Welcome to the newest edition of “Point/Counterpoint,” where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes present both sides of one particular issue with their own unique view and flair.
This week Nick D and Bob H renew their shenanigans, debating whether or not Terry Murray is the right man for the job with the Adirondack Phantoms.
Point, from Nick: There’s no doubt Terry Murray is well traveled and versed as a coach in the NHL. He has been a head coach and an assistant coach for numerous teams at the highest level, including the Philadelphia Flyers. His philosophy has always been a defense first approach to the game. It certainly helped teams like the recently crowned Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings achieve the level of success they did because of Murray’s attention to detail on the defensive side of the game. This would greatly benefit players who plan to make the leap from the AHL to the big stage, because younger players most often need help developing the defensive side of their game.
Murray’ shelf life as a head coach is roughly three years. In total, he has coached 1012 games at the NHL level and has amassed 499 wins, 383 regulation losses, 89 ties, and 41 overtime and/or shootout losses. I don’t care who you are, that is a heaping pile of experience. Murray’s teams have only missed the playoffs twice in seasons he started and finished as the bench boss of that team. He has coached one team all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and has made Conference Final appearances with two different teams. With that, Murray has a proven track record of being able to get teams to the big dance. It shows he can motivate his players and get them to play the game a certain way on a nightly basis for a few years as his teams almost always make the playoffs.
Counterpoint, Bob H: As has been reported in multiple outlets, if Murray extricates himself from his Kings contract and returns to the Flyers organization, it’ll be his fifth stop with the franchise. That’s one turn as a player (1975-77, 1978-79, 1980-81), one as head coach (1994-97), one as a scout (2001-03) and one as an assistant coach (2004-08), and one as the AHL bench boss.
Like Homer said in the 1998 Simpsons episode “Trash of the Titans,” Can’t someone else do it?!?!
The Phantoms have used up Bill Barber, John Stevens, Kjell Samuelsson, Craig Berube, John Paddock and Joe Paterson, with an interlude of former Islander Greg Gilbert at the helm. Logic might dictate that other marginal former Flyers talents should get the chance first, oh…say, Al Conroy, Marty Murray, either Sutter brother. You might even want Rick Tocchet, but I wouldn’t bet on that.
If you think an NHL head coach’s lifespan is short, egad, check out what’s gone on in the last six years with the Phantoms. Why would Murray want to put up with it, at his age, with his experience, especially since it’s not likely to mean getting another shot at an assistantship/coaching spot with the Flyers? Why would he want to do it given the team’s going to move in another year anyway?
Nick: Peter Laviolette likes to play an uptempo, “giddy-up-and-go” brand of hockey, but as we saw this past season, the lack of team defense can sink a team quickly. Murray’s system will allow young prospects and draftees to get a firm grasp on the importance of having a defense-first mentality, so that by the time they’re called up or are ready to make the jump to a full-time roster spot with the Flyers, that facet of their games will be that much more polished. One of the other important things to note is that it’s rare for a call-up to play on one of the top three forward lines, or play big minutes on the top two defense pairings.
Typically, players called up to the big club are sent as a fill-ins and play a few minutes in a limited role, maybe some penalty kill time if need be. Under Murray, you can bet that these call-ups would not only be ready to play in the NHL for those few shifts, they would be positionally sound and make very few lapses in judgement that would end up with a puck in the back of the Flyers’ net.
Bob: Nick, you’re not an ignorant slut…this time…
The issue, I think, is not about a gap between systems from AHL to NHL. Players, no matter what level, are little more than empty shells and therefore, I don’t think there will be a disconnect or confusion between what Murray teaches in Adirondack and Laviolette in Philly because it’s incumbent upon the players themselves to adapt. If these guys want to get up to The Show, they’ll do whatever it takes and whatever the organization asks of them, or else they’re gone.
I think there is likely the chance of an ego clash between Paul Holmgren, Murray and Laviolette over how to control things in Glens Falls, specifically because of Murray’s NHL head coaching experience as well as his experience within the organization. A guy looking to make his way up through the ranks, trying to gain as much coaching acumen as possible, is less likely to open his mouth and offer input than someone who has been around the game for 25 years.
Murray is known as a quiet, deliberate man, but he’s older than both Holmgren and Laviolette and may not be so inclined to go with the flow for his trouble regardless of loyalty. Plus, how does it look for Laviolette, to have Murray essentially breathing down his neck, possibly ready to take over once he falters?
That may reasonably lead to personality clashes which will dictate Murray’s removal, and then the stories about organizational instability gain more fuel for the fire. Then, Homer’s back to square one trying to find a head coach.
Murray ought to run as far away from this as possible.