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Measuring Terry Murray's Impact on the 2008-09 Kings

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How much credit does Terry Murray deserve for guiding a wayward Kings' franchise to respectability?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Most notably, Murray put into place the way the Kings play defense, turning a team that had little idea how to play in their own zone and gave up goals in large bunches just a few seasons ago, into one of the premier defensive teams in the National Hockey League. (Frozen Royalty)

When is Terry Murray, he of 80 career NHL points, greater than Wayne Gretzky?

  • Michel Therrien to Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh (46.3% ES Fenwick Close to 52.6%)
  • Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett in Phoenix (45.6% to 51.2%)
  • Marc Crawford to Terry Murray in Los Angeles (45.3% to 50.8%)
  • Denis Savard to Joel Quenneville in Chicago (49.8% to 55.1%)
  • Rick Tocchet to Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay (48.0% to 53.1%)
  • Guy Boucher to Jon Cooper in Tampa Bay (44.7% to 51.7%)

These are the most dramatic team ES Fenwick Close increases for an incoming coach since 2007-08. But can Murray truly claim authorship for the achievement? Or perhaps, did offseason roster changes play the lead role?

Out In
Mike Cammalleri Jarret Stoll
Ladislav Nagy Brad Richardson
Scott Thornton Wayne Simmonds
Brian Willsie Matt Greene
Lubomir Visnovsky Drew Doughty
Rob Blake Denis Gauthier
Jon Klemm Kyle Quincey
Dan Cloutier Sean O'Donnell

Perhaps the NHL debut of play-driving Drew Doughty (on a virtually brand-new defensive unit) spearheaded LA's rise?

Name 2007-08 5v5 TOI (500+)
2007-08
CF% RelTM
DEREK ARMSTRONG 850:06 7.8
MIKE CAMMALLERI 849:31 4.4
BRIAN WILLSIE 526:30 4.3
LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY 1308:59 4
DUSTIN BROWN 1084:53 3.3
ALEXANDER FROLOV 993:28 2.7
TOM PREISSING 1037:58 2.2
ANZE KOPITAR 1188:25 1.7
KYLE CALDER 626:27 1.6
PATRICK O'SULLIVAN 1051:34 -0.2
ROB BLAKE 1019:53 -3
MICHAL HANDZUS 956:42 -6.4
JACK JOHNSON 1256:10 -7.1
RAITIS IVANANS 536:00 -8.2

Name 2008-09 5v5 TOI (500+) 2008-09 CF% RelTM
KYLE QUINCEY 1091:16 5.8
ANZE KOPITAR 1148:15 4.9
KYLE CALDER 848:33 2.7
DUSTIN BROWN 1049:45 1.8
MATT GREENE 1290:39 1.2
ALEXANDER FROLOV 1015:32 0.7
PETER HARROLD 687:57 -0.1
JARRET STOLL 803:23 -0.1
WAYNE SIMMONDS 993:06 -0.9
DREW DOUGHTY 1292:42 -2
DENIS GAUTHIER 754:40 -2.1
SEAN O'DONNELL 1270:03 -3
MICHAL HANDZUS 937:39 -4.4
JACK JOHNSON 641:54 -8.2

Zounds! Quincey and Greene were the newcomersnot the hotshot rookiewho helped pick up Visnovsky and Cammalleri's slack. Kopitar appears to have taken a step forward. Fewer minutes were distributed to the likes of Johnson, Ivanans, Zeiler, Thornton, and Giuliano. Also, keep in mind that outperforming a team Corsi of 45.7 (2007-08) may be easier than a 50.7 (2008-09).

Digging deeper, Los Angeles parted with defensemen Brad Stuart and Jaroslav Modry at the 2008 Trade Deadline; to put it mildly, neither were positive forces of possession. The next season, O'Sullivan was swapped for the God of Corsi himself, Justin Williams, but "Stick" only managed 12 Kings' games during 2008-09, so his impact was negigible. Interestingly, with no prior or subsequent history of driving play, O'Sullivan registered a career-high 3.9 CF% RelTM that year. While a small portion of his schedule happened in Edmonton, most of his time was spent on, you guessed it, Kopitar's wing.

Nonetheless, it doesn't appear to be a herd of Corsi giants who raised possession stats. We have to look elsewhere to measure Murray's impact in 2008-09.

