Kings made right move

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

It wasn't just bad news for Andy Murray.

It was bad news for at least five Western Conference teams -- the ones in a dogfight for the final playoff spots.

The Los Angeles Kings axed Murray for the simple reason management feels the team should be doing a lot better.

And it should. When the season began, this was a franchise full of hope, one that publicly flaunted its self-assessment as the best Kings team in years.

But the Kings didn't flourish under Murray, so now he is gone and the players who were doing the complaining will have to justify their stance.

Because they'll probably do so, that will be one fewer playoff spot up for grabs for the other Western contenders.

The Kings were a very unhappy team. That hardly makes them unique but, in this case, they want to prove they were right and that Murray was the cause of their problems.

One veteran player will insist off the record that Murray is the worst coach he has played for. Another, who is never reticent to go over the coach's head, has been complaining for much of the season about Murray's tactics.

The complaints have had one common thread: Murray doesn't use his players properly.

It must be said that players often make this type of evaluation, and they're not always right. It must also be said that players and coaches often assess attributes differently.

But to be specific, the players felt Murray coached to keep the game close. They want to pull all the stops to win, even if the more open games occasionally caused them to lose by a large margin.

There was an instance when the Kings, trailing 4-1, scored right off the faceoff on a long 5-on-3. Murray immediately pulled that unit off the ice and sent out the second unit.

The allocation of ice time also was contentious. Like many coaches, Murray becomes enamoured of the pluggers. They don't turn the puck over as often; they always work hard; they bang a lot. They score once a flood, but they keep a game close. It was a loss, but it was close.

Also, the Los Angeles players didn't like Murray's basic power play. They laughed that he had stolen it from the Mighty Ducks -- not the team, the movie.

They say it's basically a wedge where everyone rushes up the ice, then stops dead at the blue line so that one player can grab the puck and rush in.

That's an exaggeration, but it serves to illustrate the opinions that were being bandied about behind Murray's back.

A coach can be disliked by his players and he can win. But if he loses their respect, he's toast.

To a less partial observer, Murray has a lot of attributes. For every current King who says he doesn't have a clue, there is a player elsewhere who will say he is brilliant.

But in team sports, there is a pack mentality. Harry Neale often says that on every team, there are six guys who love the coach and six guys who hate him.

The secret of success as a coach is to keep the six who hate you away from the dozen who are uncommitted.

Murray did a couple of things that got him hated. One was to link a player's contract and his worth. This is something that is unheard of in the National Hockey League.

UNPOPULAR

A coach shouldn't suggest that if a player had taken less money he would be more valuable to the team and be better regarded by the coaching staff. But Murray did.

The other unpopular move was to insist that injured players arrive at the rink at 7 a.m. for treatment or rehabilitation, then get out before the other players arrived. He wanted no contact between injured players and the rest of the team.

But teammates tend to build their lives around each other, and when they were forced to exist separately it seemed as if they were being punished for being injured.

Murray will catch on somewhere else, and so he should.

But for him, this was the wrong team at the wrong time.


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