Sabres assistant coach profiles: Terry Murray
Murray brings 30 years of coaching experience to the Sabres staff.
Last NHL job: Los Angeles Kings head coach (2008-2012)
NHL record: 499-383-89-41
When Dan Bylsma began putting together his coaching staff, he added a coach with a familiar last name and plenty of experience. Terry Murray joined his nephew's team this off-season to coach the team's defense, his first time back in the NHL since being fired by the Kings in 2012.
Murray, who played 302 games in the NHL, started his coaching career as an assistant with his brother Bryan's Capitals in 1983. He spent five years in Washington before taking over the team's AHL affiliate. He spent a season and a half with the Skipjacks, before the Capitals decided to part ways with Bryan after a disappointing start. They promoted Terry in his place, and it worked wonders. Washington made it to the Eastern Conference Finals that season, only to be swept by the Bruins.
Murray would hold onto the Capitals position for four more seasons, making the playoffs every season until his last. He was fired midseason in the 1993-94 season and replaced for former Sabre Jim Schoenfeld.
Once again it wouldn't take long for Murray to land on his feet. After a season coaching the Cincinnati Cyclones of the IHL Murray was named the head coach of the Flyers, a team he had played much of his career with. Murray made the playoffs each of his three seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, even making the Stanley Cup in his final season. However, he was heavily criticized for his handling of the Flyers goalie tandem of Ron Hextall and Garth Snow. Wayne Cashman replaced Murray, who stayed with the franchise as a pro scout.
The brothers Murray were reunited again in 1998, this time with the Florida Panthers. Bryan, the Panthers GM, fired Doug MacLean the season prior and moved down to behind the bench himself. He chose his brother as his successor. The Panthers missed the playoffs his first season and lost in the first round in his second season, but it was the 6-18-11-5 start to the 2000-01 season that did him in.
He returned to the Flyers in 2001 as a scout, and then was an assistant under Ken Hitchcock from 2003 to 2008.
Murray got his last head coaching job in 2008, taking the reins of an up-and-coming Kings team. Despite leaving before the great Stanley Cup years, his stint was far from a failure. Despite the teams finishing over .500 in each season besides his first, his teams did not get past the first round. Even the year he was fired the team was still 13-12-4 when he was dismissed. John Stevens took over as interim, but Darryl Sutter was the real saving grace. The Kings went 25-13-11 down the stretch under Sutter, just barely making it into the playoffs. The Kings would go on to win their first Stanley Cup. Murray's .560 win percentage with the Kings is behind only Sutter's for the highest in franchise history.
The past three years Murray has spent coaching Philadelphia's AHL affiliates, Adirondack and Lehigh Valley. They missed the playoffs every year, failing to crack the .500 mark.
Q&A with a Kings Expert
We talked to Jewels from the Crown writer Sheng Peng about Murray's time with the Kings.
1. How would you describe Murray's coaching style?
Murray is usually a paragon of patience and calm behind the bench. Conservative and defensive-oriented tactics have been the hallmarks of his many coaching stops.
2. I read your piece about the incredible possession increase the Kings saw when Murray took over the Kings, and one of the other best improvements on your list was now Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma. Was it really Murray's doing that helped the Kings so much, and should Sabres fans expect not only improved possession numbers (because that's a give-in based on their current numbers) but very good numbers?
When Murray first came to Los Angeles (which had finished league-worst in shot attempts allowed and third to last in goals against during the previous season) in 2008-09, from the outset of training camp, he stressed team D above all else, so much so that he literally painted "five black spots in front of the goalmouth...in the shape of home plate on the practice ice."
Of this, he said, "That is the mindset of what the players have to have. Taking care of home plate and eliminating some of those grade one scoring chances."
He was successful in this, and I do give him the lionshare of the credit for LA's reduction in shot attempts against:
Even after firing him in 2011, Dean Lombardi was effusive in his praise of Murray's work with the then-young Kings: "As far as being a coach, when you look at what he's done for us, he really stabilized this franchise, and pointed it in the right direction...He taught these players a lot. When they look back, they're going to realize that they learned a lot from him."
I'm not sure if Sabres fans should necessarily expect very good possession numbers this coming season. After all, you need—no offense—a very good team in the first place. But Buffalo looks improved, and you have the coaching staff in place to guide your puck possession in the right direction.
3. In Murray they get a coach who was in the opposite position as Bylsma, one who was fired and then his team went on to win the Stanley Cup. Was there a drastic change between Murray's Kings and Sutter's Kings
Murray's conservative style, which had eventually guided what I'd consider a "lost" team under Marc Crawford into the playoffs, couldn't take the Kings any farther than the first round. So you can also describe Murray's style as conservative to a fault. Sutter trusted the players to be more aggressive, while being just as defensively responsible as before.
Willie Mitchell put it well: "It's just a little bit different, and that's no knock on Terry before, but [Sutter's] allowing [the forwards] to trust themselves, and create plays. [Sutter] makes you responsible if you do it, but he says, ‘If you want to criss-cross here, cut here, support here, go ahead. But if you're doing that, the other guy has to [make this] read.'"
4. What was the general feeling in LA when Murray was fired?
Relief, for one. The Kings had been dragging for weeks. However, as we saw from Lombardi's praise upon firing Murray, there was also a lot of respect for the man..
Here are some player quotes that go a little beyond boilerplate. First, Anze Kopitar:
"He put a lot into my game and I gained a lot from him."
"Our performance cost someone their job, certainly someone we all looked up to and, we thought, did a great job with this team for the last few years."
5. How is he with working with young players?
He's a good enough teacher that Paul Holmgren brought him in to coach Philly's AHL team after his Los Angeles dismissal. He encourages players to figure things out on their own and is not overly confrontational, which in the long term, should help a lot of the younger Sabres.