ANAHEIM, Calif. — General manager Bob Murray saw signs of progress this season from his young Anaheim Ducks and their first-year coach, Dallas Eakins.
Murray just didn’t see that progress happening quickly enough, so he intends to speed it up himself next season.
“Overall, certain things are going to change, and I’m going to be pushing very hard here,” Murray said Wednesday. “The inconsistencies cannot be allowed to happen the way they were.”
In his first extensive public comments on Anaheim’s truncated season, Murray evaluated the Ducks’ first two-year playoff drought of his tenure with his characteristic bluntness. After finishing sixth in the Pacific Division at 29-33-9, the Ducks are among seven franchises that won’t be involved in the NHL’s 24-team resumption of the season.
Murray gave a mixed review of Eakins’ debut, but he directed his harshest critiques at inconsistent effort from unnamed younger players.
“I think everybody talking about the young guys and this and that, it just let players just at times say, ‘Ah well, it’s just a rebuilding year, and it doesn’t matter,’” Murray said. “Up and down the lineup, some of the kids were allowed to get away with murder this year, and that’s over. They’re going to be held (accountable). Accountability in this group is going to change, and I’ve said that a couple of times, but I’m hell-bent on that happening going forward, and the coaches are going to hear that loud and clear.”
Murray had major concerns about the Ducks’ internal accountability last season when he fired Randy Carlyle and installed himself as head coach for the final 26 games of the season.
Murray hoped his players would respond to a fresh start when Eakins replaced him behind the bench last fall, but he didn’t like much of what he saw from afar.
“Because of the year before and what happened at the end, I kind of backed off and gave everybody space,” Murray said of his mindset for this season. “I didn’t feel I could be around as much. I had to let Dallas and the crew (work). … In hindsight, that was a mistake. I’ll point to that (as) just an error in judgment. My people argue with me on that, ‘No, it wasn’t a mistake.’ But now I think I should have (been more involved), and that won’t happen again.”
Murray’s vow to be more hands-on next season could be perceived as a problem for Eakins, the former Oilers coach. Eakins was promoted to Anaheim last summer from the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego only after a 2 1/2-month coaching search that suggested Murray wasn’t exactly sold on the obvious choice.
But Murray’s overall assessment of Eakins was largely positive, saying he sees room for the coach to grow along with his players. Murray also thinks Eakins had a good reason for not being hard enough on some young Ducks.
“I thought he was very organized, very well-prepared,” Murray said. “I thought the communication was good early. It got off-track a little bit. I think he had to get rid of some of the things that came from Edmonton, and I think those are gone now. He was very, very hard on some young people in Edmonton, and it kind of backfired on him there. I’m not saying it was all his fault, by the way. … I think he took the foot off the gas a bit with them. I just know he’s going to be much more consistent and on point with things, with everybody next year.”
Murray also lamented his own inability to acquire quality replacements when a few core players went down with injuries during the season. Anaheim was forced to rely far too heavily on youngsters who weren’t ready for a prominent NHL workload, or on recent acquisitions who weren’t prepared to play the Ducks’ style.
Murray made progress on those depth problems this week by signing Kodie Curran, a 30-year-old Canadian defenseman who won the Swedish Hockey League’s MVP award this year.
“I think next year, it’s going to take a lot of defensemen to get through the year,” Murray said. “Obviously, Kodie Curran, he’s a late-bloomer. We’ve known about him for years, and his improvement in the last couple of years, we’re quite excited about that. I expect some really good competition on defense this year, and we should be deep enough.”
Murray has another huge shot this summer to add much more than mere depth: The Ducks are likely to have a top-five draft pick for the first time since 2005, when then-GM Brian Burke and Murray drafted Bobby Ryan.
“We’re quite anxious for it,” Murray said. “I hope we don’t drop down any … but you could win (the lottery). We’re going to get a good player this year, and we have three picks in the top 36 as of right now. I’m looking forward to this year’s draft, and we’ll add to our young depth that has started to grow here.”