General Manager Bryan Murray was on this afternoon's Hockey Central radio program on the Fan 590 chatting with Doug MacLean and Darren Millard. To listen to the interview itself, you can listen to it here.
I've transcribed the interview below. As always, my comments are in bold.
Q: How much has Erik Karlsson impressed you this year?
A: Well, he has certainly matured a great deal this year. Not only is it the offensive part, he has improved his defensive game a great deal. He plays for us more often than the other team now. There were times in the past where he had giveaways and got a lot of blame for it. But (he’s) a very good hockey player at this point. A big part of our back end totally – with Erik and the rest of the defencemen are a big part of what has happened with our team.
His defensive game has improved?
And somewhere there's a pundit ready to shit on this statement and Karlsson's Norris Trophy candidacy because he doesn't receive as much short-handed ice-time as some of the other Norris Trophy considerations. (Thinking of getting to this in another post later this week.)
Q: He’s plus 14.
A: Yeah, when you get those kinds of numbers points-wise and you play with the offensive-type of players that we’ve put him with up front, he has a chance to be a plus-player and much more. But he has become a very good player.
Q: He’s come very far this season and it’s gotten to the point where he has almost become special.
A: Our whole team was so poor early on so figuring out what Paul wanted them to do and the change in the approach and philosophy that we took; he has kind of got on board being around the last couple of years and got on board with a couple of our veteran guys and righted the ship early on and this has carried on. Just the growth of a young player is the bottom line, really.
Nice to hear that Karlsson has made a seamless transition to being mentioned with some of the team's veterans who have been here for years. Sometimes it's easy to forget that Erik is just 21 years of age.
Q: You really believe that you can coach in the NHL and have a group of players that don’t dislike you. This looks like one happy team and it looks like it has been that way since day one.
A: I totally believe that Doug (MacLean). I think if you include your players in many of the decisions and give the ownership to some of the veteran players to help some of the younger players develop; you interact with the players on a regular basis and allow them to be what they are capable of being – you can be in this business for a very long time. I think you can get the respect that you need from your players and the effort. I think Paul MacLean and Mark Reeds and Dave Cameron have come in here as new people and given ownership to the players but given them the proper direction and opportunity and the results so far have been very positive.
Noted: Cory Clouston was not in the NHL coaching business for very long.
Q: How has Spezza evolved?
A: Well, again that’s the ownership part of it Doug. We’ve talked last summer, actually last spring, we talked about where the team was, what we had to do to turn it around. Over the summer, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Chris Phillips in particular were people that we picked out and wanted to keep here, and if we did, they had to take some ownership and responsibility. Which Jason has done to the ultimate, almost. I think he loves playing with younger guys. They work hard and he gets them the puck and they get some stats. He feels responsible and he is responsible and he has played accordingly. Obviously he is having a great year as a result.
Q: Tell Bryan not to mess up the team’s chemistry and not trade Kuba.
A: I have to chuckle when I hear people ask me ‘Are you trading one of our veteran defencemen?’ The reason our team has had some success thus far is because our veteran defencemen in particular have really stepped up and played well. Filip Kuba had a broken leg at training camp a year ago and didn’t have a good year - as a whole group of them didn’t. Filip Kuba, unless somebody gives me something that’s unbelievable, and Doug would tell you the names or types of people that I like, I don’t think I’m sending him anywhere. At this point in time, we have a plan going forward. We have some kids coming in and the hope is that we can keep this group together and go forward with them.
So Bryan Murray will listen to offers on some of the replaceable vets if the price is right. No one should be particularly surprised by that. As an aside, looking forward to the offseason, it's going to be interesting to see how the organization handles the blue line. Without any NHL ready defensive prospects who profile as top four guys, it's going to be interesting to see how the organization sets itself up for the imminent departures of Kuba (2012), then Gonchar (2013), then potentially Phillips (2014).
Q: That sounds like you’re going to be quiet (on trade deadline day).
A: I’m usually quiet. We’re talking with different managers on a regular basis. We, like every team, go around and investigate. Bottom line is that unless there’s something really good that we can add to our team, I’m probably not going to be doing much.
As a general manager that inquires on everyone and anyone, it's not surprising to see the Senators being linked to so many teams and players. It's not necessarily a reflection or measure of how interested the organization is in a player, it's probably more attributable to a GM just doing his due diligence or another organization leaking Ottawa's inquiry on a player to help drive up that value.
