OTTAWA -- When Bryan Murray made the decision to leave California and move close to home to coach the Ottawa Senators in 2004, he figured he would do that for four years and wind down his distinguished NHL career.
A dozen years later, Murray is still working and his important contributions to the Senators will be recognized when he becomes the first member of the Senators Ring of Honour on Tuesday. He will be honored before a home game against the Washington Capitals (7:30 p.m. ET; RDS2, TSN5, CSN-DC+, NHL.TV), the team that gave Murray his chance to break into the League in 1981.
"I came back to Ottawa thinking I'd coach for about four years and then I could ride off into the sunshine and retire," Murray said. "I've been here now 12 years. I don't know that I ever envisioned that. Obviously I'm very happy it took place."
Murray was general manager of the Anaheim Ducks when the opportunity to coach the Senators came up after Jacques Martin was fired. Having grown up in a family of nine brothers and sisters in Shawville, Quebec, a town of about 1,600 people roughly 50 miles west of Ottawa, Murray welcomed the chance to come home and be close to family.
"The opportunity to come at the time was terrific," Murray said. "I had a good job, a great situation. I was in California, which was pretty nice weather most of the time. When I had a chance here, I jumped real fast to take it. It's very meaningful me, coming from Shawville and being a small town guy, really, being around people that I know and like, family in particular, has been really good."
Murray, who became the fifth coach in Senators history, was 107-55-20 and helped them to their first Stanley Cup Final in 2007. He became general manager, succeeding John Muckler, that summer.
Murray, 74, was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in June 2014 (he continues chemotherapy and alternative treatments and has been encouraged by the results) and stepped down as GM in May to focus on his health and to spend time with his family. He stayed on as senior hockey adviser to Senators general manager Pierre Dorion.
"It was hard at the beginning," Murray said about his new lifestyle. "For the first month or so, for 50-some years, I've been used to getting up and going to work and being involved with people. That was a little more difficult and I'm sure I made difficult more often on my wife (Geri) than she is used to. Pierre has been terrific. He has included me in lots of decisions and lots of conversation so I've had a chance to participate here and travel a little bit and come to most of the games.
"It's been good. I think it's a nice balance now. It gives me a chance to spend a little more time on other things than I had a chance to in the past."
As a young man, Murray left Shawville to go to MacDonald College (part of McGill University) in Montreal and returned to teach. He went back to MacDonald as athletic director but was unfulfilled. He went home to Shawville where he taught, opened a sporting goods store, bought and ran the local hotel, and started coaching in the Central Junior Hockey League.
Murray thought he would be a businessman and never stray far from Shawville but found his passion behind the bench, coaching in the Ottawa Valley. He won the Centennial Cup, Canada's Jr. "A" championship, with the Rockland Nationals in 1976 and that led to an opportunity to coach the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League in 1979-80.
He told Geri he'd try it for one year. The Pats won the WHL championship.
Thirty-seven years and 14 moves later, Murray will see his name be the first in the Senators Ring of Honour.
After a year in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears, Murray started his NHL coaching career with the Washington Capitals on Nov. 11, 1981 and went on to coaching and managing roles with the Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Ducks and Senators. He ranks 15th in all-time games coached (1,239) and 11th in wins (620).
Although winning the Stanley Cup has eluded Murray, his greatest accomplishments have been that he has left each of the franchises where he worked in better shape than when he arrived. The Capitals averaged 95 points a season in his 8-1/2 seasons there and he won the Jack Adams Award in 1983-84 as coach of the year.
Murray put down the foundation for future Stanley Cup champions in Detroit and Anaheim -- he assembled the core of the Ducks team that defeated him and the Senators for the Stanley Cup in 2007 -- and built the Panthers team that went to the Final in 1996.
"I've been in the business a long time and I've had a lot of great people around me and you have to have that if you're ever going to be recognized for anything," Murray said. "It's real special, especially in Ottawa, where I'm so close to my hometown."
In his 35 years in the League, Murray developed a reputation for being a great communicator and a coach and manager who had the respect of his players.
When it came time for the Senators to embark on a rebuild in 2011 and shed some veterans, former Senators forward Mike Fisher is still grateful for Murray trading him to the Nashville Predators so Fisher could be close to his wife, singer Carrie Underwood.
"I'm not surprised because I know the kind of person Bryan is. I loved him as a coach and GM," Fisher said. "Bryan's awesome. He's right up there. I still mention his name to guys when coaching comes up, different guys you've played for. He's one of my favorites for sure. He was a players' coach who made it fun. A lot of humor, too. I loved playing for him.
"You always knew where you stood. He knew exactly what he wanted out of each guy and he knew how to communicate that. He's awesome."
Murray said being recognized as the first member of the Ring of Honour takes on special significance after former Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson had his No. 11 retired Dec. 29.
"It is special. There's no question," Murray said. "Daniel Alfredsson being the first sweater to be retired, he was an outstanding, unbelievable player, and to be even put in the same train of thought, really, is nice. Certainly being the first guy (to be named to the Ring of Honour), there will be others, many more, I hope, along the way, but to be the first guy is real nice."
The Ring of Honour, established in August by the Senators player honoring committee, will be located on the 300 level of Canadian Tire Centre.
"In my books, he is one of the easiest to pick for the Ring of Honour," Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said. "Right now there is no No. 2. He is certainly the best GM we've had. I think Bryan Murray is going to be seen, looking backwards, as one of the great legacies of the franchise.
"We went through a lot, good times, bad times, but at the end of the day, he is as professional and stoic as it takes to be a good GM. He could handle pressure, but he could also enjoy the victories, which is great."