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The Verdict: Murray Knows All About Terrific Tandems

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Former Blackhawks defenseman Bob Murray now serves as Anaheim's GM.
Bob Murray played more games for the Blackhawks than any defenseman in franchise history, so he carries considerable street and ice cred around Chicago, where he happened to be last Sunday night in his role as general manager for the Anaheim Ducks.  His team is rebuilding, but the team that would beat his team 5-2 at the United Center is on fire, due in no small part to the estimable twentysomething blue line tandem of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith.

“Terrific, both of them,” said Murray, somewhat wistfully, for he knows the subject well. Before Seabrook and Keith, a similar pair of precocious and gifted Hawks formed a partnership that thrived through the 1980s—Murray and Doug Wilson. Murray joined the Hawks in 1975 and Wilson in 1977, but not until a couple years later did they become an item, rarely separated, on or off the ice.

“It was Eddie Johnston, in his first year as coach (1979), his only year, who first put us together,” recalled Murray. “He said, ‘we have to change things around here and get some goals, some offense, from the back end.’ He pretty much opened the door for us after that and said, ‘Go!’ Off and on after that, different coaches would split us up here and there…and we had a few different coaches. I might skate with a rookie for a spell, and the same with Willy. But when it got to crunch time, Doug and I usually wound up back together, basically for ten or so years."

Wilson, from the left side, was a splendid skater with a booming shot. He scored 39 goals in 1981-82, a Hawks record for defensemen. He earned the Norris Trophy that season, the first Blackhawk other than Pierre Pilote ever to be cited as best in the NHL at that position. But Murray was by no means a classic stay-at-home sidekick, for he too could move the puck and fire it. What they had most in common was a sixth sense, a chemistry.

Bob Murray logged more games (1,008) for the Blackhawks than any other defenseman.

“It’s difficult to explain, but with us it was there almost automatically,” Murray said. “I don’t know Seabrook and Keith personally, but it looks to me as though they’ve got the same thing going, where you just seem to know where the other guy is going to be and what the other guy is thinking. You don’t know why it’s there or how it got there, but it’s there. You can’t hook up with another player and say to yourself, ‘we’re going to have chemistry…give us a month or a year and it will happen.’ It just happens. Watching Seabrook and Keith, there’s no doubt they have it.

“I hear they’re great friends, which certainly helps. Willy and I were. We still are. I was a little concerned at the end of last season, during the playoffs, that maybe Seabrook and Keith were getting a bit tired. They logged a lot of minutes, which Willy and I did, and you know what it’s like…you play almost every other night . This is a really good team, Chicago, and they’re going to have a long run this spring.  But those two guys, they’re strong enough, they’re sturdy enough, and they want it. You can tell that. They really want to win. I wouldn’t worry about them.”

After Murray served as Blackhawks general manager, he moved on to Vancouver, working under Brian Burke. One day, he got a call from Trent Yawney, who was coaching Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk. “Trent told me he had this kid down there, Duncan Keith,” Murray said. “Trent wasn’t all that sure management liked him, but Trent sure did. He said, 'This kid is going to be a player'."

Keith, who played two seasons in Norfolk, returns the compliment. “Trent taught me a whole lot about what do to, on and off the ice,” said Keith.

Seabrook played only nine games in Norfolk before coming to Chicago in 2005, but he and Keith have formed the most impressive defense mechanism since Wilson-Murray, as confirmed by their recent selection to Canada’s Olympic squad.

Murray on Keith and Seabrook: "Both of them are part of something special."

“Stevie Yzerman is in charge of that team, and he knows what he’s doing,” Murray said. “I’m sure he did his homework. A lot of good players had to be left off that roster, but he can’t go wrong with Seabrook and Keith, I don’t think. Everything you hear about them is that they’re great kids, and all you have to do is watch them play to know that they’re into it, every night, every shift. I’m guessing if you asked them why they’re so good together, they wouldn’t be able to tell you. Which is even better. Like I said, it just happens.”

Murray played 1,008 games, not counting playoffs, for the Hawks, the fourth most in franchise annals behind Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Eric Nesterenko. Murray was twice an All-Star, never donned another NHL sweater, and is second to Wilson’s 779 career points for Chicago defensemen with 514. He would not be surprised or offended if his record for longevity and durability is broken.

“Seabrook or Keith could do it,” Murray said. “They both could. I hope they do. It’s tough to keep your key guys together under the system we have now, but those two could be in Chicago their entire careers. The organization has made a huge step, signing Keith for long term. Both of them are part of something really special in Chicago. The team is young, really good, the building is full again, and people are talking hockey. This is a great place for them to be.”

In a scheduling oddity, the Ducks will be right back at the United Center this Sunday night. Murray will not be in town, nor will he have time to play a rare round of golf with his old pal Wilson, who has also become a successful general manager in San Jose. They teed it up recently in California, and Murray reports ruefully, “he beat me.”

Years from now, perhaps Seabrook and Keith will be rival golfers or even general managers. Presently, however, they are the backbone of a Chicago blueline that has not been in such able hands for many cold winters.

Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributing writer for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.

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