Former Capitals coach Bryan Murray dies of cancer at age 74.
Abe Pollin had never met Bryan Murray before he hired him to be the Washington Capitals’ eighth coach in eight seasons in the 1980s. Nevertheless, Pollin said he sensed Murray would be the one who could turn around the fortunes of a franchise that had found nothing but misfortune over the course of its troubled early existence.
“I’m a people person. I go with what my heart tells me and what my gut tells me. My gut tells me that Bryan Murray’s the guy that’s going to bring the Capitals out of their doldrums,” the Capitals’ owner told The Washington Post’s Bob Fachet upon hiring Murray, then 38, in November 1981.
Pollin was right. Murray, who died Saturday at the age of 74 after a lengthy battle with incurable colon cancer, almost immediately turned the Capitals into a constant presence in the Stanley Cup playoffs, leading the team to its first seven postseason appearances.
Said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: “Bryan Murray’s strength and character were reflected in the teams he coached and the teams he built over decades of front office excellence . . . . As we mourn Bryan’s passing, we celebrate his many contributions to the game — as well as his courage.”
The Capitals had led a miserable NHL existence over their first years in the league before they promoted Murray from Hershey of the American Hockey League early in the 1981-82 season. He was the team’s eighth coach in eight seasons, and though the Capitals didn’t make the playoffs that first year, they finished with a 25-28-13 record with Murray at the helm. They had just one win when he took over.
Things changed for good in 1982-83, the first season Murray was paired with General Manager David Poile. The Capitals won 39 games and advanced to the playoffs for the first time, even taking a game from the mighty New York Islanders before succumbing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the Patrick Division semifinals.
The next year, after leading Washington to its first 100-point season and first playoff series win, Murray won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s coach of the year.
But with playoff trips came the playoff disappointments that now are standard in Washington and, after the Capitals won just 18 of their first 46 games in the 1989-90 season, they fired Murray and replaced him with his brother Terry.
Bryan Murray went on to coach the Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators, located about an hour southeast of his Quebec home town. Murray led the Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup finals, in which they lost to the Ducks.
Murray also was a GM in Anaheim, Florida, Detroit and Ottawa.