The largest statistical difference between Crawford and Murray's Kings was a sizeable reduction in 5v5 Shot Attempts Allowed (and a concurrent 32 less goals against):

Year CF (League Ranking) CA (League Ranking)
2007-08 2992 (17) 3555 (30)
2008-09 3183 (15) 3096 (10)

A revamped blueline helped. But consider that from the outset of his first training camp in Los Angeles, Murray emphasized team defense above all things:

That focus on defense that Murray has spoken at length about was evident not only in the players' performance, but on the ice...literally, Murray and staff have painted five circles in the shape of home plate on the practice ice.

"We focused on the defensive end, what I call home plate," Murray said of the five black spots in front of the goalmouth. "That is the mindset of what the players have to have. Taking care of home plate and eliminating some of those grade one scoring chances is a priority and that was focus today."

"The dots are a reference point. When the puck is coming into your defensive zone, it is what I call home plate positioning. The prime scoring area is right there in front of the net below the hash marks, that is where we have to be defending." (LAKings.com)

Of course, shot attempt suppression covers more territory than just the "home plate" region. LA's improvement in that "prime scoring area" was especially apparent in their penalty killing, which jumped from last in the league (78%) to seventh (82.8%) under TM:

Year
4v5 FA60
(League Ranking)
2007-08 79.3 (30)
2008-09 67.5 (8)

This was nothing new. Murray had a history of establishing defense-first systems in other cities (granted, such PK improvement hasn't followed him around):

Coach Terry Murray implemented a new system, his version of the neutral-zone trap, late in the [Florida Panthers] preseason. (Sun Sentinel)

"We're changing completely nowthe systems, the philosophy," said Murray, who has instituted a neutral-zone trap and a different type of defensive coverage [for the Philadelphia Flyers] from last season. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Research has shown that on average, coaching changes "had no clear impact on teams' performance." However, Murray appears to have transformed LA in 2008-09.

Was this positive swing a one-time thing for him?

Recently, Benjamin Wendorf noted how Murray teams take off after he's canned in the middle of the season. We all know how Darryl Sutter turned chumps into champs; Jim Schoenfeld also flipped the switch for TM's Washington Capitals.

On a related note, the two times that Terry replaced Bryan Murray weren't resounding successes (according to 2pS%, though Terry did take the Capitals to the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals). On Wendorf's chart, he ended up as the fourth-worst coach (out of 69) who was part of multiple mid-season coaching changes since 1952.

Let's take a minute for a brief explanation of 2pS%:

2pS% is an historical possession metric that takes shots-for and shots-against in just the first two periods of a game and expresses it as a percentage for the team being analyzed. The idea was that I was trying to get a rough possession measure from the period that would avoid score effects, or the tendency for teams with a lead to sit on the lead and thus give up shots late in the game. (Hockey-Graphs)

In other words, it's a decent stand-in for the lack of complete shot attempt numbers before 2007-08.

However, Murray's lackluster showing on Wendorf's list shouldn't be the final referendum on his coaching talent. So he's the coach who gets Pipp'ed (by the way, Wally Pipp was a fine ballplayer who led the American League twice in home runs). He may not make a good team great, but he's immediately improved almost every team he's taken over:

Team Outgoing Coach 2pS% (Year)
Terry Murray
2pS% (Year)
2pS% Difference
Washington Capitals 51.1 (1989-90) 50.7 (1989-90) -0.4
Philadelphia Flyers 48 (1993-94) 49.9 (1994-95) 1.9
Florida Panthers 48.6 (1997-98) 49.9 (1998-99) 1.3
Los Angeles Kings 47.3 (2007-08) 51.4 (2008-09) 4.1

TM's been doing it his way for the better part of three decades. Does this sound familiar, Kings fans?

"He's a good motivator and a discipline-type of coach," [the Florida Panthers' Dino] Ciccarelli said. "I think we need that because a lot of people didn't buy into the system last year, and he won't tolerate it. If he doesn't think you're playing hard enough, you'll be sitting or gone.

"He stresses defense and cleaning up your own end to help create offense." (Sun Sentinel)

11 years later, Doughty echoed Dino:

"[Murray's] really adamant on the team system and making sure we do what he wants us to do. Team defense comes first with him.

"He did a great job with me last year and he gave me a lot of confidence. Last year he definitely told me the wrong things I did and this year I definitely do a lot more things I wouldn’t have done last year." (Hockey Buzz)

Murray's rep as a teacher of the defensive arts seems well deserved. His work with the 2008-09 Kingsaccording to Dean Lombardi, "the toughest job in the National Hockey League"was probably his finest ever. While it's hard to quantify exact impact, there's evidence that it was significant.

After all, Lombardi didn't insist on a Stanley Cup ring for Marc Crawford*.

