Sabres & Coyotes Could Both Use Matt Murray in Net

In a shocking and interesting turn of events, Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray was placed on waivers in his second season of a four-year, $6.25 million average annual value (AAV) contract. This can be attributed to more than one reason, but he has not played anywhere near where they need him to be with the money he’s making.

The Senators also feel confident in the tandem they have been running with in his absence over the past two seasons, Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson. We should’ve seen something like this coming after the team opted to protect Gustavsson in the expansion draft over Murray, and general manager Pierre Dorian believes the rebuild is over. With a mindset like that, you have to put out the best product every night that gives the team the best chance to win. Murray was not a part of that in Ottawa.

There could be two suitors that should be willing to take a chance on Murray, the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes. Murray will have some work to do to get back to a level where he should be considered as an NHL goalie. There’s a number of reasons that these two bottom-feeders should give Murray a chance.

Murray’s Cap Hit Helps Both Teams

For most teams, the $6.5 million AAV would scare teams off, especially when the last two seasons of Murray’s deal sees him making $7 million and $8 million. He is out of the question for any contending team. He may be an option later on to any team if his contract is bought out or he and the Senators mutually agree to terminate the contract and he becomes a free agent. But for right now, there’s not many teams willing to take on a contract that is very risky.

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

Neither the Sabres nor Coyotes are in a position to win in the next few years and are in full rebuild mode after each of them sold their biggest trade pieces this past season. The draft picks and prospects are starting to add up, so it will take some time for them all to come into their own and give the teams a chance to ice a competitive squad for an entire season. Until then, they have some time and money to be able to assess the future and take a chance on another team’s players who have lost their game.

The move in claiming Murray off of waivers would actually help both teams in staying above the cap floor after this season if their trend of paying players the NHL-minimum and taking on team’s bad contracts continue for a bit. There has to be a point where they are going to have to stop taking on those bad contracts that have multiple years left on them and start thinking about winning.

Related: Oilers Should Avoid Matt Murray at All Costs

The Sabres had to trade for Johnny Boychuk’s $6 million AAV contract to get them above the cap floor after dealing Jack Eichel. They have 12 players who are making under $1 million who have played in at least one game this season. They would’ve been wise to take on more bad contracts or slide in and be the third to trades that require some cap management. Following this season, the Sabres are really going to need to spend money after there are a ton of expiring contracts.

The Coyotes, on the other hand, are fine for this season with their cap, but like the Sabres, they will be down a lot of money after the contracts of Phil Kessel ($6.8 million AAV), Loui Eriksson ($6 million AAV), Anton Stralman ($5.5 million AAV), Dmitrij Jaskin ($3.2 million AAV), Antoine Roussel ($3 million AAV), and Jay Beagle ($3 million AAV) end after this season.

Sabres & Coyotes Could Use the Goaltending Help

Both the Sabres and Coyotes were really scraping the bottom of the barrel in net when the season started. The goaltending depth in Buffalo includes three goaltenders who have played for them this season. An injured Craig Anderson, Dustin Tokarski, and Aaron Dell, all making $750,000.

The Sabres would like if their top goaltending prospects Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Devon Levi could make the jump and get experience at the NHL level, but they are young and Luukkonen in particular is even struggling right now in the American Hockey League (AHL). They will both need time to hone their craft at a higher level before they can become a factor in goal.

However, the Coyotes have young goaltenders more readily available to play in the NHL, for example Karel Vejmelka. They also have Josef Korenar and Ivan Prosvetov splitting time in the AHL. All of their goaltender prospects aren’t as highly touted as the ones in Buffalo, but that doesn’t mean they will turn out any worse. The Coyotes have an injured Carter Hutton and recent waiver acquisition Scott Wedgewood, so they’re not opposed to snatching up help in net from waivers.

Karel Vejmelka Arizona Coyotes
Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Murray has shown in the past that he can be a top goaltender, winning two Stanley Cups and posting a career 127-71-20 with a 2.76 goals-against average (GAA), .911 save percentage (SV%), and 13 shutouts in 232 regular season games. Though his numbers have fallen off in recent years, there were three seasons where he posted a SV% of .919 or above, well above the NHL average and very solid for a starting goaltender in the NHL. His playoff numbers are nothing to ignore either, having 29 wins in 50 games and posting a career 2.18 GAA, .921 SV%, and six shutouts.

If Murray doesn’t prove he is worth keeping around after two more seasons when his contract expires, then there’s no harm. With all the opportunity to take a chance on players, this would be one that tops that list after knowing what he’s accomplished in the past. If he doesn’t work out, there was no harm and hopefully it would give either of the teams’ prospects time to develop and take over Murray’s spot in the NHL.

Move Could Benefit Both Murray & Team

Either team would be rewarded if they got the Murray that posted numbers above his career average, and very pleasantly surprised if he got anywhere near his top seasons in Pittsburgh. Sure, the teams are in different situations, but that doesn’t give the goaltenders zero chance to play well.

Whoever claims Murray won’t have to give anything up to acquire him. The only thing it will cost them is cap space, and the only thing both may have more of is draft picks. His time in Ottawa has not been kind to him, but we’ve seen it before and will see it again. Sometimes a change in scenery is the most important thing to give a player a chance. The Coyotes have been known for their great work with goaltenders for years, so it could be the perfect place for Murray to re-establish his game. Meanwhile, the Sabres have had unsuspecting goalies play well despite expectations and the team in front of them over the past two seasons. Anderson and Tokarski have solid numbers this season, while Linus Ullmark was exceptional behind a team that finished last in the NHL.

At this point, Murray should be happy to get a shot anywhere just to be able to play at the highest level in the world. He has his Cups, he has his money, now it’s time to try and have a long and successful career doing what millions of kids grow up wanting to do.

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