The guy who got this long NHL playoff streak we like to boast about around here, the one who did much to build the foundation of those Stanley Cup teams in the late 1990s, was back in the press box the other night watching his team fall far behind a new generation of Red Wings.
But Bryan Murray has far bigger concerns these days than how his Ottawa Senators are going to make up a three-goal deficit. Murray, Detroit’s general manager from 1990-94 and its coach for the first three of those four seasons, is battling Stage-4 colon cancer that has spread to his lungs and liver.
"I’m feeling great today," Murray said before Monday’s game. "I had a chemo treatment yesterday, so I’m good for another week or so. This this is a full-time job. I’m getting poked and prodded all the time."
There is no cure for him, says Murray, who turns 72 on Dec. 5. But work seems to be a good antidote to sitting home feeling sorry for himself. Hockey has consumed his life for most of the past six decades. For the past 33 years, he’s earned his living as one of the NHL’s most successful coaches and executives.
In 13 full seasons as a coach, Murray’s teams advanced to the playoffs 12 times. Including stints coaching in four other seasons, he compiled 620 victories.
In his four seasons in Detroit, he helped to develop Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Nick Lidstrom and Slava Kozlov at the start of their NHL careers. Murray also traded for Kris Draper — who, like Lidstrom, was a fixture on a roster of four Stanley Cup teams — and drafted Darren McCarty.
But Murray’s tenure came to a regrettable end in Detroit just as his team was rising to pre-eminence — largely because of owner Mike Ilitch’s impatience. The Wings had won just one playoff series in three seasons with Murray behind the bench, and in one of their most anguishing decisions in modern club history, they decided to replace him as coach.
Enter Scotty Bowman, who also stumbled out of the gate when his top-seeded Wings lost in the first round to eighth-seeded San Jose in 1994. Nevertheless, Bowman won an ensuing power struggle. Murray was fired as GM; Bowman and a young Ken Holland took over the administrative and personnel decisions that go with that job.
Two decades later, Murray still looks fondly on those formative years for a franchise that has ranked among the NHL elite for the better part of 15 years, during which the Wings would win the Cup four times.
Bryan Murray is living his life week to week, chemo treatment to chemo treatment, thankful for whatever quality he can squeeze out of life.
"It was really disappointing at the time because you could feel it all coming together," Murray said after his Senators third-period comeback fell just short in a 4-3 loss Monday. "Things were falling into place, and you knew it was just a matter of time."
And so it is today for Murray as he faces his greatest challenge. His only regret, he’ll tell you, is that he never had the colonoscopy and prostate exams that men of a certain age are encouraged to get — routine medical procedures that can save lives.
"Like a lot of men do, I put it off," Murray told Michael Farber, of TSN. "A simple colonoscopy, in my case, probably would have solved this problem I have."
So take it from Murray, one of the finest, most honest and competent men you’ll find in our out of sports: Get the checkups.
As he battles this disease, some days will be better than others — and it can’t hurt when his team comes from behind to beat St. Louis in a shootout, like it did just the night after losing in Detroit.
Now Murray is living his life week to week, chemo treatment to chemo treatment, thankful for whatever quality he can squeeze out of life.
And those of us are thankful to have known and worked with him — who admire him and appreciate him for all he’s done for so many of us around the game — are left to our own hopes and prayers for as fine a man as any who toiled with these Red Wings.