The uneasiness was evident with Ducks General Manager Bob Murray as he shifted in his chair.
Murray is as passionate as any executive in hockey, and he had to put aside emotions in his firing of Coach Bruce Boudreau on Friday.
“It’s never easy, and ultimately, my job is to look forward for what’s best for the group,” Murray said. “And that’s why it’s uncomfortable because there’s been some success. But, again, I want playoff success.”
Murray spoke at the same news conference table that Boudreau would have used to preview Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal against San Jose. That never came to fruition after Boudreau and the Ducks lost a Game 7 at home for the fourth straight year, this time to the Nashville Predators in Wednesday’s first-round finale.
Murray also placed responsibility on the player leadership group and even himself, but he felt a change behind the bench was needed. Boudreau produced regular-season success with four straight Pacific Division titles and got the Ducks to within one win of the Stanley Cup Final last year.
But the postseason endings scarred the franchise and doomed Boudreau.
“I didn’t think it would be a good situation to go forward, and in no way shape or form is this pointing a gun at Bruce’s head,” Murray said. “Let’s get that perfectly clear. But you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Murray said he hadn’t formed a list of replacement candidates yet, but he can look internally at assistant coaches Paul MacLean and Trent Yawney, who have previous NHL head coaching experience with the Ottawa Senators and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively.
MacLean won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in 2013 and improved Anaheim’s power play from 28th to first this season. Yawney oversaw the NHL’s best penalty-killing unit.
Boudreau is known as a player’s coach, and Murray confirmed that his hiring in 2011 was a turn from the disciplinarian ways of former coach Randy Carlyle. Murray doesn’t necessarily seek another Carlyle type but wants his new coach to be able to manage his team’s personality.
“This is a huge choice for us and we’re going to take our time, do all our homework,” Murray said.
Murray faces a complicated off-season with his roster. His ability to re-sign restricted free-agent goaltender Frederik Andersen is affected by the salary cap and the possibility of a future expansion draft, in which teams can protect only one goalie.
Andersen shares the net with John Gibson, and Murray wondered whether both are amenable to continue that partnership. Center Rickard Rakell, and defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen are also restricted free agents.
Murray said he has more money at his disposal with increased revenues, but the Ducks have an internal budget that is typically set significantly below the salary cap. He also has Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler tied to high-dollar contracts through at least 2021.
“At this point in time, I’m not very fond of long-term contracts,” Murray said. “I’ve sworn myself to a few things I won’t do again. But in keeping certain people, other people may have to go. We have to prioritize in our group.”
Players will have exit meetings and physicals Saturday, but Murray already expressed concern about defenseman Simon Despres, who missed 42 games with a concussion and “got a few whacks in the head” down the stretch.
Boudreau is not expected to be unemployed for long. There was immediate speculation about interest from the Senators. Boudreau is from the Toronto area.
There was a tinge of emotion in his voice when Murray was asked how Boudreau took the news.
“Bruce is a hockey guy,” Murray said. “He knew.”
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