Ducks general manager Bob Murray doesn’t want to hear excuses about his young roster or his seemingly rebuilding club.
Despite his team’s youth this season, Murray had expectations the group never met.
“The record wasn’t where I wanted it to be, or where anybody wanted it to be,” Murray said bluntly during a conference call on Wednesday, frustrated by a 13th-place finish in the Western Conference that left the team outside of the NHL’s expanded 24-team restart format.
“Then the question is, why?”
There was plenty of blame to go around after the team’s 29-33-9 season, including some that the club’s long-time architect placed on himself. But the main culprit, he said, was “inconsistency.”
“There was enough really good hockey played that I expect a big step forward next year,” Murray said. But until the team gets there, he added, “I’m going to be pushing very hard.”
This was Murray’s biggest self-critique, that he was too hands-off during coach Dallas Eakins’ first year behind the bench.
Afraid of repeating the mistakes that doomed the Ducks in 2018-19, when coach Randy Carlyle was fired midseason, “I kind of backed off and gave everybody space [this year],” Murray said. “I didn’t feel I could be around as much. I had to let Dallas and the crew [have space]. In hindsight, that’s a mistake.”
After starting strong in the season’s opening weeks, the Ducks quickly faded from contention and missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-2002.
Their special teams units, which both ranked bottom six in the league, were a “major concern,” Murray said. “If you just put us in the middle of the pack on special teams this year, we may be one of these teams playing right now. We’re so far down the totem pole, it’s inexcusable. That’s on the coaches, players, everybody. … That has to be fixed.”
Murray also pointed to occasional lapses of intensity from the younger faction of the roster, which included six players age 22 or younger who appeared at least 29 times.
“Everybody talking about the young guys and this and that, it led players to, at times, to say, ‘Oh, it’s just a rebuilding year,’ ” Murray said. “Up and down the lineup, some of the kids were allowed to get away with murder. That’s over. Accountability with this group is going to change. … The coaches are going to hear that loud and clear. They already have.”
The Ducks veteran core, which is led by captain Ryan Getzlaf and leading scorer Adam Henrique, didn’t get off easy either in Murray’s assessment.
“I think the core players all have to elevate their game,” he said. “I think they know it. They do know it after talking to me. They have to elevate. The rebuilding or whatever everybody calls it, the retooling, there’s no excuse here. The core guys, they have to pick up their games. They can’t be so inconsistent. If they show more consistency and more drive all the time, everybody else around them will follow.”
Murray’s comments weren’t meant as a direct criticism of Eakins, who he complimented as being “very organized, very prepared” in his second NHL head coaching stint.
“There were some stretches of very good hockey, some definite steps in the right direction of playing faster, quicker, doing some things the proper way,” Murray said. “I just know he’s going to be much more consistent and on point with things with everybody next year. He had to get a few things out of the way and he did.”
Murray feels the same way about the franchise at large, hopeful that the failures of this season, from management to the coaching staff to the players, can pave the way for future success.
“We were a decent hockey team a lot of nights,” Murray said. “That’s what I expect a lot more next year, because we showed we can play the game.”