Is Bob Murray to Blame for the fall of the Anaheim Ducks?

CALGARY, AB - FEBRUARY 22: Interim head coach of the Anaheim Ducks, Bob Murray watches his team during an NHL game against the Calgary Flames on February 22, 2019 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB - FEBRUARY 22: Interim head coach of the Anaheim Ducks, Bob Murray watches his team during an NHL game against the Calgary Flames on February 22, 2019 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Anaheim Ducks are out of a playoff spot for the first time in years, but is Bob Murray to blame for their destruction?

Before I start, I have to say that this is content I’ve researched and observations I’ve had of the Anaheim Ducks over the past several seasons dating back to after the 2015 playoff run. Some will love this take, some will hate it.

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, let’s dive into this mystery. What happened to our beloved Anaheim Ducks? How did we go from being a game away from the Stanley Cup Finals to tanking for Jack Hughes and Kakko Kappo? Let’s start with the aftermath of the 2015 Game 7 loss in the Western Conference Final. During the offseason, Bob Murray tried to resign Kyle Palmieri but he was ultimately traded to New Jersey for a 2015 2nd round and 2016 3rd round draft pick.

Those picks became Julius Nattinen and Josh Mahura. That’s a fair return, Nattinen and Mahura are currently honing their craft in the AHL at the moment. A few days later we also traded for defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who I admit had some good games with us, but was on the wrong side of prime. What makes that trade even worse is that he was eventually extended and given a No Movement Clause, which would come back to bite us later in the season.

He made several other trades that seasons but none of them adversely affected the team.  The team would go on to make the playoffs only be eliminated in 7 games by our playoff kryptonite, the Nashville Predators. After yet another soul-crushing Game 7 home loss, Bruce Boudreau was fired and eventually replaced by the man he originally replaced, Randy Carlyle. In retrospect, I feel the firing was both on the players and Bruce. The players never seemed to put up much of a fight in previous Game 7’s and Bruce never did solve the Game 7 puzzle.

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Randy’s Second Reign

At the time, Randy said he had changed his ways. He was going to adopt the new wave of how the game was played. Bob believed him and so did we. That season we went 46-23-13. While we did still struggle in OT, we maintained our Pacific division dominance, which was a good sign for us. That year we swept Calgary, and finally overcame our Game 7 kryptonite against the Edmonton Oilers. Once again, we faltered to the Predators. This was not on Randy, however, as it hurts to lose crucial players in the midst of the series.  Although, there is one aspect to note: Jonathan Bernier played awful for the Anaheim Ducks when it mattered most.

Bernier was acquired from Toronto for a 2017 pick. This was mere weeks after we traded Frederick Andersen to the Leafs for a 2016 1st round pick and 2017 2nd round pick. Bernier has a history of not being very good, we as fans all knew this. All it took was two picks to get him. There were more quality backups available but Bob continued to deal with Toronto since the two teams frequently trade. Later, we would once again trade with Toronto for another goalie, Jhonas Enroth.

Bernier had done surprisingly well for the Anaheim Ducks, having a record of 21-7-4 in 33 appearances. Nevertheless, when the playoffs came he didn’t see much ice time until John Gibson went down with an injury. That injury would ultimately cost the Ducks the series since Bernier was coming in cold.

Another injury that hurt the Anaheim Ducks in the playoffs that year was the loss of Patrick Eaves. Eaves was acquired in a trade from the Dallas Stars for a 2017 conditional 2nd round pick. When he came on board it was a game changer. He got 14 points (11G, 3A) in 20 games and then, in the playoffs, he picked up 4 points in 7 games. (2G, 2A). Now, those are all great numbers, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t believe that was enough to get Eaves a 3 year NTC extension. Maybe a 1 or 2-year deal with no NTC would have been better.

Eaves was also 32 years old when we picked him up so the NTC really wasn’t necessary.  Nobody could’ve predicted the horrible illness and injuries that Eaves would face in the next seasons. He’s only played in 9 games since the 2016-17 season and has 1 goal.  That contract has really hurt us since and we have not been able to move him via trade. We only have two options either: ride out his contract or buy him out. Both will cost us in some fashion.

Costly Contracts

Speaking of costly contracts, remember that Bieksa contract I mentioned earlier? That NMC hurt us during the Expansion Draft. Bieksa reportedly refused to waive it so that resulted in us having to protect him instead of another more valuable D-man. So, in order to protect Vatanen, who we actually needed to protect, we had to trade Shea Theodore to Golden Knights to keep them from choosing Vatanen. We would later go on to trade Vatanen for Adam Henrique, so you could say this was a genius move in the end.

Later that season, after the Henrique trade, the Anaheim Ducks were still somewhat competitive but just needed a little extra help similar to what Eaves did the season before. However, Bob didn’t believe in the team and wasn’t sold on the idea of the team being a contender. So, instead of attempting to bolster the team Bob went out and traded Chris Wagner to the Islanders for Jason Chimera and then signed free agent Chris Kelly.

Chimera was 38, he played 16 games and got 2 points (1G, 1A). Kelly was 37 he played 12 games and only got 2 assists. Regardless of these pickups, the Anaheim Ducks still made a mad rush to the playoffs. They finished 2nd in the division behind the white-hot Vegas Golden Knights. They faced the Sharks in the first round and were smoked in 4 games.

After that loss, changes should have been made. More specifically, a coaching change should have been made. Nevertheless, Bob being the good friend that he is stuck by Carlyle and kept him around for the next season. That decision is arguably one of the worst he’s made as the GM. The Ducks endured not one, but two, very long losing streaks this season.

