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Bryan Murray looks back on the long hockey legacy he’ll leave behind

Ottawa Senators' outgoing general manager Bryan Murray listens as incoming GM Pierre Dorion (not shown) speaks during a press conference on Sunday.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It's never an easy job – particularly not in a city where there are roughly 883,390 people who believe they could do better.

And more particularly so in a year in which not a single Canadian team was good enough even to make the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It has, in fact, not been a good season to be a losing political leader or a losing NHL coach or general manager, with the singular exception of the curious city of Toronto, where ineptitude on ice has somehow been turned into a virtue. Elsewhere, someone must pay.

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In Ottawa that will almost certainly be Senators head coach Dave Cameron and his staff, but for the first time in nearly a decade, the general manager will also go.

Whether the departure of Bryan Murray was by choice or by suggestion hardly matters, as the still-popular GM was acutely aware that the team he assembled had disappointed a city with high expectations. As well, at 73 he has been dealing with Stage 4 colon cancer for the past 17 months.

"It's time to step aside and have a different role," Murray told a news conference Sunday morning that announced his assistant GM, Pierre Dorion, will take over the management duties while Murray will remain a senior adviser.

An 85-point season left the Senators nine short of the final wild-card ticket into the playoffs, claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers. Fans had expected much better, considering that the young team reached the playoffs a year ago in what was considered a rebuilding year.

In all likelihood, that Senators team should never have made it a year ago, riding a miracle 20-1-2 run by unknown goaltender Andrew (Hamburglar) Hammond to slip in to the playoffs when only weeks before all had seemed a lost cause.

That unexpected showing raised the expectations. Hammond, however, proved rather ordinary despite a hefty pay raise. Long-term injuries to key veterans such as defenceman Chris Phillips and forward Clarke MacArthur and late-season injuries to centre Kyle Turris and rising star Mark Stone only hampered what slim chance at success there was.

There were bright lights. Veteran goaltender Craig Anderson played relatively well. Journeyman centre Zack Smith was moved to wing and scored 25 goals. Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Erik Karlsson set scoring standards for his position and might even win a third Norris, despite his team's foundering.

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Matters were hardly helped, however, by the coach's insistence on favouring low- and non-scoring veterans such as Alex Chiasson and, later, Scott Gomez, while appearing to feud with Mike Hoffman, the team's top goal-scorer who, like virtually every natural scorer in history, isn't particularly obsessed with defence.

Murray's high point of his nine years in Ottawa was 2007, when he guided the team to the Stanley Cup final – ironically losing to the Anaheim Ducks, a team Murray had largely built before leaving for Ottawa.

He was coming home to the Ottawa Valley. On Sunday he reminisced back to 1978 when, as a gym teacher in Shawville, Que., he asked his wife Geri if he might take up a job offer from the Regina Pats junior team to see if coaching was in his future.

"She said, 'Yeah, that's great – leave me alone here in Shawville for a year,'" he said with a smile. "And I did."

That leap of faith took him to 18 years of NHL coaching with the Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks and the Senators, a total of 1,239 games, placing him 14th in all-time games coached. In 1983-84 he won the Jack Adams Award as the league's coach of the year. His 620 wins rank 11th overall.

Like any GM, he is measured in good trades and bad, but his conceded failure was in picking coaches from the organization that didn't work out at the top level. The best coach he hired turned out to be himself.

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Over the past week he realized it was time for his family to stop "putting up with me still wanting to be the young man in hockey … They deserve more time, and I'm going to try to give it to them." He has become an outspoken advocate for not putting off routine medical checks, as he did himself for years.

"I hope I'm remembered as a pretty good hockey guy who was a good person," he said as he handed over the job to Dorion.

He was remembered immediately, one of the first e-mailers to TSN1200 talk radio offering a potential name to consider when Dorion hires his first coach: Bryan Murray.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the year John Paddock was fired as head coach of the Ottawa Senators.

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More

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