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Keith Gave's Northern Sports Desk

 

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August 15th, 2017

 

Bryan Murray, one of the builders of Detroit’s hockey 

dynasty in the 1990s left one final request – for you
 
By KEITH GAVE
Sports Director
 
He was the first to coach Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov and Nicklas Lidstrom in the NHL. As the Red Wings’ general manager, he acquired Grind Line center Kris Draper from the Winnipeg Jets for the princely sum of $1 Canadian dollar. He drafted Draper’s line mate, Darren McCarty, too, and goaltender Chris Osgood, and right wing Martin Lapointe.
 
Bryan Murray’s contributions to what would become one of the NHL’s most celebrated dynasties that began in the mid-1990s cannot be overstated. But more important than that, at least to him, was his commitment to being a good husband, a proud father, a committed family man. 
 
In hockey, and away from the game he devoted his life to, Bryan Murray represented the best among us. And today we mourn him. Murray died Saturday after a valiant fight with colon cancer. He was 74.
 
In the final years of a life so well lived, Murray’s mission has spread the word as far and wide as he could about how we can look after ourselves better. Better than he did, at least. Murray didn’t have his first colonoscopy until he was 70 years old, and by then it was too late. At the time, he was diagnosed with colon cancer, Murray was already in Stage 4. It had spread to his liver.
 
Do the right thing. That was Murray’s mantra on and off the ice. And in the end, he said it to encourage us to get the regular physicals and procedures that will give doctors a fighting chance to help us lead longer and healthier lives.
 
Bryan Murray was a rare breed of hockey coach and executive. He treated those of us in the media with kindness and respect, even if we didn’t do much to earn it. He was honest almost to a fault, mostly because he seemed to have an innate resistance to lying. He couldn’t do it.
 
Murry coached some wonderfully exciting, offensive juggernauts in the early 1990s when Steve Yzerman was in his prime and Fedorov and Lidstrom, who broke into the league together in 1990, were just getting started. But after three seasons and a crushing, seven-game series loss to Toronto in the opening round of the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs, owner Mike Ilitch’s patience had eroded to the point that he was initiated secret negotiations to bring Mike Keenan in as coach and GM to replace Murray.
 
When senior vice president Jimmy Devellano got wind of the news, he and Jim Lites, then Ilitch’s son-in-law who was also the team’s executive VP, put up a fight. Ilitch fought back. It got ugly. Keenan was one of the most polarizing men of his generation who had alienated management or ownership wherever he went, but as a coach, he had had some success, and Ilitch was willing to make a deal with the devil to bring some of that to Detroit.
 
In one acrimonious meeting between the three, Ilitch snapped. If it’s not Keenan, then who will it be, because it’s not going to be Bryan Murry.
 
“Good thing I had an answer,” Devellano told me in a conversation years later. He told his boss that the best way to win the Stanley Cup would be to hire one of two men Al Arbour or Scotty Bowman. Arbour had won four straight Cups coaching the New York Islanders, but when Devellano offered him the job Arbour turned it down. Plan B was a pretty good one. Bowman took the job and the rest – 10 years, three Cups and myriad records later – is history.
 
Murray lasted one more season as GM, and after the Wings lost in a monumental upset to San Jose in the first round the following spring, he took the fall. He was fired and Bowman was given the control of the roster, with the freedom to promote, demote and trade players.
 
Things worked out, eh? And to this day, Devellano believes that keeping Keenan out of Detroit may be the most significant of all his many, many contributions to the Red Wings’ success in the last 35 years.
 
Murray, meantime, went on to great success as general manager in Florida, Anaheim, and Ottawa. Each of those clubs under his stewardship would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. But he could never let go of the lingering resentment he felt for being scapegoated after those two, painful first-round playoff exits in Detroit.
 
I last spoke with Murray in the spring of 2016, in his final weeks as GM of the Senators. Despite being weakened by the disease, Murray traveled with his team to Detroit so we could interview him for The Russian Five documentary film, which is in production and should be released early next year. 
 
He acknowledged then that even though he was GM in Florida at the time, he took great pride in seeing the Wings win consecutive Stanley Cup titles in 1997-98 – because he helped build that team and acquire and develop so many of the most important players on the roster.
 
He also admitted to feeling no small amount of satisfaction in orchestrating the second, shocking defection of Sergei Fedorov’s career. Lites had arranged the first one, getting the Hall of Fame center out of the Soviet Union and to Detroit to play in the NHL. But Murray, as GM in Anaheim at the time, lured Fedorov away from Hockeytown with a four-year contract worth $40 million, which was one year and $10 million smaller than the deal Mike Ilitch has offered Fedorov.
 
But Fedorov, like many other players, had great respect for Murray – so much so that he could leave all that money sitting on the table in Detroit. Fedorov liked him, and he knew he could trust him. Anyone who ever crossed paths Bryan Murray knew that feeling. 
 
Now go make that doctor’s appointment.
 
-30-
 

 

 

    --- ARCHIVES ---
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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-Feb.22, 2016: Big Decisions loom for Holland, Wings as trade deadline Approaches...

 

-Feb. 15,2016: Trade Jimmy Howard? Enough of these delusions

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