Does Binghamton’s Incredible Run Validate Bryan Murray?

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One of the strangest seasons on record, for the Ottawa Senators organization and its fans, got a little bit stranger on Tuesday night – but in a good way. I think.  As the baby Senators in Binghamton celebrate the thrilling conclusion to their 55-day playoff run, thoughts and questions have slowly begun to shift back to the parent club. The bulk of fan and media attention will now be centered around the significant NHL dates/events that are finally within spitting distance. The big two are, of course, the NHL entry draft, slated for June 24th-25th and the start of free agency on July 1st. Also on the minds of Sens fans is the question of who general manager Bryan Murray will select as head coach of the team going forward. All are of these endeavours and their outcomes will be crucial as the club finds itself in the midst of  a rebuild. But what about that championship performance by the farm team down in the AHL, what does it mean for Ottawa? Does a successful minor league team, of which (for all intents and purposes) Murray is the architect, validate him as the GM of this franchise and legitimize the direction he is taking the Ottawa Senators?

These are difficult questions to tackle, and only time will have the correct answers, but since I am writing a piece on the matter, I’ll take a stab.

Does the playoff success of the B-Sens validate Murray and his future plans for the team? The short answer is ‘no’. The general manager position on an NHL team is a multi-faceted, umbrella title which includes many other duties and responsibilities – drafting, staffing, trading, attending to league issues, holding press conferences, absorbing copious amounts of media and fan criticism, and having your reactions broadcast nationally during hockey games. To argue that Murray was worthy of a three-year contract extension and is the right man for the job of rebuilding the Senators now that Binghamton has enjoyed some success would be a tad presumptuous. However, that is not to say that “the (minor league) team that Bryan built” and its success doesn’t and won’t translate into success at the NHL level, thereby substantiating Murray. The notion is not that far-fetched.

For all the negativity and, in some cases, downright disdain directed toward the Ottawa GM in regard to his most questioned transactions (i.e. three failed coach hirings and the Alex Kovalev deal), Murray has quietly been restocking the shelves and securing this team’s future for last three years. The “rebuild” term may be new to the vocabulary of some Sens fans after the drastic sea changed that occurred in the teams lineup mid-way through this past February, but in reality, the framework for this transition has been being laid for some time now. Similarly, what we just witnessed in Binghamton over the course of the last two months may have been largely unexpected, but it should not be altogether unfathomable. The B-Sens roster featured some high quality talent. With that said, no one holding a management position within the team could have realistically predicted the “youth movement”, failings of the old core, Calder Cup Championship and all of the above to happen on the current timeline, ahead of schedule.

Even though things look a hell of a lot better than they did a few months ago, Bryan Murray doesn’t have a Stanley Cup contender on his hands just yet. The Bingo team, while it had a solid mix of prospects and future NHLers – Robin Lehner, Jared Cowen, Bobby Butler, Zach Smith, etc. – a large contingent of the team was made up of career AHLers, guys that, for whatever reason, can’t make it stick at hockey’s highest level.  This common reality and balance of AHL teams is what makes success (or failure) in the farm league a tricky predictor of success at the NHL level. In five years previous to the B-Sens winning the championship, the prize was won three times by the Hershey Bears (affiliate of the Washington Capitals), once by the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens) and once by the Chicago Wolves (Atlanta Thrashers). Looking at the success that the NHL teams of these past AHL winners have had, and the trend does suggest that AHL success and NHL success do correlate to an extent. Both Montreal and especially Washington have enjoyed tremendous regular season success in recent years. However, the Thrashers and Washington in the post-season have had limited success. But even if there fails to exist a direct one-to-one relationship between minor league and NHL results, the benefits run deep. Having the young players in your system go through the experience of a long run can only have positive implications on their development. They get to witness first-hand what it takes to win at a professional level. They will have the memory to draw upon in future scenarios. Winning breeds winning.

There are many external and internal factors that contribute to the success of a professional sports team and those that manage it. For Bryan Murray, it remains to be seen how he navigates his way through the other aspects of his job during this period of rebuilding in Ottawa. This draft will be huge and there is a lot riding on the next coach he selects. With all other things being equal, Binghamton’s Calder Cup victory doesn’t quite validate Murray in this town, but it goes a long way and maybe buys him a little leeway from his detractors.

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Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.

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