Managing the future

CHRIS STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

The Senators are coming off their first Stanley Cup final in modern history and normally that would indicate the status quo moving forward.

Why mess with a good thing, right?

But this is a time that cries out for change, despite the club's wonderful playoff run, as bittersweet as it turned out to be in the final.

The Senators are at a crossroads because of the uncertain future of coach Bryan Murray.

The club opted not to sign him to a contract extension at any point this season and now he is poised to walk away, if he so desires, July 1.

Murray's value to this club as a coach was proven this season.

He dealt with his own and the Senators' post-season demons in helping get them to the Stanley Cup final for the first time.

He took a team that was floundering approaching the mid-point of the season and helped turn things around so it was one of the best in the NHL in the second half.

He got offensive stars such as Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley to understand the importance of being responsible, two-way players (well, at least until the final, anyway).

His reputation as a coach has been enhanced.

But it's funny how things work out.

In losing to the Anaheim Ducks in the final, Murray's reputation as a general manager was also polished. He was Anaheim's GM from 2002-04.

Bryan Burke, the current Ducks GM, gave Murray credit for drafting players such as Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and signing free agents like Dustin Penner and Chris Kunitz.

Think about that.

Under Murray's watch in Anaheim, two guys who were huge contributors to the club's success this season were undrafted free agents -- Kunitz, signed out of Ferris State in April, 2003, and Penner, signed out of the University of Maine in May, 2004.

KEY TO DEAL

Without a guy like Perry in the pipeline (Murray traded to get the pick and took him 28th overall in the 2003 draft), Burke said it wouldn't have been possible for him to trade Joffrey Lupul (Anaheim's first choice in 2002) in a package to get star defenceman Chris Pronger from the Edmonton Oilers after Pronger made it clear he wanted to be traded for personal reasons.

Senators GM John Muckler is 73, getting close to retirement and heading into the last year of his contract in that capacity.

He said during the latter stages of the playoff run that he wanted to serve out that final season.

In realistic terms, you have to think next year would be his last year.

So, if you're Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and you're looking at where you go from there, what do you do?

You've got a proven GM behind the bench of your team right now whose contract is due to expire July 1.

Advice is free of charge, so take this for what it's worth.

If Melnyk waits until next year to do something to solidify the long-term stability of his management ranks, he runs the risk of losing Murray. If that happens, what does he do when it's time to replace Muckler?

Are you going to find a guy who could do a better job as GM than Murray?

Offering Murray a one-year contract to continue as coach is not reward enough for what he's done.

You don't think he could get three years from somebody else right now?

Melnyk should thank Muckler for his service and allow him to make the transition to a consultant a year early, retaining him as an advisor to his good friend, Senators president Roy Mlakar, if they want.

The responsibility for hockey operations should be handed over to Murray.

PADDOCK COULD STEP UP

Murray could elevate assistant coach John Paddock to take over behind the bench and still have some healthy input into the day-to-day stuff.

Assistant Greg Carvel, who did a solid job this season (he handled the penalty killing), should also return as he continues to grow into the role of a coach at this level.

To cap things off, I'd chase former Senators captain Randy Cunneyworth for the coaching staff. He's done an outstanding job with the Buffalo Sabres' AHL farm club in Rochester.

His deal with the Sabres also expires this summer. The last of his kids is graduating from high school and is heading off to university, so he will have some mobility now.

As a former member of the 67's and with a strong connection to the Senators -- along with his impressive AHL coaching record -- Cunneyworth would be a great addition to the staff and could be groomed to one day be the club's head coach.

His intimate knowledge of the Sabres and their players -- who figure to be one of the Senators' biggest rivals for the next couple of years -- would also be a handy asset.

With a couple of moves, the Senators' management and coaching positions could be solidified with quality people for the next few years.

Just something to think about.


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