Murray puts the 'M' in Mighty
Surprisingly, Bryan Murray, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim general manager and senior vice president, says he has had a bad year.
"I didn't get my boat into the water until July -- and that's a bad year," said Murray.
Fortunately, Murray's lamentation, offered at a late-August press conference to officially introduce signing Sergei Fedorov to the Southern California media, was uttered with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Because, as anyone who watched the Mighty Ducks awe-inspiring Stanley Cup Playoff run will tell you, Murray had a freshman campaign in the Mighty Ducks front office that was the envy of every other general manager in the sport.
When the season was over, it seemed that everything Murray did since assuming the GM's job, was the perfect solution for a franchise that had gone three years without a sniff of postseason play.
It all started with Murray giving up the head coaching reigns after the 2001-02 season, replacing Pierre Gauthier as the team's general manager. Then, he made the unorthodox choice to go with an untested coach in Mike Babcock, who had no NHL experience. All Babcock, who had just two years of experience at the American Hockey League level, did was institute a defensively responsible system and instill a belief in his club that it could compete every night.
Murray also turned over a significant portion of the team's roster, changing a dozen position players before he was through. He took gambles on veteran free agents Adam Oates and Fredrik Olausson to start the season, and added veterans Steve Thomas and Rob Niedermayer at the trade deadline. All ended up made significant contributions to the Ducks' success. He also made a controversial summertime trade to land New Jersey's Petr Sykora that paid huge dividends.
In fact, despite a penchant for passing summer days on the water in his boat, Murray will gladly wait until July each year to hoist anchor if he can repeat the magical success enjoyed by the 2002-03 Mighty Ducks.
Starting as an afterthought in the loaded Western Conference when the 2002-03 season started, Anaheim put together a revamped lineup -- under the tutelage of newcomers Murray and Babcock -- that produced a respectable regular season.
The team surprised its fans by riding the stellar goaltending of young goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, rookie defenseman Kurt Sauer and imported forwards Sykora and Oates to a seventh-place finish in the West and an unexpected berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There, things got truly interesting.
The untested Ducks confounded critics by dispatching the heavily favored, and defending Stanley Cup champion, Detroit Red Wings in a stunning four-game sweep. Refusing to settle for that accomplishment, Anaheim proved even mightier against the Dallas Stars, the Western Conference champions, in a six-game triumph in the second round. The equally surprising Minnesota Wild were the next domino to fall, losing quickly to the Mighty Ducks' juggernaut in the Western Conference Finals.
The victory against Minnesota propelled the Mighty Ducks to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance, a David vs. Goliath showdown against the Playoff-tested New Jersey Devils.
After losing badly in the first two games of that series, the Mighty Ducks proved they belonged at the game's summit by forcing the Devils to a seventh game before finally succumbing in a painful 3-0 season-ending loss to end the run of miracles.
"It's been one of the most exciting years I've had in hockey," said Murray, who has been either a head coach or GM in the NHL for the last 22 years. "We had to make a lot of changes pretty quickly here. We turned over something like 12 guys last summer and six more this summer. We had a great run last year. I don't know if it was a miracle, like some people have said. All I know is we had a good base here and we improved on it. Our success was the result of that."
But, Murray and the Ducks have had little time to savor their unexpected success.