Conference finals: A look at the coaches

Updated: May 21, 2007, 2:00 PM ET
By Scott Burnside |

Bryan Murray

HOW HE GOT THE JOB: The 64-year-old Ottawa-area native landed the Senators coaching job during the lockout summer of 2004, in large part because he wasn't Jacques Martin. Despite boatloads of talent, Ottawa failed to claim the big prize, or even a trip to the Stanley Cup finals, for years. So GM John Muckler plucked the longtime coach from Anaheim, where Murray was GM. A former Jack Adams winner when he coached Washington (1984), Murray has coached more than 1,200 regular-season games and is closing in on 100 postseason contests. It's worth noting, however, that Murray has never advanced to a Stanley Cup final as a coach.

WHAT HE'S ACCOMPLISHED: A member of the Senators organization tells he doesn't think Murray has changed at all since coming on board; rather, the team itself has changed dramatically in terms of their willingness to buy into the team concepts Murray was selling. There are more than a few parallels between the evolution of this Senators team and what happened in Detroit when Scotty Bowman arrived in the early 1990s (ironically after Murray's stint as Red Wings coach ended). The Wings were a skilled team, but it took a number of playoff disappointments (remember the Devils' sweep of the Wings in the 1995 Cup finals?) before they committed to Bowman's master plan that allowed offense to spring from superlative team defense. Murray has preached a similar sermon and the congregation has listened.

PERSONALITY: Maybe it's his experience working in nontraditional markets. Maybe it's the fact he was a former teacher. But Murray possesses a patient demeanor that seems to jibe well with both his players and the media covering the team. That's not to say Murray suffers fools easily -- he doesn't. But he is more likely to cut with sarcasm than shouts when he believes someone is either misinformed or misguided on the Senators.

COMBUSTIBILITY FACTOR: Low, but not Jacques Martin low (that could hardly be possible for any human being still alive), which goes back to one of the reasons Murray was so attractive to Muckler. Muckler wasn't looking for a stick-thrower; he was looking for more emotion behind the bench, and he's got that in Murray. During the Pittsburgh series, Murray was quick to voice his belief that Penguins forward Gary Roberts was running his players and getting away with it. He will chide his players in public, but in a way that doesn't emasculate them. In short, he's sort of a smiling assassin type.

TURNING POINT: Murray has repeatedly acknowledged the Senators were not a very good team early on this season. It was due partly to the growing pains of new personnel and also learning to play the way Murray wanted (more attention to detail, especially defensively). There was resistance, and by mid-November, the Senators were floundering with a 7-11-1 record. When top center Jason Spezza went down with an injury for a month around Christmas, many believed the Sense were done. But the team responded under Murray's tutelage, especially forward Dany Heatley, whose game has evolved dramatically under the coach. During the last half of the season, the Senators were among the league's hottest teams and many observers' favorite to advance deep into the playoffs. Since the postseason started, the Senators have shown not the slightest wobble, something that sets them apart from previous incarnations and indicates Murray's impact.