Monday, May 9, 2011

Head Coach Rob Murray Let Go

Winning More Important Than Development?
by Thomas R. Chace Jr.
May 9, 2011

The Providence Bruins season has been over now for almost a month and as I enjoy the Stanley Cup run of the parent club, the Boston Bruins, I can’t help thinking how important Providence was in the development of key Boston performers. About one third of the Boston roster honed their skills in Rhode Island’s capital city of Providence under the guidance of Head Coach Rob Murray and Asst. Coach Bruce Cassidy.

I was somewhat caught by surprise on April 16, when I ran into Coach Murray at the TD Garden before the Bruins clashed with their hated rival, the Montreal Canadiens, and he informed me that he had been let go as coach of the Providence club. The Bruins have offered him a scouting position, which he will consider along with other opportunities that should present themselves. I knew it was a possibility that Murray would be relieved of his duties, since his contract had expired, and the fact that the team failed to make the AHL playoffs two years in a row. However, when you consider the rosters over the last two seasons, any coach would have been hard pressed to make the playoffs. So why was Murray’s contract not renewed or re-negotiated? I’m not sure, but there are questions to ponder.

What have you done for me lately? Well, since the NHL trade deadline, Providence had garnered 25 points in 19 games. That pace could have produced 100 points in the standings and assured a spot in the playoffs. The addition of future star goaltender Anton Khudobin made a world of difference in terms of solidifying the goaltending disaster that Providence faced most of the season. The return of Trent Whitfield from injury also led to more scoring, and addressed leadership issues within the club. Given the team at season’s end, I would say they finished quite impressively, even winning their last three games of the year.

Is attendance down? Attendance this season was up almost 23,000 from last year. The team averaged 7,324 fans per game this year to finish fourth in the entire AHL. So the fans kept coming. In fact, on most Friday nights there were about 10,000 fans at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Why can’t they make the playoffs? The special teams for Providence were terrible. Providence was last in the AHL on the power-play; their penalty killing was nearly as bad, finishing 27th in the 30 team league. Boston’s power-play has been just as anemic, a coincidence? In addition to the lack of goaltending, Providence has lacked scoring the last two years as well. The leading scorers for Providence the last two years have both had 50 point seasons, and ironically had both scored 23 goals. The teams scored almost an identical number of goals the last two years, 207 last season and 209 this season. Goals allowed this year (+26) were up from the previous season, as the team struggled to find a suitable goaltender until Khudobin arrived.

Is winning games in the AHL more important than the development of players for the NHL? I’m not sure it is. Looking at Boston and seeing the difference Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, Steve Kampfer, and Patrice Bergeron have made, I would say no. Other NHL players obtained in trades with Boston also honed their skills in Providence under Murray’s tenure.

Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said some players in Providence didn’t develop as fast as he would have expected under Murray. That was one of the reasons he was let go. I wish I knew who he was referring to, and he clearly emphasized development.

So what to make of the decision? Perhaps they just want a new face in charge of Providence; I wish the post-deadline Providence Bruins had a longer run. If winning games at the AHL level was that important perhaps Boston should have stocked Providence with a real goaltender and some scoring punch over the last two seasons. I thought it was a developmental league; I still do. Charlie Sheen says otherwise, “Winning.”