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Bryan Murray made the NHL a better place.
He made us smile more. He made us feel better about the game and about the league. He could tell a story with the best of them, and laugh when the story was about him.
“I loved working with him,” said David Poile, who became general manager in Washington when Murray was the interim coach. “He had a way about him, he was a coach, a teacher, a businessman, a general manager. He really could do everything. I learned more from him than he learned from me.
“And if anything was going wrong, he wanted to have a meeting. That was Bryan-speak for let’s go get a beer and we’ll discuss stuff. He loved to have meetings. You’d work things out and then have a few laughs. That was Bryan.”
It didn’t seem to matter the city or the franchise, Murray made teams better in Washington, Detroit, Florida, Anaheim and Ottawa in more than 30 years around the NHL. He was smart and opinionated and open minded and wildly and loudly competitive.
He was the first executive to hire Mike Babcock to coach at the big league level. He traded up to draft Erik Karlsson in Ottawa, using a strategy he had previously utilized in Anaheim to get Corey Perry. He had one of the great first rounds of any GM in history, selecting Ryan Getzlaf and Perry with late picks to build a significant part of a Stanley Cup winner. That Ducks championship unfortunately came against Murray’s Ottawa Senators team.
Diagnosed with cancer more than three years ago, Murray passed away Saturday at the age of 74. The game will not be the same without him.
THIS AND THAT
Marcus Stroman is almost pitch for pitch on pace with what Aaron Sanchez did last year with the Blue Jays, which makes him a Top 5 starting pitcher in the American League this season. But he’s nowhere near the Cy Young conversation, which is all about Chris Sale and Corey Kluber, two starters having magical seasons … Could Tim Tebow play quarterback in the CFL? Well, a right-handed version of him, Cody Fajardo, is playing for the Argos. Almost everything about Fajardo looks Tebow-like except the arm he throws with … The Ezekiel Elliott six-game suspension, while harsh, could end up benefitting the Dallas Cowboys. How? By missing six games, he’ll have 100 or so fewer touches over the season. That means, come playoff time, should Dallas be there, Elliott will be fresher than he would have been had he gone through the entire season … The world always goes Tom Brady’s way, part 2837: The New York Jets are tanking. The Buffalo Bills look to be tanking. Everybody wants Sam Darnold, the quarterback likely chosen first in the 2018 NFL Draft. And Miami had to bring in Jay Cutler to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill. And there, Mr. Brady, is your AFC East Division … Replacing Jeff Reinebold as defensive coordinator in Hamilton made sense. Not keeping him to run special teams did not. Speedy Brandon Banks, previously the most explosive player in Canadian football, has become a rumour in Hamilton.
HEAR AND THERE
Denis Shapovalov’s career earnings heading into this week: $197,661. As a semifinalist he’s guaranteed $220,780. If he wins the Rogers Cup in Montreal, he takes home $894,585 … The Shapovalov match with Rafael Nadal ranks as a Top 15 Canadian sports moment for me … My revised list of all-time Denises: Potvin, Savard, Lemieux, Les Trois Denis (Savard, Cyr, Tremblay), Shapovalov … Man, Floyd Mayweather isn’t acting much like Floyd Mayweather these days, selling the one can lose this fight narrative in promotion leading up to what should be his mismatch with Conor McGregor. Don’t know what’s causing this nice guy, mellow Mayweather stuff, but figure pay-per-views aren’t moving the way they expected them to … The notion of streaming NFL games online in Canada this football season is frightening to a certain 60-year-old who lives for NFL Sundays. I’d love to explain how it all works other than Sunday Ticket is gone. But after having several people tell me, I still can’t figure it out … As a Blue Jay, Troy Tulowitzki has hit 36 home runs, knocked in 122 runs in parts of three seasons. In a similar time frame in Colorado, he hit 46 home runs, knocked in 142 runs and batted .312 instead of .250 in Toronto. His offence was expected to decline; his defence wasn’t.
SCENE AND HEARD
The Argos biggest problem: How do you get someone to care about something they no longer care about? It’s not the winning. It’s not the stadium. It’s not selling with the Argos. That’s the almost impossible challenge here. The people who care deeply about the Argos are already at their games. How do they find new customers? … My new favourite football team: The Los Angeles Chargers of Anaheim … If Mitch Marner improves his shot over the summer — and more importantly improves the quickness with which he gets his shot away — he will even be more dangerous as a sophomore as he was as an excellent rookie … Martin Brodeur is an executive with Canada’s Olympic hockey team but I’m hearing he won’t be in South Korea for the Games. The reason? It’s too close to the NHL trade deadline. The St. Louis Blues need him at home … I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Nate Schmidt has a big year with the Vegas Golden Knights. He has front line talent and just needs an opportunity to show it … The Pro Football Hall of Fame needs to hire the kind of band they use at the Academy Awards. That way, when an induction speech goes longer than 20 minutes the band can start playing music. I love Hall of Fame speeches but the 30-minute speech has become gratuitous … Rob Vollman is unique. He is a hockey analytics nerd who isn’t a one-sided zealot. That’s why I always pick up his Hockey Abstract book, which is now only available online. Why not give it a look?
