IRVINE — Ducks general manager Bob Murray delivered a message Wednesday. After talking around the subject publicly, and using other words to describe what he was doing to try to improve the franchise’s sagging fortunes, he finally uttered the words so many fans longed to hear over the past few years.
“We’re rebuilding,” Murray acknowledged during an informal, 40-minute conversation 24 hours before the Ducks open training camp at Great Park Ice.
Asked what he tells Ducks fans when they recognize him at the gas station or on the golf course, Murray said, “We’re sticking to our plan. We’re rebuilding. This is how we’re doing it. We’re being patient. Everything we’re going to do going forward, all the trades we make, everything is for the future at this point in time.
“As those things come along, we’ll keep adding to that core young group we have. Just be patient. Just enjoy watching the young kids now and, hopefully, some of the veterans come back (to form) and give you something to be happy about.”
Murray could have been busy this past summer, but he wasn’t. At least not in the way that captured headlines or generated a high volume of digital clicks, anyway.
He could have signed an expensive veteran free agent or two or three, but he didn’t. He could have swapped past first-round draft picks Jamie Drysdale and Trevor Zegras plus Mason McTavish, the third overall pick in July, for Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, but he wouldn’t.
Henry and Susan Samueli, the Ducks’ owners, apparently are on board with Murray’s patient approach to turning around a franchise that once made Pacific Division championships and deep playoff runs seem like springtime rites of passage. Publicly, the Samuelis have remained silent, however.
Murray’s biggest move during the offseason was to re-sign longtime captain Ryan Getzlaf to a one-season, $4.5-million contract that included a no-movement clause and a $1.5-million performance bonus. He also revamped the coaching staffs in Anaheim and San Diego.
Dallas Eakins is back for his third season as the Ducks’ coach, and possibly his first without a dramatic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. Eakins has three new assistants, Newell Brown, Mike Stothers and Geoff Ward. Joel Bouchard is the new coach of the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.
“I just felt like we needed more experience here,” Murray said of replacing Mark Morrison and Marty Wilford, Eakins’ assistants the past two seasons. “We’ve got a bunch of younger players. I didn’t feel good about younger players with a younger coaching staff. I needed more experience.”
“In the minors, because we’re going to have so many kids in the next little while with young teams, we just wanted a younger group down there, a younger group that has dealt with that age group before. I think that’s something that got overlooked this summer, changing the two staffs.”
In addition, Murray also hired former Kings executive Jeff Solomon to replace the retired David McNab as vice president of hockey operations. Solomon’s addition will no doubt please many of the skeptics outside the organization, who believed Murray resided too comfortably in hockey’s prehistoric ages.
“We had some people and we had some numbers,” Murray said of embracing analytics. “Since Jeff has come on board, the way he explains it to me and talks about it, I understand certain things a lot more. Certain things, when they’d say them to me, I’d say, ‘Hold on. I just watched that game. That’s not what I saw.’
“But (Solomon) explains it more and it can definitely back up some of your thought process and open your eyes to others. I like what shows what lines are good together, what defense pairs are good together. I like that because it reaffirms in my mind who can work well together.
“We were a little behind in (analytics).”
Of McNab, who was one of the first executives hired when the Ducks began play in 1993-94, Murray said, “Losing David was tough. Jeff kind of fell in our lap. That was a huge break this summer, a huge break. He’s been very instrumental in the office in reorganizing and reshuffling and getting everybody focused.”
Solomon also aided Murray during the offseason by compiling a spreadsheet of his recent moves.
“Jeff’s stuff on rebuilding, and how he picked my brain and where we were and what we were doing and then putting it all on paper so I could read in a spreadsheet, everything’s there,” Murray said. “It’s easier for everyone to see where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.
“Now we have to make the right moves and develop the players the right way.”