and Brian Burke for this quick, fast rebuild on the fly thing. Are now doing the same thing except faster?
McCown: Uh, It would appear so.
Cox: Yeah, okay.
McCown: And than of course our friends at the Ottawa Citizen, somebody wrote a big long column there about…
Brunt: Wayne Scanlan.
McCown: Yes, I think it was.
Cox: Cause he won’t talk to them in the same way, he (Melnyk) just talks to you.
McCown: I don’t know why?
Cox: He likes you.
McCown: I guess he does.
Cox: I don’t know why?
McCown: Me neither. So uh, he won’t talk to them so he’ll talk to us and this is more or less what he said. Now he’s decided to re-hire the general manager.
Brunt: Yes, which I assume means among other things. Well it’s kind of the palace intrigue thing, sort of like the Calgary stuff that’s going on.
Brunt: We should talk about that too, because Ken King was on yesterday in my absence. I assume this means that Cory Clouston is toast and that Cyril Leeder…
Cox: Is neutered?
Brunt: Something along those lines. Yes, that’s one way of putting it yes…
Cox: Because behind all this they believe in Ottawa there’s been a big lot of palace intrigue going on. They’ve done a lot of contradictory things in the last little while which led people to believe that Cyril Leeder the president of the team and Bryan Murray weren’t seeing eye to eye. Well clearly now Murray who has survived before you’ll remember, he survived and John Muckler went packing. And now Murray has survived and it appears as though it will be up to him as to what they’re going to do. And I have a feeling he’s not going to sit around, he’s going to make it quick and get back to the playoffs. That’s the idea.
McCown: Okay, is there anything else we want to talk about on the Ottawa story?
Cox: Clouston’s going to get fired. And the big deal for Bryan Murray is he’s a pretty good coach but he’s never found anybody who he thinks can coach as well as he can coach.
McCown: So does he put himself back behind the bench?
Cox: I don’t think he’s going to do that, he’s 69 years old. And the other story is there’s a belief in Ottawa that it’s his nephew Tim Murray that he would like to be his successor there. And this may set that up. Which will enrage certain people.
Brunt: Well that’s sorta like North Korea isn’t it? That kind of family dynasty, I don’t know if that’s a good thing in hockey?
Everyone take your grain of salt?
Alright, let’s proceed.
Now I suspect to many (myself included) the idea of Cyril Leeder locked in a vicious power struggle cuts severely against the public image the man has cultivated. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to describe Cyril Leeder as milquetoast but this Ottawa Citizen profile upon his promotion to president of the Senators in 2009 didn’t hesitate to label him “shy Cy”. In opposition to the departing and gregarious Roy Mlakar who’s job he was ascending to, this was written:
As personalities, Mlakar of Parma, Ohio, and the Brockville native, Leeder, could not be more different.
Mlakar doesn’t walk into a room, he puts it on. The voice bellows, stories flow, laughter follows, and Mlakar laughs loudest.
Leeder makes a quiet entrance, blushing easily.
While Mlakar relishes being over the top, Leeder is understated, always in Clark Kent mode.
He may need to pull on a cape for the challenges ahead.
The piece goes on to detail the difficult business environment the Senators were facing in the summer of ’09. Difficulties you can argue Leeder has continued to face to this day, even though few of these challenges were of this making. But when John Shannon is repeatedly announcing to the hockey world that the Senators are giving out 3,000+ complimentary tickets per game it isn’t inconceivable that Leeder may be feeling some professional pressure. The question then becomes, would Leeder a company man and number-cruncher by trade who’s been with the Senators from day one have been angling to ouster Murray as GM? Can’t say I know the answer, but it’d sure be a bizarre rumor to manufacture out of thin air.
It Never Goes Linear
Later Friday, Elliotte Friedman made an appearance on the FAN960 in Calgary with Rob Kerr to talk Senators and what he saw as a shift from Murray being on the way out two months ago to where he ended up on Friday, being retained as GM. Plenty of gold in here, not least of which Elliotte’s description of a contact as “somebody who handles Eugene Melnyk “. Indeed. You can listen to the full segment here:
Kerr: Where were you at maybe two weeks ago about the future of Bryan Murray?
Friedman: Well I think I have to go back deeper than that Rob. About two months ago I got a call from somebody I really trust who said that Eugene Melnyk who is the extremely unpredictable owner of the Calgary Flames…
Kerr: Whoa, whoa, whoa whoa…Ottawa Senators we’ve got our own problems.
Friedman: Sorry about that. Freudian slip. The extremely unpredictable owner of the Ottawa Senators was starting to informally send out feelers to potential GM candidates for next year. And one of the names I heard was Ron Hextall, I also heard some talk about Julien Brisebois who used to be in Montreal and is Steve Yzerman’s assistant now in Tampa. And a couple of other people, and so the process was really underway and the word was that Murray was going to become like a senior advisor. Then right before the trade deadline as all those moves you were talking about happened, I got a call from the same person who said “I think Bryan’s coming back.” And I called Bryan Murray and I called somebody who handles Eugene Melnyk and they said “premature”. So I didn’t know what to think, but when you were looking at all those moves that you mentioned Rob. I thought it’s really hard not to commit to a guy and let him do that. Really reshaping the future like that. Last night I’m not sure if you saw the interview I did with Eugene Melnyk? I had no idea what to think after that was over. And uh, it’s one of the weirdest processes I”ve ever seen. I spoke to Bryan to Wednesday, he said “I think I’ll be around” but he wouldn’t tell me any more than that. I thought senior advisor, I was a little surprised about the GM.