"As far as being a coach, when you look at what he’s done for us, he really stabilized this franchise, and pointed it in the right direction," Lombardi noted [on firing Murray]. "He taught these players a lot. When they look back, they’re going to realize that they learned a lot from him. The team got younger and better under him."(Frozen Royalty)

The 64-year-old will probably never get another NHL head coaching gig, but he's deserving of one. After all, somebody needs to show Justin Schultz how to not whiff at home plate!

*Addendum: Nick suggested comparing Murray and Crawford's career results, which yielded interesting findings. First, TM:

Coach Year Team 2pS% 2pS% Difference 5v5 Fenwick Close 5v5 Fenwick Close Difference
Outgoing Coach 1989-90 Washington Capitals 51.1
Terry Murray 1989-90 Washington Capitals 50.7 -0.4
Terry Murray 1990-91 Washington Capitals 53 2.3
Terry Murray 1991-92 Washington Capitals 52.8 -0.2
Terry Murray 1992-93 Washington Capitals 53.5 0.7
Terry Murray 1993-94 Washington Capitals 50 -3.5
Outgoing Coach 1993-94 Philadelphia Flyers 48
Terry Murray 1994-95 Philadelphia Flyers 49.9 1.9
Terry Murray 1995-96 Philadelphia Flyers 54.8 4.9
Terry Murray 1996-97 Philadelphia Flyers 55.3 0.5
Outgoing Coach 1997-98 Florida Panthers 48.6
Terry Murray 1998-99 Florida Panthers 49.9 1.3
Terry Murray 1999-00 Florida Panthers 48.7 -1.2
Terry Murray 2000-01 Florida Panthers 46.9 -1.8
Outgoing Coach 2007-08 Los Angeles Kings 47.3 44.8
Terry Murray 2008-09 Los Angeles Kings 51.4 4.1 51.1 6.3
Terry Murray 2009-10 Los Angeles Kings 50.9 -0.5 50.9 -0.2
Terry Murray 2010-11 Los Angeles Kings 51 0.1 50.4 -0.5
Terry Murray 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings 50 -1 49.7 -0.7

Next, Crow:

Coach Year Team 2pS% 2pS% Difference 5v5 Fenwick Close 5v5 Fenwick Close Difference
Outgoing Coach 1993-94 Quebec Nordiques 47.8
Marc Crawford 1994-95 Quebec Nordiques 49.6 1.8
Marc Crawford 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche 54.5 4.9
Marc Crawford 1996-97 Colorado Avalanche 52.4 -2.1
Marc Crawford 1997-98 Colorado Avalanche 49 -3.4
Outgoing Coach 1998-99 Vancouver Canucks 42.3
Marc Crawford 1998-99 Vancouver Canucks 44.9 2.6
Marc Crawford 1999-00 Vancouver Canucks 48.9 4
Marc Crawford 2000-01 Vancouver Canucks 53.4 4.5
Marc Crawford 2001-02 Vancouver Canucks 52.8 -0.6
Marc Crawford 2002-03 Vancouver Canucks 52.3 -0.5
Marc Crawford 2003-04 Vancouver Canucks 51.1 -1.2
Marc Crawford 2005-06 Vancouver Canucks 49.9 -1.2
Outgoing Coaches 2005-06 Los Angeles Kings 49.1
Marc Crawford 2006-07 Los Angeles Kings 51.1 2
Marc Crawford 2007-08 Los Angeles Kings 47.3 -3.8 44.8
Outgoing Coach 2008-09 Dallas Stars 51.4 50.7
Marc Crawford 2009-10 Dallas Stars 48.9 -2.5 48 -2.7
Marc Crawford 2010-11 Dallas Stars 47.9 -1 47.5 -0.5

The cellar-dwelling 2006-07 Kings? Way closer to average than I remember, their 51.1 2pS% weighed down by a positively '80s-esque goaltending line (8-21-3/3.93/.864) spewed by Dan Cloutier, Barry Brust, and Yutaka Fukufuji.

Despite Crawford's now-shoddy reputation, due largely to hasty, more recent firings by Los Angeles and Dallas, he seems to have led startling puck possession make-overs in Colorado and Vancouver. So while Crow's coaching efforts after 2007 suggest otherwise, Murray wasn't exactly supplanting Randy Carlyle in 2008-09.

And how would Murray's career have unfolded if he hadn't uttered the infamous "choking situation" comment in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals?

**Stats courtesy of Benjamin WendorfHockey AnalysisHockey ReferenceNHL.comPuckalyticsSporting Charts, and War on Ice.

Thanks, Ben, for sharing your research.