Maple Leafs Commentary: Betting the Ranch on Matt Murray 

Late on Monday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they had worked out a trade with the Ottawa Senators. Two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray would head Toronto’s way bringing with him two draft choices (a third-round choice in 2023 and a seventh-round choice in 2024).

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Going back the other way, the Senators will get future considerations. It’s not clear what “future considerations” means.

The Maple Leafs Salary-Cap Specifics

As part of the trade, the Senators will retain 25% of Murray’s salary. The Maple Leafs, after subtracting a fourth of Murray’s salary, will be taking on a salary-cap hit of $4,687,500 over the next two seasons of Murray’s stay in Toronto.

Dollar per dollar, assuming that Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas was upfront about both Erik Kallgren (earning $750,000) and Joseph Woll (earning $766,666) competing for the backup position, expenditures for goalies this season are almost exactly equal to the salary-cap expense of last season’s tandem. Specifically, last season Campbell and Mrazek came in at $5.45 million and Murray and Kallgren (if he becomes the backup) would weigh in at $5.4374 million. Woll would add $16,666 more.

After Intense Discussions, the Trade Happened

Earlier Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had reported that discussions had “intensified” about trading Murray to the Maple Leafs. The 28-year-old Murray, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, has ties to the Maple Leafs management. He had played his junior hockey with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds when both Dubas was the general manager there and Sheldon Keefe was the head coach.

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: Matt Murray, Goalie Solution or Mrazek Mistake

Until recently, few saw this trade coming. Perhaps, as some hockey pundits have noted, time was getting short and the Maple Leafs were getting desperate as the goalie cupboards grew barer. Perhaps there was failed hope that the team would be able to rekindle a financial relationship with last season’s starter Campbell. For whatever reason, the trade is what it is.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For sure, the trade will have its critics. Once touted as one of the NHL’s goalie stars, the 28-year-old Murray struggled over his past two seasons in Ottawa, even when he was healthy. And, although due diligence was done to check out Murray’s medical status, the team is counting on him not losing significant time to injuries. But that’s true in this physically demanding game. Injuries come.

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As far as the quality of Murray’s play in Ottawa, it’s a gamble that Murray can reprise the same level of performance he showed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Maple Leafs are betting the ranch that he can and will. 

Related: NHL Elite: Consistent Point-Per-Game Players

Still, the contexts are completely different. In short, the Maple Leafs are not the Senators. Murray will get a ton more run support from the Maple Leafs’ high-powered offense than he did in Ottawa.

This Trade Can Go Either Way

After the numbers are crunched and although the debates will continue (this is Toronto after all), this trade really sets up an interesting regular season AND postseason. There are only two ways this trade can go. It can fail miserably, which means that the team won’t advance far into the postseason. Nothing else will do, really. 

If that does not happen, perhaps heads will roll. However, should it go well, it can be a vindication for not only Murray as an NHL-caliber goalie and the Maple Leafs’ management as a successful roster-building group. It would be a big parade if the unthinkable happened.

Marc-Andre Fleury Matt Murray
Pittsburgh Penguins goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray hold the Stanley Cup. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Murray’s injury status could be the key. But then Campbell was injured for a time during last season; and, in addition, he suffered a huge funk during the middle of the season. Still, the Maple Leafs set franchise records for wins and points in a season. The key will be what happens in the postseason.

Related: Maple Leaf’s Commentary: The Honeymoon’s Over for Dubas & Shanahan

In the back of my mind, I keep wondering what would have happened had Campbell and Murray switched places over the past two seasons. I suspect that Murray might have been able to throw together a similar won/loss record to Campbell’s, and Campbell’s record in Ottawa would have mirrored Murray’s record. 

An Interesting Season Is on the Horizon

There are still moves for the Maple Leafs to make before the regular season begins. The roster, similar to the last offseason, will be shuffled. But for good or ill, the goalie position has been clarified – for now.

Every regular season’s new beginning promises new questions and potential. The Maple Leafs just made this season even more exciting with its controversial goalie decision. 

As noted, it could go either way. The ranch is now on the block.