Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk would like to see Bryan Murray raise the Stanley Cup as the club’s general manager.
After extending Murray’s contract through the 2015-16 season, Melnyk also extended that window and put something of a timer on that ultimate goal.
“We think that we have all the core group in place,” Melnyk said on a conference call Monday. “I think if we were on the same trajectory as we have been over the last few years, that it’s ultimately going to lead to a championship-type team.”
Murray, who was given the additional title of president of hockey operations, agreed to serve as an adviser for two seasons after his tenure as general manager is up. After building this group over the past six-plus seasons, he hopes not to have to wait too long for a title.
“I think obviously the objective is to do it when I’m here as a general manager,” Murray said. “The core we have is a very good core, it’s young.”
And Murray knows that inexperience can lead to growing pains. The Senators struggled for much of the first half of this season, going 14-17-7 before a recent run put them within two points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Success made working out an extension for Murray easier because Melnyk wanted to negotiate during an “upswing” and “ensure that nobody ever would think that this was some kind of knee-jerk reaction to what was not an optimal beginning to the season.”
The timing seemingly had more to do with the departure of assistant GM Tim Murray, Bryan’s nephew, who was hired as the Buffalo Sabres’ head man last week.
In addition to extending Murray, the Senators promoted Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee to assistant general managers. Dorion, who was already in charge of scouting and drafting, takes on contract-negotiation duties, while Lee, who was in charge of player development, also becomes GM of Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton.
“It’s a great day for all of us going forward,” Murray said.
More moves could be coming down the line to bolster the hockey operations department, though not on the management side. Murray said the Senators could perhaps use “another set of eyes” in the scouting department.
“We lost a pretty good evaluator in Tim, so do we have enough?” Murray said. “I believe we do for now. If we have to do something in the future because of other coverage, then we’ll address it at that time.”
For now, Murray can go about his job with some extra security. He’s considering moves before the trade deadline to bolster Ottawa’s playoff hopes, and he and his assistants will have some work to do on current contracts.
“We understand that we’ve got about five players that are important parts of the present team that we have to make a decision on and do a contract for,” he said. “We’re kind of setting ourselves up to do that.”
Winger Milan Michalek and defenceman Chris Phillips are set to be unrestricted free agents this summer, while goaltender Robin Lehner will be a restricted free agent. Captain Jason Spezza, winger Bobby Ryan and defenceman Marc Methot are up in the summer of 2015.
“As we go forward over the next few months we’ll make contact with the agents and see in a couple cases if we can extend them,” Murray said without naming names. “A couple of them we have to wait until July 1. But internally we’re making those decisions and we’ll be in the best possible position, I believe to do (it), and then it will be up to the player’s agent to deal with us.”
Spezza and Ryan’s deals end a year before Murray’s.
Melnyk and Murray have discussed potential succession plans, but Monday wasn’t the time they wanted to discuss that inevitability.
“We just have to now kind of over the next little while evaluate people and decide what may happen,” Murray said. “But that’s a little ways down the road, and I hope we have a lot of success between now and that decision being made.”