Murray earns keep in Ottawa

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

Stanley Cup or not, John Muckler wants Bryan Murray back behind the Senators bench next year.

"He's the right man for the job, the right man to coach this team," said Muckler, the Senators GM, as he watched the club scrimmage at Scotiabank Place yesterday. "I've got to find out where Bryan is coming from. We haven't had the chance to have that discussion, but we're going to have it."

Murray was tight-lipped when asked about his future with the club.

"Do I have to do that now? I'm an Ottawa-area guy ... that hasn't been approached at this point in time, so it's not a subject I can or should talk about," he said.

He certainly didn't jump in with both feet on the subject, eh?

The question now is did Muckler wait too long to show Murray some love?

The Senators have already narrowed the window to keep Murray, whose contract expires July 1 and who has boosted his reputation with this long playoff run.

The time to sign him might have been in the second half of the season when Murray helped turn the team around after a disappointing start.

It's understandable, after the Senators' spotty playoff record, that Muckler might have wanted to wait to see how the club did come the playoffs.

That was a gamble.

Now? Given the Senators' success this spring and his impending free agency, Murray has positioned himself to be a man potentially in demand this summer.

Murray has done an outstanding job this season, shaking off past playoff disappointments to help lead the team to its first Stanley Cup final in modern history.

Getting players such as Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley to buy into his plan of making this more of a "blue-collar" team, as Murray proposed in training camp, has boosted his reputation as a coach. Getting to the NHL final for the first time hasn't hurt, either.

There aren't likely to be too many coaching jobs open this summer. New Jersey is looking for a coach (who wants to work with Lou Lamoriello?) and there have been rumours Calgary could have an opening, as well.

Murray might have his most appeal as a general manager. His fingerprints are all over the Senators' Cup opponents having been the Anaheim Ducks GM in 2003 when they last made it to the final. He also helped the Florida Panthers make the final in 1996.

After finally finding a coach that could get the team to the Stanley Cup final, it would be a public relations disaster for the Senators not to hang onto Murray, not just as a coach, but as a GM for the future.

Working in the club's favour, is that Murray is an Ottawa Valley guy who would like to stay here. The Senators will return most of this year's team next season, so Murray should have another chance to contend for a title if he sticks around.

The key thing here is Muckler's future. He has another year to go on his deal as GM and said he would like to continue in that capacity.

But he's not going to be GM forever. If the Senators want to re-sign Murray, a promise that the GM's job could be his whenever Muckler decides to step aside, could help secure Murray's future here.

"I'm having fun," said Muckler. "When you stop having fun is when you've got to start thinking about other things. You always like to be in the hunt for the Stanley Cup and I've enjoyed the hunt this year. That's where it sits."

Muckler said he had "loads of confidence" in Murray when he hired him to succeed Jacques Martin after the Senators were eliminated by Toronto in the spring of 2004 and that hasn't wavered.

"He's got a load of experience. There are not too many things he hasn't seen as a coach. He's had his failures and he's had his successes. Now he's in a position to win the Stanley Cup," said Muckler.

"He has the freedom to do what he wants. If he wants to be here, he can be here."

When the time comes, the Senators should do whatever they have to to make sure Murray wants to be here.

He's earned it.


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