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Verdict: Blackhawks-Ducks series has plenty of connections

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
(Getty Images)

He was still young, but always a leader, so Bob Murray took a stand. When the Blackhawks tiptoed into the playoffs after the 1976-77 regular season, they discovered that Led Zeppelin had been booked for a Stadium concert. After all, the Blackhawks had won only 26 of 80 games, so who imagined they would qualify for the tournament from a very soggy Smythe Division?

Still, when their “home” date was shifted to the road, Chicago’s boys of winter were upset. When they lost twice in a best-of-three first-round series on the New York Islanders’ rink, Murray spoke up. In questioning authority figures, little did Murray foresee he would become one. But he has, in a big way, as the long-tenured Executive Vice President/General Manager of the Anaheim Ducks.

“Oh, I heard about my remarks,” Murray said with a chuckle from Southern California, where the Blackhawks will open the Western Conference Final. “In those days, you didn’t dare say anything as a player, but I said something. Never in a million years did I think I’d wind up in the front office. A coach, maybe. But never the front office. I was lucky to be in Chicago, though. Original Six. Great building. Terrific fans.”

Murray played all of his 1,008 National Hockey League games with the Blackhawks – fourth most in franchise history – and hundreds beside Doug Wilson to comprise a superlative pair. Wilson might have been flashier, and Murray probably sacrificed some of his offensive skills, but they were terrific together.

After retiring, Murray took his keen hockey IQ to the executive side. He was promoted to general manager of the Blackhawks, but that’s another story for another day, save for one example. While serving as assistant GM, Murray had a deal set to acquire Patrick Roy from the Montreal Canadiens, but was overruled. Roy was then traded to the Colorado Avalanche, where the Hall of Fame goalie won two Stanley Cups.

Murray celebrated his own with the Ducks in 2007 as Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, beside General Manager Brian Burke, whose Calgary Flames were just eliminated by Anaheim in five games.

After the Ducks lost the last two games of their playoff series last spring to the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings, Murray snagged the best athlete available, Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks. Then, just before this year’s deadline, Murray pulled off six trades, adding depth to an already formidable roster.

Besides Murray, the Ducks have numerous Chicago ties. Coach Bruce Boudreau played briefly with the Blackhawks in the mid-1980s. His assistant, Trent Yawney, played with the Blackhawks and then was head coach here after a successful run with their Norfolk Admirals farm club. Duncan Keith, who has won two Norris Trophies and counting, frequently cites Yawney as a major mentor. Brad Lauer, another former Blackhawk, also assists Boudreau.

Rick Paterson, director of player personnel, was a shutdown penalty killer beside Bill Gardner. Jim Pappin, a Ducks scout, sniped 276 goals for the Blackhawks. Mike Stapleton, also a scout, had two different stints with the Blackhawks and is the son of Pat, a star defenseman here.

James Wisniewski, one of Murray’s late-season acquisitions, played defense for the Blackhawks from 2005-09. Josh Manson, a talented young defenseman, is the son of Dave, a rugged and popular Blackhawk who, upon being traded to the Edmonton Oilers, partnered with Norm Maciver, currently the Blackhawks’ assistant general manager.

The Ducks posted an amazing record, contending for the Presidents’ Trophy until the end when they finished with 109 points, four behind the New York Rangers. Despite being 27 games over .500, the Ducks had a goal differential of only +10 (compared with +60 for the Rangers and +40 for the Blackhawks). How is that statistical oddity possible? The Ducks won 33 games by one goal, breaking the record of 32 established by the 2006-07 New Jersey Devils.

“We’ve been involved in playoff-type games all season,” summarized Murray. “After last year, we wanted our guys to get used to playing close games. I think they took me too seriously.”

The Ducks won 1-0 at the United Center in October; the Blackhawks subsequently triumphed twice at the Honda Center, both by 4-1 scores, with Patrick Kane scoring twice in each game, but the teams have not met since late January. The Blackhawks have changed a little bit since. The Ducks have changed a lot. Considering where these two franchises are, as two of the last four survivors, it’s been all good for either side.

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