Oilers Should Avoid Matt Murray at All Costs

After Matt Murray of the Ottawa Senators was a healthy scratch in last night’s game, it brought up speculation that the team was done with him and will run with Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson moving forward. Elliotte Friedman suggested that the Senators will be placing Murray on waivers. That now came to pass.

The goaltending situation for the Edmonton Oilers has gone sideways a bit — Mike Smith has been injured since the third game of the season and was recently placed on long-term injured reserve. Both Mikko Koskinen and Stuart Skinner have managed to navigate the waters and help keep Edmonton on track and winning games. It would make zero sense to claim Murray off of waivers, and not make too much sense to make a trade for him.

Downhill Trajectory Since Winning Back-to-Back Cups

To begin his career, Murray was lights out in the short end-of-the-season stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-16 and finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting in 2016-17, going 32-10-4 in the regular season. His value really came when he stepped in for Marc-Andre Fleury in the playoffs in his first season and went 15-6 with a .923 save percentage (SV%) and 2.08 goals-against average (GAA) to help them win their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history.

After his incredible rookie season in 2016-17, he was given the net halfway through the playoffs and helped the team win their second of their back-to-back Cups, going 7-3 with a .937 SV%, 1.70 GAA, and three shutouts.

Matt Murray Ottawa Senators
Matt Murray, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Since then, he and the team haven’t been the same once they reach the postseason. Murray has a record of 7-12 since winning the Stanley Cup and two of the three seasons recording a sub-.910 SV%.

Murray had a pretty solid season in 2018-19, posting 29 wins, .919 SV%, 2.69 GAA, and four shutouts after a down year statistically in his first season as the starter in 2017-18 after Fleury left to the Vegas Golden Knights. Murray didn’t have that cushion of a veteran goaltender to split starts with and allow time to re-establish his game through any adversity. It has been the same story since. He has been seen as the No. 1 goalie in both Pittsburgh and Ottawa, but has struggled more and more.

Murray’s last season in Pittsburgh was after he posted an .899 SV% in 38 games. His numbers have only gotten worse since signing a four-year deal with the Senators. Sure, the team isn’t as good as the Penguins, but many goalies have done much better in worse situations, not making nearly as much as he does.

Yes, GAA is more of a team-impacted stat, but his two seasons in Ottawa has seen the number rise well above 3.00 GAA. His SV% has also dipped even lower than .899, to .893 and .890 this season in five games. The Senators have given him ample opportunity, and with both Forsberg and Gustavsson knocking on the door to earn more playing time, Murray’s days in a Senators jersey may be over, whether he changes teams or plays in the minors. The Senators would like to salvage what they have left of their season.

Horrible Cap Hit & Unattractive Term

Maybe if Murray’s contract was up at the end of the season, the Oilers would even consider adding him. But with two more years at an average annual value (AAV) of $6.25 million, I don’t think any team that is looking to compete in the next couple of seasons would be willing to take a chance and eat that contract.

Money being dished out like that better come with great, consistent stats to back it up, and on a team that is struggling, he was a healthy scratch. The more you look into Murray’s contract, the worse it gets. He is owed $7 million next season and $8 million the season after. With a modified no-trade clause of 10 teams, it could even make it nearly impossible to trade him. Waivers or a buyout may be the only way the Senators can rid themselves of a horrible signing.

Oilers Have Lots of Other Options Moving Forward

Koskinen’s contract with a $4.5 million cap hit is done after this season, so that frees up a goaltending spot and a good chunk of money to spend on the future in net for the Oilers. There are many options, not only through the upcoming 2022 free agency, but also via trades.

Some teams have chosen their starters and that leaves the 1B goaltender with an expiring contract left to test the waters of free agency. Examples of that include Joonas Korpisalo and Alexandar Georgiev, but the numbers for them this season don’t suggest they will be a long-term solution in net for an Oilers team that is looking to compete for the Stanley Cup.

The Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, and New York Islanders are interesting situations, as they are still deciding what to do with more than one No. 1 goalie on their team or in their system. A decision may have to be made soon on Ilya Samsonov vs. Vitek Vanecek, but we may have already gotten a glimpse of who the Capitals favour as Samsonov was the goalie protected in the expansion draft and he is 8-0-1 this season.

The Bruins could be in a tough situation if and when Tuukka Rask decides to come back to the NHL. It’s no certainty that he will be rejoining the Bruins, but many believe that is the case. Then the team will have Jeremy Swayman, who is more than ready to be a full-time NHL player, Linus Ullmark, who the team just signed for four years, and possibly Rask.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Stars have four NHL-level goaltenders in Ben Bishop, Braden Holtby, Anton Khudobin, and Jake Oettinger, so realistically one would even be moved this season. Meanwhile, the Islanders have found their future No. 1 in Ilya Sorokin, which leaves Semyon Varlamov as the expendable one to bring back a nice return to help the rest of their team.

Jim Parsons even suggests that Tristan Jarry would be a target for Edmonton if the Pittsburgh Penguins have a fire sale. That would fix the long-term problem as he is young and playing very well this season. His postseason misfortunes could change in a hurry with a change in scenery or opponents.

Looking at upcoming free agents, there are some good options, but some may just stay with their current teams and be removed as an Oilers’ target. Both Chicago Blackhawks goalies are unrestricted free agents (UFA) after this season — the problem is that wouldn’t really be a long-term solution as Fleury is 37 and Kevin Lankinen is unproven and struggling this season. Darcy Kuemper is also a UFA, but he may want to stay in Colorado with the team they’ve assembled. Jack Campbell and Holtby are the only other two goalies who could realistically be an immediate upgrade, and Campbell is due for a major pay raise, so the Oilers may be able to outbid the Toronto Maple Leafs with their limited cap space.

The Oilers are definitely testing the waters of what may be available goaltending-wise, but until something favourable that will help them in the short and long-term comes up, they should continue to give Skinner a chance and handle Koskinen’s ups and downs. As the season progresses, and if they don’t see a healthy Smith on the horizon, then it will be time to act, but not by acquiring Murray.

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