AND ANOTHER THING
The next time Jose Bautista strikes out will represent the most strikeouts in a single season for the once great Blue Jay. In Bautista’s best Toronto seasons, he was an 8.0 and 7.1 Wins Above Replacement. Last season, he was a 1.0. This year he’s minus 0.6 … If Jays management wants to bring Marco Estrada back next season, it makes sense to trade him now, get something for him, and then re-sign him in the off-season. The only way it doesn’t make sense is if management actually believes that one good week would put the Jays in the second wild-card position, which is crazy thinking, but not impossible … Don’t know what was worse: Mark Shapiro’s answers in yet another exclusive interview with the house radio network or the softball questions he was asked without any kind of follow-up … Not that he has had much to do with it, but heading into Saturday night, the Houston Astros were 2-8 since acquiring Francisco Liriano from the Blue Jays … I would love to see a weekend with hockey nicknames on the back of NHL jerseys so I could see Kaner and Tayser on the same team with Keefer and Crow. Or you could watch the Leafs with Gards and Riels and Matts and Andy and Brownie … Bet you didn’t know that Steve Pearce and Bautista were teammates on the 2007-08 Pittsburgh Pirates … Personally, I’d like it better if his nickname was Connor (Three Finger) Brown, like Mordecai, of old baseball fame … Happy birthday to Bobby Clarke (68), Shayne Corson (51), Mark Osborne (56), Johnny (Hockey) Gaudreau (24), Jay Buhner of Seinfeld fame (53), Sherry Bassin (78), Jim (Mudcat, now there’s a nickname) Grant (82) and DeMarcus (Boogie) Cousins (27) … And, hey, whatever became of Trevor Kidd?
YOU BE THE JUDGE
Right after the Home Run Derby there was so much talk about Aaron Judge being the next face of baseball, the assumption being that the sport needed one face to represent it.
He seemed to have everything — size, looks, Yankees pinstripes, gargantuan power, a sense of fun along with a large dose of humility, a rather unique portfolio for today’s modern athlete.
There wasn’t much talk about Giancarlo Stanton, who seems to have everything — size, looks, gargantuan power, a sense of fun along with humility. The only difference? He wears the Miami Marlins uniform. And really, who cares about them?
But since the all-star break, Judge has hit five home runs and has struck out 41 times in 26 games. Stanton, meanwhile, has 14 home runs to reach the 40-homer mark and is truly having a season for the ages.
When Babe Ruth hit the 60-home run mark in 1927 — 30 more than the National League leader at the time — he hit a homer for every 11.5 plate appearances that season. Stanton has hit a home run for every 12 plate appearances this year.
He won’t get ‘the face of baseball recognition.’Perhaps he should.
SOMEONE TO CHEER ABOUT
It’s hard to watch tennis without some kind of emotional attachment.
You watch and cheer for Denis Shapovalov because he’s young, exciting and Canadian and because of the remarkable show he has been putting on at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
If he had been Eastern European and beating Rafael Nadal the other night, we would have been more resentful than celebratory. Tennis is at its best when you can take a side, get involved, the way we did when Bjorn Borg played John McEnroe, the way we did when Roger Federer played Andy Roddick, and the way we do now every time Federer plays because he is so beloved.
The other day at York University, Caroline Wozniacki knocked off the world’s No. 1 player Karolina Pliskova in a terrific match at the Aviva Centre. It was fine high level tennis and yet it left me uninvolved. I didn’t care who won. I had no emotional attachment to either player. All that excitement from the night before and Shapovalov’s win over Nadal was lost watching Wozniacki play Pliskova.
Women’s tennis is better when Serena Williams is around, and when stars with personalities are evident. We used to care when Chris Evert played Martina Navratilova, because as my friend Michael Farber once said, one was Betty, the other was Veronica. And you couldn’t be neutral. You had to pick one over the other. When there’s no choice, the enjoyment suffers.
NILL AND VOID
Jim Nill didn’t know how to answer the direct question. “How many NHL games would he have played if he hadn’t first been with Team Canada at the 1980 Olympic Games?”
“I may not have played as many and I may not have played as soon,” said the general manager of the Dallas Stars, who wound up playing 524 games as a marginal NHL winger.
The reason this matters now? The NHL, which won’t allow its players to go to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, won’t allow its minor league players with NHL contracts to participate come February.
Nill, a former Olympian, is on board with this. So is Lou Lamoriello, a former college coach and former Team USA general manager, even though Lamoriello benefitted greatly from Sean Burke joining his Devils team after playing for Canada.
They think the NHL rule is fine. I don’t happen to agree.
“I’m comfortable with the league’s decision on this,” said Nill. “Take our team for example. We have a 23-man roster. If we get two injuries, and we need to call up players, where are we getting our players from? If our best (prospects) are with the Olympic team, what do we do then? It puts us in a bad position.
“It was different when I played. We were all amateurs then. Money was different. The rules were different. Just because something worked back then doesn’t mean it works now.”
“What if you send your best prospect to the Olympic team and he doesn’t play? Then what have you accomplished?” said Lamoriello. “You need to be able to be part of a players’ development. If you give that to someone else, you’re no longer involved.”
Among the graduates from pre-NHL Canadian Olympic teams who went on to have impressive careers: Glenn Anderson, Paul Kariya, Kevin Dineen, Burke, Dave Tippett, Paul MacLean and Joe Juneau. There’s lots more than them. Wonder what those players would say about their Olympic experiences and how their careers were changed because of that involvement?
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