The first was a 12 game losing streak that went from December 18, 2018, to January 18, 2019. The Anaheim Ducks would finally win 3-0 vs the Minnesota Wild and then a 3-2 win vs the New Jersey Devils. Then they would go on another losing streak of 7 games. After losing the 7th in a row vs the Philadelphia Flyers. Bob finally pulled the trigger and fired Randy Carlyle and appointed himself as the head coach. As a coach, Bob Murray is 3-4-0. Who he hires as a coach will be a hot topic once the season ends. Who he hands the coaching reins to will have an adverse effect on the team going forward so we can only hope he chooses wisely.

Examining the Bad Contracts

Outside of his coaching decision, there is one other facet we need to analyze: the contract extensions. Over the past several seasons, including this one, we’ve seen Bob hand out contract extensions as if it were candy on Halloween. There have been some good ones, some bad, and some that are in between. Let’s start with the bad. I’ve previously mentioned the Bieksa and Eaves extensions. These two fall into the “bad” category.

Another bad extension was Ryan Kesler‘s contract. It was a 6-year, $41.25M contract with a NMC. These NMC’s and NTC’s seem to be a recurring thing, don’t they? At the time it looked great. Kesler was shutting down top centers in the league, fighting Jonathan Toews, and making Ryan Johansen turtle. All was good but then he got injured. He hasn’t been the same since that hip surgery. Bob tried to move him but Kesler wasn’t having it and said he wants to be apart of the retool. In my eyes, that’s selfish because he’s hurting the team. That makes the score NMC/NTC 3 – Bob Murray 0. That’s now 3 times since 2017 where the NMC/NTC has reared its ugly head.

There Have Been Good Extensions

Moving on to the better extensions. First up, Corey Perry. He’s been a staple for this team for a very long time. He was given an 8-year $69Ml contract with a NMC. Thankfully, we’ve never really had a desire to move him after all these years. Yes, he has slumped the past few years but at least it’s at the tail end of the deal, unlike Kesler who fell off in the midst of the contract.  Perry only has 2 more seasons left on his deal then he’s a free agent again.

Fortunately, the Seattle expansion draft will take place that same summer and Perry will not have to be protected. Next up is Ryan Getzlaf. Captain Dad has not fallen at any point during his contract. He was given the very same contract as Perry just $3M less. Getzlaf has seen his share of injuries like Kesler and Perry but it never adversely affected him to where his production plummeted. Like Perry, his contract is also up in 2021 and he will also be exposed in the draft. Kesler will also be exposed since his NMC becomes a partial NTC, so he does not have to be protected.

Middle of the Road Extensions

Onto the contract extensions that are in the middle at the moment. First is Adam Henrique. He was given a 5-year $29.125M contract with a Modified NTC. That’s not a bad deal, and the good thing is, he doesn’t have to be protected during the draft. The only controversy surrounding him is how well he will play and if he is in the way of our upcoming talent. Otherwise, I say this is one of the better signings.

Jakob Silfverberg recently signed a 5-year $26.2M contract with a Modified NTC. He’s been really good this season and has earned this contract even in a down year. He recently scored his team-leading 17th goal and his 100th goal as a Duck. This deal is also on the line because Silfverberg has a tendency to be streaky. Some fans believe he shouldn’t be given this contract for that reason. However, looking around at the team this season, he’s been the only consistent player on the team. Some fans even think that his play will become lackluster because of the new contract. I don’t see that happening.

Bob also handed Josh Manson, Cam Fowler, and Hampus Lindholm contract extensions. Only Manson and Fowler received Modified NTC’s. All three of them will still likely be protected at the expansion draft.  The scoreboard now reads NMC/NTC 3 – Bob Murray 4.It looks like Bob has learned his lesson with the NMC/NTC’s.

At the trade deadline, Bob traded Brandon Montour for Brendan Guhle and 2019 1st round pick. He’s aiming to go younger and he got another first round pick, so at least he is a man of his word for the time being.

Finally, it’s judgment time. The original question: Is Bob Murray to blame for the fall of the Anaheim Ducks? Yes and no. Yes, because he failed to use logic in certain situations and let his emotions get in the way of handling business. I guarantee you if we were an Original Six team Carlyle would’ve been super kicked out of the organization after the first losing streak or maybe even after the sweep.

All the players I mentioned earlier are good, yes, but not all of them need NMC/NTC’s. Can you imagine if he gave Andrew Cogliano a NMC?  There are fans out there that feel like these clauses have hurt the team. To a degree, they are right. Not every player needs to be locked to the team with one of those clauses. As we’ve seen those clauses can hurt the team, drastically. We’re looking at you, Kevin Bieksa.

I say no because there’s a flip side to the coin. No one could’ve predicted that Eaves would suffer a string terrible injuries, or that Vegas would get a team, or that Kesler would blow out his hip and essentially never be that same player he was in 2015. That was all a string of bad luck. Most of, if not the whole team, has been plagued with injuries for a very long time now and you cannot pin injuries on the GM.

In closing, Bob Murray did not directly cause the destruction of the Anaheim Ducks. However, he did set up the dominoes to fall. By signing all those contracts and including NMC/NTC’s in them he set up the chance for things to go horribly wrong and they did. Also, by keeping Carlyle for as long as he did he was hurting the team and he knew it wouldn’t be a good look if he fired the same person twice, so he tried to cling to his pride rather than do his best for the team.

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