Kerr: Even today from what I gather it was a little convulated, there was one availabity and then a a hastily put together second availability put together with the Ottawa owner.
Friedman: Yeah, it was strange. I guess they had the team picture and than they left for a meeting with Bryan Murray and Eugene Melnyk’s lawyer. You always wonder about that. The one reason I thought this morning that maybe Murray was getting some kind of a job was because if you want to let go and his contract’s up you could just let it roll out. I don’t know if he needs the lawyer there for that. A lawyer will tell you for $400 an hour they’ll do whatever you want them to do. But I kinda thought maybe if that’s the case he’s coming back. You know in Calgary you guys are used to a pretty good structure there. You got your ownership group there and they’re pretty quiet and there’s rarely a public comment. Eugene is 180 degrees different, he’s just a different guy.
Friedman: His interviews are really something, it never goes linear, it’s all over the place.
Kerr: In your experience, and I’m not just talking about hockey because you run the gamut in pro sports. What’s the ideal situation with an owner? And the reason I ask that is because I respect the fact the Calgary Flames ownership chooses to be quiet. They work though Ken King yet we at this time of year will get a lot of criticism from fans saying we want to hear from ownership. But I can’t help but think there are probably people in Ottawa saying we hear from him too much.
Friedman: Yeah I would say that. I remember talking to a GM…the model franchise, the model owners are probably like the Ilitch’s in Detroit. They stay out of the way, they created a great family situation. Detroit is a city going through a lot of trouble and players want to play there. And I think there’s a reason for that. They take good care of their palyers, they make sure they’re treated first class. Their facilities, their rink is old, but the facilities in them are really good. They never lack for anything, if a player has an issue they’re taken care of no problem. All they care about is winning. And if the GM needs anything it’s “Ok, how can we do it?”. And they have some real challenges in that city, and they make it work. So I think a lot people really look at them as the people who do really well. And their teams always a contender, I mean always a contender. Now I had one GM say to me once that “I would like to have the kind of owners who speak twice a year” when is that? “Once before the season and once after the season”. That way they’re never making public statements at any other time, and he does think there are times the owner should speak. And I think that’s probably what I would think Rob. You want your guy speaking, or your female owner if it’s a female twice a year and other than that the message comes from the general manager.
Kerr: Elliotte Friedman from Hockey Night in Canada joining us. So two things come out of this. One, okay he is the general manager still. Your thoughts on Bryan Murray moving forward?
Friedman: Bryan Murray has done a good job I think right now. He’s rebuilding them with youth. I think Craig Anderson was, you know I talked to Bryan at length about Craig Anderson and I didn’t realize that his two daughters and I’m talking about Bryan Murray they live in Denver. So he goes there quite a bit, and he spent a lot time watching Craig Anderson over the last couple years. And he just felt he really liked him, he liked him for a long time, he said to me if he could go back in a time machine he would have put himself into position to get Craig Anderson sooner. And that was probably a mistake he made that cost his team. I don’t know what happened in Denver this year, I’ve heard from multiple people and Bryan wouldn’t talk about it. He believed he was going to get a contract extension and didn’t, and as a result the relationship between him and the team kind of broke down. So he feels by seeing Anderson as much as he does, believing in him as a goalie, and also saying if I give him an extentsion he’s going to be secure, everything’s going to be okay. So I believe in that plan. I think the biggest issue that Murray has had there is hiring a coach. And if you look at it, and I’ve asked a couple Senator players about this. And of course they’ll say it privavtely and not publically, the downfall of the Senators occurred with two things. One, losing Zdeno Chara and number two, ever since Murray left the bench after he took them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 they’ve never been the same. And I think that’s because the players really liked playing for him. He can be really sarcastic but he had a great view of the game, he knew which buttons to push and since then John Paddock and Craigh Hartsburg and now Cory Clouston haven’t been able to do it. So I think that’s the biggest issue, where is he going to find his next coach. And I wouldn’t be surprised, I think there’s going to be a change, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their farm guy Kurt Kleinendorst gets a long look because he’s done a great job this year with a bunch of guys who are going to be their future.
Kerr: Let me ask you for your opinion on my opinion.
Kerr: What you just talked about sounds eerily familiar to what this organization just went through. There are some who say there has been no better coach for the Calgary Flames than Darryl Sutter. Last year, right about this time there was no shortage of people who thought there should be a chancge. Yet the team decided to move on and try and make it work, make some additions and we all know what happened in December. Is it almost the same thing in a way playing itself out in Ottawa?
Friedman: Yeah, I think there’s something pretty similar. You know after Darryl made the change obviously they were hugely successful with him. It’s a great comment Rob, because Bryan Murray went to game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and Darryl Sutter of course went to game 7. The players clearly responded to playing for him, and sometimes it’s a difficult thing to take over for somebody who’s that successful. The one disagreement I would have with you is that I think Brent Sutter is really held in high regard by a lot of people. And probably held in higher…well never-mind probably, definitely held in higher regard than anybody who’s ever coached in Ottawa since Murray stepped down.
Kerr: Fair enough.
Friedman: So that’s the dfference between the two situations.