Bryan Murray reacts to the crowd. (AP File/Chris Carlson)
The team fired John Muckler as general manager Monday and promoted head coach Bryan Murray to the job. Murray's contract was set to expire June 30 and owner Eugene Melnyk said the timing was right to move him into the job.
"He has shown what he can do as a general manager," Melnyk said via telephone at a news conference Monday. "We just thought if there's going to be a crossroads it's got to happen now and it has to happen prior to the draft."
Murray was GM of the Anaheim Ducks from 2002 to 2004 and was also the executive of the year in 1996 when he was GM of the Florida Panthers.
"The (Sens) assistant GM left last year and there was no successor that was obvious other than Bryan," said Melnyk. "It just happened to be the end of his coaching contract."
Melnyk said the 73-year-old Muckler was offered another job in the organization but declined.
Murray's first order of business will be the NHL draft, which goes Friday and Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.
"I hope I can, number one, bring them to the next level, which is winning a Stanley Cup and help continue to make this an ongoing, continually good franchise," Murray said.
While he said he'll miss his role behind the bench, Murray is looking forward to having a hand in moulding the team.
"I have to say I really enjoyed coaching, being around the players on a daily basis, working with the coaches that we had on staff, and it's hard to give that up," Murray said. "But it's certainly a different opportunity to make the Senators a top-notch organization . . . and I think that being in the role of the general manager, we have that opportunity to make it happen."
Melnyk said he was thinking about the future when he made the decision to promote Murray.
"You have to think in the long-term," said Melnyk. "The one thing we didn't want was to become a one-trick pony where we have one great year and then we starve for the next four or five."
Murray said the team will begin searching for a new head coach in the next couple weeks.
The Senators went an impressive 48-25-9 in the regular season and shook off their tag of post-season underachievers by advancing to the Cup final. But they seemed to run out of steam in the final, losing to the Ducks in five games.
In addition to finding a new coach, Murray will have plenty of player decisions to make.
At the top of the list is goaltender Ray Emery, who was solid for most of the playoffs and is a restricted free agent with the right for arbitration.
He made US$925,000 last season and will be seeking a raise, but with two years remaining on Martin Gerber's contract, the Senators may have difficulty keeping both.
Emery will also require surgery on the left wrist he injured in November, which led him to play through pain all season.
Centres Mike Comrie and Dean McAmmond plus defenceman Tom Preissing are unrestricted free agents while Christoph Schubert and Chris Kelly are restricted free agents.
Despite the disappointing final result, at the end-of-season news conference, Muckler, who had one year left on his contract, said he had every intention of returning for his final year and had no desire to leave.
"I'm having too much fun," he told reporters.
Muckler, a five-time Stanley Cup winner with the Edmonton Oilers, joined the Senators in June of 2002.