Over the years, it's become increasingly clear that Bryan Murray operates in stealth mode. Nobody foresaw the Chris Campoli deal. Nobody foresaw the Craig Anderson for Brian Elliott trade. Is this another instance of Murray not tipping his hand?
I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Q: Would you like to add that top six (forward)?
A: Well, we’d all like to add. There’s no question. Every team in this league, with a couple of exceptions, don’t have the depth and probably don’t have the cornerstone top six guy that you can put in to help Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. I can’t imagine that we’re able to do that and can’t imagine that I would pay the price. I know a couple of the names that are out there but I don’t think that they’re calling Ottawa to make the trade because they want a lot in return but I never say never. I will continue to talk until the deadline has passed and we’ll keep making sure that you guys have some answers at some point in time.
I still believe that Ottawa will stand pat at the deadline and wait until the summer before making some moves.
Q: History has shown that when you trade big players like Nash, Kovalchuk, Hossa and etc. You were backed into a corner with Heatley and you got Michalek. You must be pretty happy.
A: Yeah, I’m actually happy. Dany Heatley was a good player here in Ottawa and I’m not sure why (the trade request) ever happened but he got 50 a year here playing with Spezza. Bottom line is that we got Michalek back, who is a real rounded player. He had a little bit of an off time in the last few games where he hasn’t scored which is really strange for him. But he has played the game the way that it’s supposed to be played: hard at both ends. He kills penalties. He plays the power play. He plays on the top line. I’m very happy with that deal for the most part.
In retrospect, thanks to Dany Heatley's inability (or refusal) to develop his game beyond a backswing and follow through, the deal doesn't look as bad as it once did. Nevertheless, it will be nice to be rid of one part of that infamous 2009 trade. Perhaps at the conclusion of the season, the organization will invite fans to come out and celebrate a 'Ray Emery and Jonathan Cheechoo's Buyouts Are Off the Books' party.
Q: Are you out of the Rick Nash sweepstakes?
A: I don’t know that I was ever in them. We love Rick Nash. We think that the value for him is going to be high wherever he goes. He’s going to be a very successful player but I can’t imagine he’s coming to Ottawa.
Q: Put the pricetag on Rick Nash on a scale of 1 to 10?
A: I don’t think that we’re even there so there’s no sense in even commenting on that.
Even if he did put a number on what kind of package it would take to bring in Nash, in consideration of Columbus GM Scott Howson, you would have to Bell Curve that number.
Q: How has Craig Anderson battled for you?
A: He’s been great. When he was playing in Florida and you know Justin Duberman… I heard that when he was going to be unrestricted, that he was going to go to the marketplace. If I had have thought at that time that I had a chance for him that summer, I would have grabbed him then. I just thought he was a top end goaltender. He is a competitive guy. He moves the puck well enough to help the defence. Most importantly, he stops the puck more often than not. He’s been good. He’s been obviously the story here. We can talk about our defence. We can talk about how we’re getting points off of the back end. Like every team, you still give up scoring chances and this guy has made big stops on a regular basis.
Q: What about a backup thought Bryan?
A: We’ve got a guy by the name of Alex Auld. The thing that we have, we’ve got Alex and he hasn’t played a lot. Paul MacLean and I were just talking about that. We’ve got a little bit of a heavier schedule coming up in the next two weeks and Alex will play probably in a couple of games in that. But when you get a guy like Anderson playing, I think the fun part of where we are right now is that we have a number one goaltender and he just knows going in night-after-night. It gives him the confidence and it gives him the ability to help this team win on a regular basis, we hope, going forward. I think it is a lot easier than having two guys and you’re not sure as a coach of which one to put in night-to-night.
I have to imagine that if Lehner was having himself a consistent and injury free season, he'd force the organization's hands. By not calling him up, the organization allows itself to shelter one of their better prospects.
Q: How much fun has this year been?
A: Well, I’ve have had two dreadful years here. So, it’s as high as it can be. Watching young guys play and try every night… score some goals. We had that seven game losing streak which wasn’t very much fun and it never is. But to see the kids play after everybody thought that we were going to be a much lesser team and try as they do. Our fans appreciate what is happening.
Q: Were you close to walking away and hanging them up?
A: I don’t know that I would do that. I’m getting to that stage in my life. I think my wife would like me to do that on a daily basis.
Q: Well I don’t mean leaving the game for good, just maybe giving up the GM job?
A: I don’t think anything other than being a GM or a coach, who wants an older guy hanging around telling them what to do?
Every Senators fan who wants Alfie to play another year or two.