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NHL.com staff writer Mike Zeisberger has been covering the NHL regularly since 1999. Each Sunday during the season, he will use his extensive network of hockey contacts to write his weekly notes column, “Zizing ‘Em Up.”
TORONTO — Mike Murphy is about to close the book on his long and exemplary NHL career.
On Dec. 31, the NHL vice president of hockey operations will work his final official shift in the League’s war room in Toronto, monitoring and overseeing any video reviews required from the 12 games on the schedule New Year’s Eve.
Once the final horn sounds on the final game, he’ll walk away into retirement, leaving behind a hockey career as a player, coach and league executive that spanned more than 50 years.
“It’s been an unbelievable run,” Murphy said. “I signed my first contract when I was 19 and entered the League in 1971. I’m 72 now and have been paid by an NHL team or the League to live a dream for that many years.
“It’s just time. The bucket list is too long. If I don’t stop now and start doing things for family, you know what happens. You watch the passing of Guy Lafleur, Peter McNab, Mike Bossy and you realize it’s time to walk away to do other things.”
Murphy had 556 points (238 goals, 318 assists) in 831 regular-season games as a forward with the St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings from 1972-83. He coached the Kings from 1986-88 and Toronto Maple Leafs from 1996-98. He was an assistant coach with the Rangers, Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators.
He said he’s been grateful working for the NHL the past 23 years and said it has been an enriching run, even though he and his team in the War Room often get criticized from those on the outside for the decisions made there.
“The goal is to always get it right,” he said. “Our best nights are when no one mentions the War Room because that means everything is going smoothly.”
Kris King, NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, said Murphy will be missed.
“He’s like the veteran in the War Room who keeps everyone calm and on point, even though he’s the one often who has to deal with the irate coaches or GMs on the phone,” King said. “He’s a special person.”
No argument here. All the best in retirement, Murph.
About an hour after the New Jersey Devils won the No. 1 slot in the 2017 Draft Lottery, then-GM Ray Shero sat at a table with a couple of fellow GMs and a reporter at a Toronto watering hole. He wrote a name on a piece of paper.
“That’s who we’re taking,” he said wryly.
Turns out Shero was toying with us.
He was mirroring a scene from the 2014 movie Draft Day when the Cleveland Browns GM, played by Kevin Costner, wrote the name of the player he was going to take prior to the NFL Draft.
Linebacker Vonte Mack. The same name Shero wrote down.
Shero had a good chuckle at our expense. He pulled the same thing on Devils staff as the draft approached. In reality, he was quite secretive about who his choice would be.
In the end, the Devils took center Nico Hischier. The Philadelphia Flyers selected forward Nolan Patrick No. 2; the Dallas Stars picked defenseman Miro Heiskanen third; and the Colorado Avalanche eagerly snapped up defenseman Cale Makar fourth.
The Devils took some heat for the selection, especially for passing on Makar who won the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the NHL and Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
New Jersey’s patience with Hischier’s development is paying dividends. The 23-year-old is the Devils captain and enjoying a breakout season with 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 17 games.
New Jersey has won 12 consecutive games and can tie the franchise record, set in 2001, against the Oilers on Monday (7 p.m. ET; MSGSN, SNOL, ESPN+, SN NOW).
“Hindsight’s 50-50 right? Everybody’s right when they go back,” Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald said. “You hear people all the time say ‘Oh, we’d have taken Makar.’ Well, at the time we wanted to build our team from the center position. A couple of years later we were fortunate to get the first overall pick again and took Jack Hughes. Now we are happy where we are up the middle. It was like when I was in the Pittsburgh Penguins front office in 2007 and we inherited Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“We always knew Nico had offensive ability. But it’s his caring and effort to be a 200-foot centerman that separates him. He’s going to win a Selke Trophy one day as the League’s top defensive forward.”
Fitzgerald, the Devils assistant GM when Hischier was selected, was promoted when Shero was fired Jan. 12, 2020. Now, almost three years later, Shero’s bet on Hischier, his version of Vonte Mack, is paying off.
After riding the roller-coaster early in his young career, Carter Hart, it seems, is coming of age.
The Philadelphia Flyers goalie has struggled the past two seasons with a combined record of 22-35-12 and less-than-ideal goals-against averages (3.67 in 2020-21; 3.16 in 2021-22). It’s the type of adversity often faced by goalies who start playing NHL games at 20, like Hart did.
But the 24-year-old seems to have found his game through his first 13 starts of 2022-23. He is 6-3-4 with a 2.65 GAA and .922 save percentage. He has all but one of the wins for the Flyers (7-7-4).
Chuck Fletcher thinks he knows why.
“It starts with practice,” the Flyers general manager said. “To my eyes he’s worked harder in practice. He’s been more competitive in practice. Just his professionalism, his preparation, his mindset, all seem to be at a higher level this year.
“He’s 24-years-old now. He’s had some time in the League. So, like any young player, as they gain confidence, they gain experience, their game grows and develops.”
There is a belief that American Thanksgiving, which is Thursday, is the first barometer of where a team stands in its quest to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens (9-8-1), who have surprised their rabid fanbase with a competitive start to the season, will be on the outside looking in come Thursday.
Even if they do make a run, GM Kent Hughes said don’t expect them to be buyers in the trade market to squeeze into the postseason.
“We’re in November, so we’re deferring these decisions until a point in time they need to be taken,” Hughes said. “But I always think there’s a big-picture look. We can’t make a decision in such a narrow view that we’re worried about only this particular season.
“Some teams are at different points. If we talk about Boston or Pittsburgh, they’ve had their core group together for a long time and they might feel it’s their window to win and we have to go for it. But where we’re at as an organization, we’re at a window that is more for the future than now.”
“No. I met Ryan Reynolds so (laughter) … Sometimes they say you shouldn’t meet your idols because of your perception of them. (But) he was taller than expected. And so nice. And he likes hockey. It was only five minutes but I was really impressed.”
— Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion, when asked if the ongoing sale process of the team is affecting his job. Reynolds, the Vancouver-born actor, has publicly stated he’s interested in buying the Senators if he can find partners.
New Jersey Devils coach Lindy Ruff has seen a lot of surprising, at times bizarre, occurrences through the years but having the crowd at Prudential Center chanting “Sorry Lindy” several weeks after wailing “Fire Lindy” was a new one for him. Keeping that in mind, Ruff recalled some of the more, um, interesting situations he’s experienced in his 25-year coaching career.
1. Beer cheer: “After winning in Philly one year while coaching the [Buffalo] Sabres, I got hit in the side of the head with a glass of beer after we beat Philly in six games. But that’s just fans being fans.”
2. Logo laments: The Sabres of the mid-2000s wore a controversial jersey featuring a logo disgruntled Buffalo fans called the “Buffa-slug” for its resemblance to a slug. “The jersey we used during that term was a little out there and was highly criticized but it proved to be one of our most successful ever.” Buffalo wore those jerseys during its run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2007.
3. Pain in the glass: “One of the most bizarre things I experienced was when I was coaching the Sabres and Brian Campbell shot the puck over the glass and Carolina scored the winning goal with him in the box in Game 7 of the 2006 Eastern Conference Final. That 2005-06 team was so good. But by the time we got to that game, four of our top six defensemen were out with injuries. Then Brian. When it rains, it pours.”
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