It is no secret that the Ottawa Senators will find themselves in a dilemma if current goaltender Craig Anderson decides to retire. While a decision hasn’t officially been made by Anderson, he has stated previously that he would like to keep playing. We just don’t know if this will be in Ottawa or somewhere else. The 39-year-old is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
The Senators won’t be the only team shopping for a new backstop. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and Chicago Blackhawks, just to name a few, will also be looking to re-sign, make a trade, or hit the free-agent market for a goalie. If there was ever a time you felt that you needed to make a change in net, this upcoming offseason would be the time to do it. This year has already been turned upside down with everything that’s gone on, and the hockey world is no different. There’s potential for a lot of movement, especially in the goalie market.
On the Market
Before the whole Robin Lehner/Marc-Andre Fleury/Allan Walsh situation, I felt like Lehner would be a perfect fit for the Senators. Seeing how that is slowly playing out, the Senators might not even get a sniff at Lehner. Rumours of a five-year deal, which prompted Fleury’s agent Walsh to do what he did, are just rumours until the pen is put to paper. But, it’s hard not to connect the dots and think there’s some truth to it. So let’s take Lehner off the table, for now, in Ottawa.
The Washington Capitals and general manager Brian MacLellan are looking for a change from Braden Holtby. This was another one we could also foreshadow. Ilya Samsonov is clearly their goalie moving forward as they look to turn a corner with Peter Laviolette at the helm now.
Holtby will join the UFA class that is currently, and potentially made up of guys like Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, Jacob Markstrom, Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, and Mike Smith. I say potentially, because Jacob Markstrom is most likely re-signing in Vancouver, and you’d think the same goes for Greiss in New York. The older, veteran guys like Crawford, Smith, and Howard are names you want to stay away from. They’re injury-prone, past their prime, and Ottawa will find themselves in the same position a year or two from now if they go down that road. Free agency is always known as the time period you can bury your team by overpaying and overextending players. It’s not always the best choice, but sometimes it’s all you got.
Staying in the System
The tandem system has proven to work for some teams. The Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, and you can even say the Dallas Stars at this point, run on a tandem with guys in their own system. For Ottawa, if Anderson does retire, the two guys in question, Anders Nilsson and Marcus Hogberg, are relatively big question marks for such a jump in responsibility. The other goalies in Ottawa’s system like Kevin Mandolese, Filip Gustavsson and Joey Daccord aren’t much better ideas. They’re all under the age of 25 and have little to no NHL experience. While it’s good for their development, I don’t think it would be wise for Ottawa to take that path.
All this being said, there’s not much else out there for Ottawa if they really want to go after a goalie that will help them compete, and help them in the future. One name that has been out there since they left the bubble, though, has been Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Related: Ottawa Senators Coaching History
Jim Rutherford, general manager of the Penguins, has made it known that he is going to be making some deals, and that calls are being taken for Murray. Is this something the Senators should be looking at?
If the Price Is Right
Murray’s name is one that Ottawa fans most likely don’t want to hear as it is a reminder of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. But, the nation’s capital could be a fresh start for the 26-year-old. He might just be the most enticing name that is available. In my eyes, there’s a great fit for Murray in Ottawa. The Senators are looking for a goalie moving forward, he’s young, and say what you want, but he has two Stanley Cup rings and that’s just a fact. An up-and-coming team like Ottawa that has tons of youth could use some of the experience Murray has already.
Murray comes with a $3.75 million qualifying offer, and is only a year away from reaching UFA status. Instantly, Ottawa would have to buy some years of free agency if they want him. This shouldn’t be a problem if they do want someone in net for the foreseeable future.
However, the 26-year-old isn’t coming off of the best season. Murray had a 20-11-5 record with a .899 SV% and a 2.87 GAA in 38 starts. Even though Murray opened up the qualifying-round series against the Montreal Canadiens as the starter, he found himself on the bench before Pittsburgh left the bubble. His overall market value might take a hit because of this, but it shouldn’t. The numbers might not jump off the page, but a change of scenery is an intangible. It’s a chance to prove people wrong that say he will never get back to where he once was on those Pittsburgh Cup runs. It’s almost as if people forgot he’s still in his 20s, and 2017 was only three years ago.
Along with Murray being a restricted free agent, the other issue is that the Penguins might be asking too much in return. As reported by Pierre LeBrun, the Oilers have already approached the Penguins for Murray’s services and decided to hold off for the time being.
A week before that was reported, Frank Seravalli of TSN had also mentioned that Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Buffalo, and Colorado were among the other teams interested. If the asking price is at least a first-round pick and a prospect, should the Senators even think about it?
Ottawa will have three picks in the first round, 13 total, in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. The Senators will have two in the top five and another in the lower quarter of the first round. They’re trying to change a lot this off-season and have a lot of big decisions to make. It’s not easy to rebuild a playoff and Stanley Cup-contending team, but having 13 picks in the draft is a great start. Conventional wisdom would say to use all your draft picks and collect as many prospects for your system as you can, then see which ones hit.
Of course, Ottawa will need a goaltender sooner rather than later and while Murray might be a good fit, giving up other potential pieces is just too much of a risk. If Ottawa was two or three more years into their rebuild, and already had an established core and farm system, that might be a better time to make a deal. There are just more cons than pros when making these kinds of trades early into a rebuild.
That’s pretty much where the Murray link to Ottawa stops for me. While Ottawa could definitely use a guy like Murray, if Rutherford and the Penguins are asking for one of the higher picks that Ottawa holds and a prospect like Shane Pinto, Vitaly Abramov, or [insert name here], it would be wise for Ottawa to see what they can get out of Nilsson and Hogberg, maybe resign Anderson for another year, or sign someone completely off our radar.
What do you guys think? Should Ottawa pull the trigger on Matt Murray anyway and take their chances? Let me know in the comments below.
Giovanni Siciliano is a THW freelance writer that covers the latest news and rumours surrounding the Ottawa Senators. He is a lifelong hockey fan who aims to give his readers more knowledge and better insight pertaining to the game. After completing an internship at The Hockey News, and having a few of his stories published like this one, Giovanni knew he wanted to make this a career and share his passion for hockey with others. He was the host of the FaceOff Hockey Podcast before joining the team at THW. To interact with Giovanni about the Senators, the NHL or any other sport, you can follow him on Twitter by clicking here. You can also check out more of his articles here.