by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Somebody’s gotta pay. That was the last angry yell when they locked the doors at Joe Louis Arena, and that was the echo in the air Friday afternoon, on a quiet street in Birmingham, as Bryan Murray stood beyond the hedges of his front lawn, a few steps off the deck, talking about why he’d just had his head cut off.

“I haven’t even told my daughter yet,” he said, looking down the street toward a group of children riding bicycles. He turned at the sound of TV satellite trucks pulling up to his driveway, one, two, three. “I guess when she sees those, she’ll know something’s up.”

Here is what’s up: Murray’s time. Like cattle getting branded, this is becoming a ritual, a rite of spring. Detroit’s hockey team loses embarrassingly in the playoffs; next thing you know, a press conference is called and someone is saying sorry, he did the best he could.

Somebody’s gotta pay. That simple. There is no long-range planning, no long-range vision, no long-range anything at the Red Wings’ offices anymore. There is only frustration, table pounding, and the sound of the ax. This time, it’s the general manager, the man in charge of talent, who is at fault. Of course, only two months ago, we were all picking the Red Wings for the Stanley Cup finals — based on their talent.

Had that talent lived up to expectations, the Wings would be playing today, and Murray would be doing profile interviews with ESPN.

Instead, because goalie Chris Osgood was out of place a few times, and the defense went soft a few times, and star players like Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov failed to sparkle, well, the roof caved in. And when that happens, the survivors are the ones who best know how to run for cover.

And someone knew better than Murray. Bowman’s views were different

That someone would be coach Scotty Bowman, who by all indications, may get Murray’s job and powers, having been at odds with both much of last season. Did Bowman have this in mind when he was hired as coach last year? Who knows? Murray admits Bowman “was not my choice.” And the two did not get along professionally, although Murray was quick to say Friday “we often went out to eat, and enjoyed each other’s company. Socially, we got along fine.”

I asked whether he had heard from Bowman since getting fired.

“No, I haven’t.”

Would he call him?

“No, I won’t.”

So much for the social thing.

Bowman has obviously convinced owner Mike Ilitch that the problem wasn’t coaching, it was personnel. He didn’t have the goaltender he wanted. He didn’t have the defenseman he wanted. Bowman didn’t like Yzerman’s play, he didn’t like Shawn Burr’s play.

Murray, meanwhile, had his own ideas. After all, he had coached these players himself, before getting canned from that job last spring. He believed in certain guys who Bowman quickly dismissed. And he thought he was building something long-range, so when trades were offered, he was hesitant to surrender young talent. Keith Primeau, 22, and Osgood, 21, for Grant Fuhr, 31, is one example.

“Had I known what was going to happen,” Murray said, as a lawn mower started in the distance, “maybe I would have made some of those trades.”

Maybe he should have. Maybe he should have been impatient, like the fans, and, increasingly, his boss. Instead, he made one trade late in the season that backfired. He traded Tim Cheveldae for Bob Essensa, a goalie everyone thought was good but stuck in Winnipeg, a lousy team. Essensa quickly proved that Winnipeg wasn’t the problem.

“I still believe in Bob,” Murray said. “Given time, he’ll show he’s a good goalie.”

Given time. That’s really the issue, isn’t it? Time? The Stanley Cup finals are being played now with a goaltender — Vancouver’s Kirk McLean — the home fans wanted to toss in the river earlier in the year, and a GM who hadn’t done a whole lot the last seven years on the job.

Given time. Merry-go-round never stops

The truth is, they are out of time in the Wings’ front office. Or, better put, they are out of patience. Friday morning, when Ilitch told Murray he was out, Murray tried to ask some questions. Ilitch, he said, raised his hand and told him, “It’s over, Bryan.”

On to someone else. This team has now gone from Jimmy Devellano and Jacques Demers to Bryan Murray to Scotty Bowman, from separate coach and GM, to same guy, to separate, to maybe same guy again. And that’s just the last few years.

And on it goes. Funny. The NHL was full of overachievers this season: San Jose, Vancouver, Florida. If the Red Wings, in the last few seasons, had ever given more than expected, instead of less, this merry-go-round in the front office might have stopped.

Then again, if the merry-go-round never started, maybe the team would have performed better. Who’s to say? The players are certainly scared this morning. The changes are far from over. It’s June, the Wings are miles from the Cup, and another guy is having a press conference on his lawn.

Haven’t we done this story before?

“If you knew this was coming, would you have done anything different?” Murray was asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I’d have saved more money.”

When somebody’s gotta pay, that’s always a good idea.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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