Most players are happy to grab a rare stretch of extended time off, such as the week veteran center Garth Murray and the Manitoba Moose get for the holiday break. For Murray, however, he’s already had plenty of down time this season.
A month ago, the 28-year-old did not have a job. Murray had spent the majority of his career before this season on the proverbial NHL-AHL bubble. As with so many players in the American League, the NHL was the ultimate goal and a job on an affiliate roster was the bare minimum he had established for himself.
This past summer, however, the cruel realities of the hockey world severely dented that standard.
The veteran of 116 NHL games, including 10 with the Phoenix Coyotes as recently as the 2008-09 season, could not land a job at the NHL or AHL level. Murray logged 80 games with the Abbotsford Heat last season, but solid opportunities were lacking this season. The salary cap, his age and rookies who could do his job for less money all conspired to submarine Murray's aspirations.
"It's a different time and you can't really complain about it,” Murray said. “You've got to take what you can and work hard for that.
"Am I frustrated that when I'm 28 and should be set up in this league that I'm not? Yeah, it's pretty frustrating, but it's the way the game is now. I think it's a general graduation of how things have changed since the lockout and how the game is evolving into a younger, quicker game."
Murray found himself on the perimeter of the hockey world looking in. Suddenly his weekends were free and he had to push himself to get out the door in the morning to skate and workout. And he avoided hockey on television.
"A lot goes through your head and you wonder whether you really want to work your tail off,” he said.
Even the free weekends, something that’s non-existent for players during the season, mostly just grated on Murray.
"It's refreshing for the first weekend," Murray said, "and then it's just annoying."
He had to recalibrate his career standards and lessen his expectations. Murray spent the summer training as usual with a group of players. But, one by one, those players drifted off to training camps. Eventually, Murray was left on his own to train in his native Regina, Sask., and skate with the University of Regina Cougars.
So, as fall's weather turned cooler, Murray found himself back home for the first time since the 2001-02 season when he wrapped up his fourth and final Western League season with the hometown Pats. Then, in late November, he landed an offer from the Victoria Salmon Kings - Vancouver's ECHL affiliate - and promptly played eight games in 15 nights with them.
Meanwhile, the Moose were in a funk and on a road trip when injury troubles and roster shuffling struck. Manitoba signed Murray to a tryout deal Dec. 11.
Since he joined the Moose, the once-struggling club has rolled off three wins and seven points in four games, including taking a two-game series on home ice from a solid Houston club. In that series, Murray fought tough defenseman Drew Bagnall, provided the Moose with a sorely needed physical presence and was on the ice to protect a 1-0 lead in the final minute of Manitoba's second win over the Aeros, although he got into it with Houston’s Jarod Palmer and received 14 minutes in penalties at the 19:27 mark.
Where the rest of Murray's season takes him remains to be seen, but he has fit in nicely with a group of Manitoba forwards that was long on talent, but somewhat lacking in collective grit.
"It's humbling," Murray said of his experience. "It's funny. My experience has been American League and then a call-up to the NHL. Whereas this year (when recalled from the ECHL), guys are saying 'Congrats on your call-up.' Well, this is the only place I have really been - and the NHL.
"It's kind of like I'm one step down on the scale of things, which is fine to me. It's just another process. No matter what, it's still hockey."
THIS & THAT
• Syracuse goaltender Jean-Philippe Levasseur won player of the week honors for the period ending Dec. 19 after two wins, a 1.50 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage.
• On Dec. 21, the Springfield Falcons announced they had extended their affiliation deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. In addition, businessman Charles Pompea will head a new ownership group that will also feature Bruce Landon as a minority owner.
• Adirondack will have its third coach this season, as former Louisville bench boss Joe Paterson has taken over for interim coach John Paddock. The move returns Paddock to his post as assistant GM with the parent Philadelphia Flyers.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every Thursday only on TheHockeyNews.com.