Bryan Murray is being given the chance to finish what he started.
With a firm handshake and a smile, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk formally endorsed the new direction in which his general manager has pointed the team in recent months, signing off on a new three-year contract for Murray earlier today. The announcement marked the culmination of discussions between the two about the franchise's future that have been ongoing since December.
"We're looking forward to implementing (Murray's) vision for the team, which is to bring it back to elite status," Melnyk said in making the announcement. "I think we're getting there. We've talked about it for a long time — this is not something that was done on the fly."
While Murray and Melnyk were deeply disappointed in the team's player earlier this season, both were heartened by what they've seen since the hard decision was made to deal away six veterans — including fan favourites such as Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly — to stockpile draft picks and prospects for the future.
Since then, they've watched goaltender Craig Anderson
, a trade acquisition from the Colorado Avalanche, provide a steadying influence between the pipes. And youngsters such as Colin Greening
, Erik Condra
and Bobby Butler
have thrived since being promoted from the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators to the big club.
"I guess I was really disappointed early in the year with the way were playing," said Murray. "I didn't think we were one of the worst five teams in the NHL and I think now, we're showing that we're not. Unfortunately, it's (too) late. I sure didn't want to leave on a year where we had a performance like this."
More top prospects — Swedish blueliner David Rundblad most prominent among them — are expected to make their influence felt next season. The Senators also have 12 picks in the upcoming 2011 NHL Entry Draft, with their first-round selection currently looking like a top-five pick. Ottawa also owns the Nashville Predators' first-rounder via the Fisher trade, and has a trio of selections in the second round.
All of this clearly invigorated the 68-year-old Murray to the point that he was willing to direct the building of the franchise for another three seasons.
"We will try to continue the growth of this hockey team," he said. "The desire here is to be a good team, to be a team with a chance to win at the end of every year. We've got a little ways to go and we know that, but I think this start has been a good one and as we go forward, we want to build on that.
"It stimulates you when you see these young people come in and play the way they've played lately and the work ethic that's gone into it. I just see a real bright future here and I think some of the kids we've drafted are ready to come in as early as training camp next year and will make a big difference as well."
Some are already calling the upcoming entry draft perhaps the most important in the history of the moden Senators franchise. After watching the way Murray has handled the remaking of the roster to date, Melnyk feels certain has the right man — and the scouting staff behind him — to handle the job.
"The way he made those decisions (earlier this season) and the thought that went into it and the vigour and hard work that went into it ... at that point, I think I saw a side of Bryan that I didn't see on a daily basis because I'm not here every day," said Melnyk. "I'm very excited now about what's going to happen out of this draft.
"It's probably going to be a game changer for the team. We've got five picks in the first two rounds and I can't think of anybody better than Bryan to make the decisions. The continuity is absolutely important and the experience is priceless."
Murray has also been around the block enough to know that plenty of work remains to be done to get the franchise back to where it wants to be.
"I see a little time here required to finish what we're trying to do," he said. "It's not going to be an overnight fix. We know that and there's lots of work to do. There's some changes the have to be made. We need a couple more guys on the ice that can score goals. We all know that.
"It's not going to be that we're going to go out and sign older free agents to stop gap it again. If we do get a free agent, it'll be a younger type (of player). But I think those are exciting things that you want ... So I don't think it was very hard to determine that I wanted to continue and wanted to be a factor in what happens with the club going forward."