The Toronto Maple Leafs made headlines late Monday night with the acquisition of goaltender Matt Murray from the Ottawa Senators. With the negotiations of Jack Campbell going nowhere, it lead them to the trade market, with talks heated up during the NHL Draft.
It’s safe to say that the trade left a sour taste in the mouths of Leafs Nation as many were disappointed with the picks involved, salary retention or even with Murray’s play and history of injuries. It’s understanding why many are hesitant with this deal. It’s a massive gamble from general manager Kyle Dubas as the move could backfire like other moves in the past. He’s banking on this risky move to try and address the goaltending situation.
On the flip side of things, what if things go right and finally workout for both Murray and Dubas? He could come out of this as one of the best general managers. After all, this is a former two-time Stanley Cup Champion for the Pittsburgh Penguins and even dethroned Marc-Andre Fleury for the starter role, something that isn’t easy to do. Murray is poised and ready to bounce back and he has a great chance to do it with the Maple Leafs.
Good Results on Poor Team
On the surface, Murray’s numbers with the Senators aren’t great. It showed as he went from a .914 save percentage with the Penguins in 199 games to .899 in 47 games with the Senators. Though almost having a .900 SV% with the Senators given where they were, isn’t that bad.
Even though Murray played very few games, he had a decent SV% when breaking down his numbers by each month. I know the sample is extremely small, but there was the hope that he did show signs that maybe he was on the verge of bouncing back with the Senators last season.
Again, it is a very small sample, but Murray did manage to post a .920 SV% or better three times compared to Campbell who only did it once. As soon as Campbell started to struggle in the second half, Murray seemed to have found his footing and started to post some strong numbers that will provide hope for the Maple Leafs that he was finding his way. After the first day of free agency, Dubas even alluded to a stretch of games in the second half as a reason for optimism. With also a better defense in front of him, that could be a massive boost for him as well.
Among goalies with at least 500 minutes played at five-on-five, Murray had a much better high danger save percentage of .828% in 20 games played (32nd overall in the league) compared to Campbell who had a HDSV% of .786. That ranks outside of the top-60 among goalies. That comparison alone shows that even on a bad team with not a strong defense in front of him, Murray played well when healthy, facing high danger shots and Campbell didn’t. Even though the Maple Leafs had a franchise breaking season, Campbell himself struggled at certain stretches.
Health and Familiarity
The major concern that appears to be on everyone’s mind is the health of Murray. Last season, Petr Mrazek suffered from three separate groin injuries, forcing him to miss significant time.
Ever since he arrived in Ottawa, Murray has dealt with a number of injuries. Upper-body, lower-body and two separate illnesses, including a serious case of COVID-19. Missing that much time over the last few seasons is a cause for concern, given how this could easily backfire and become the Mrazek situation all over again.
The good news in all of this, Murray is going to a team where he’s very familiar with a number of people within the organization. During his time with the Soo Greyhounds, Murray found his game under then head coach Sheldon Keefe and Dubas as the general manager. Murray struggled in his first two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League but managed to bounce back with strong results in 2012-13 and 2013-14, when Keefe became the coach during the 2012-13 season.
But the biggest key face in all this is Jon Elkin who is the Maple Leafs head of goaltender evaluation and development. Elkin has known Murray since he was 10 years old and has been a big part of his career. If there’s anyone who can contribute to Murray’s success, performance and mentality with the Maple Leafs, it’s definitely Elkin.
If Murray can stay healthy and being in an organization with a number of familiar faces contributing to maintain his durability and support, then that would be a big payoff.
Murray Deserves A Needed Fresh Start
It was a tumultuous time for Murray in Ottawa. He went from winning back-to-back Stanley Cups to a team going through a major rebuild. Despite success as a starter in Pittsburgh, Murray was not in a great position to succeed with the Senators.
All it takes for a player to get back on track is a fresh start and Murray needed just that. Murray grew up as a Maple Leafs fan and his late father, James, was also a supporter of the team. What better way than to get that start for the team that Murray and his farther cheered for over the years.
Murray made it a point that he has a lot to prove. With a familiar staff having the support behind him, he’s now in a position to succeed and be that piece to push the Maple Leafs farther in the playoffs and bring home a Stanley Cup. It could also be beneficial to him as the Maple Leafs hired a new goalie coach in Curtis Sanford before the draft. Keefe came away impressed with his path for success to develop and get the most out of the players at the goaltending position.
“He knows the position extremely well,” Keefe said about Sanford at the draft. “I really liked his ability to communicate what his expectations are and what he’s trying to accomplish with the goaltenders in a very clear and concise way, simplifying things and through that I think the ability to reinforce the fundamentals that are required to play that position.
“Also, the experience that he’s had in the Vancouver organization. He’s coached Thatcher Demko on his path through the American Hockey League up to the NHL and he’s done a tremendous job in Abbotsford this season.”
With a new voice at the goaltending coach position and Elkin by his side, Murray being extra motivated could possibly work out well and get him back on track with this new chapter in his career. The Maple Leafs have struggled to find consistency in this position. Murray’s determination and mindset is there and that could be key going forward.
No matter what your feelings are on the Murray trade, you should always give the player a chance to succeed and see them play. Murray has yet to play a game for the Maple Leafs and many have already written him off.
Yes, the move didn’t bring the return that many had hoped for and there’s a lot of risk as a result. Let’s wait and see Murray play before we reach a verdict on the trade. In the end, this could work out well for Murray. Until then, let’s see how this plays out as he deserves the chance to find success again.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.