Senators Can Fix Matt Murray Mistake by Targeting These 3 Goalies

When the Ottawa Senators traded for Matt Murray during the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, it seemed like a great fit. The two-time Stanley Cup champion’s trade value was low, regardless of his prior success in Pittsburgh. Outplayed by Tristan Jarry, he had an off-year or two, but his playoff performances over the years cemented his status as a clutch goaltender.

Regardless of his past success, the Senators made a mistake trading for Murray, and made an even bigger mistake when they signed him to a 4-year, $25 million contract. 

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

As an interesting comparison, let’s look at the career of Cam Ward. 

(For reference, here are their eerily similar career statistics: Ward’s career save percentage (SV%) is .908; Murray’s is .911. Ward’s career goals-against average (GAA) is 2.74; Murray’s is 2.75.)

Cam Ward

Ward has had a similar career trajectory to Murray. Ward entered the NHL as a 21-year-old and won the Stanley Cup in his rookie season, and tacked on the Conn Smythe for good measure. After that, he had a few good statistical years, reaching a career-high .923 SV% during the 2010-11 season.

Cam Ward Hurricanes
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, Mar. 1, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But in the years that followed, Ward ran into injury issues. A lingering lower-body injury kept him to just 47 games over a two-year stretch. In the end, he finished his career respectably, but never got back to the level that won him a Cup in his first year.

Back to Murray

Though Murray has had a great career so far, he hasn’t been himself since his stellar 2018-19 season in which he went 29-14-6 with a .919 SV% and a 2.69 GAA. He has had lingering concussion issues, and recently took a knee to the head from everyone’s favorite net crasher Chris Kreider.

Related: NHL Right for Postponing Senators’ Next 3 Games

Throughout the Senators’ attempts to support him, he simply has not been consistent enough. They hired a new goaltending coach last April, hoping to spark some change in his play. It may be too early to give up on him, but certainly the trade and signing was a mistake. If there’s any chance to recoup some of his value, there are some realistic options in the market.

Linus Ullmark

Linus Ullmark is off to a slow start in Boston. His .903 SV% and 3.01 GAA leave something to be desired. The Bruins lost Krejci this off-season, but can still contend for a Stanley Cup come playoff time. They need more from him in net, which could make him expendable.

Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins
Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This season, Ullmark has been outplayed by his younger counterpart Jeremy Swayman. This is a similar situation that got Murray traded from the Penguins. The key difference between Murray and Ullmark, though, is Ullmark has no serious injury history. In addition, he has shown that he can backstop poor teams to wins, as he did in Buffalo last season.

At the moment, his trade value is somewhat low, and he comes in at a $5 million cap hit instead of Murray’s $6.25 million. A potential one-for-one swap reminds me of the Milan Lucic for James Neal deal a couple of years ago; Two low-value, high-cap-hit players looking for a change of scenery. The Senators might have to throw in a low-level prospect or late-round pick to sweeten the deal.

Daniel Vladar

Daniel Vladar is off to a hot start this year in Calgary. Following an off-season trade from Boston, he owns a sparkling .933 SV% and 1.96 GAA. He’s been a nice find for the Flames, who now have one of the NHL’s best one-two punches in the crease with him and Jacob Markstrom.

Dan Vladar Calgary Flames
Dan Vladar, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vladar, though, is a slightly bigger risk to trade for than Ullmark. He has never been a legitimate NHL starter, but he does have plenty of AHL success. He has great size at 6-foot-5, and he’s just 24 years old. His contract expires after the 2022-23 season, and he might be expendable due to the stellar play of Markstrom thus far.

The best strategy to acquire Vladar would be to continue to monitor his play, and potentially make a move for him later in the season or during the off-season before he becomes an restricted free agent in 2023. His cap hit is $750,000, providing exceptional value for the Senators.

Eric Comrie

Eric Comrie has been up and down, through the minors and waivers over the past couple years. He played for the Arizona Coyotes, Detroit Red Wings, and New Jersey Devils before returning to the Winnipeg Jets on a one-year contract this year.

Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

But the 26-year-old is playing great thus far in 2021, with a .926 SV% and 1.98 GAA. It’s a small sample size, but his AHL pedigree is solid as well. Like Vladar, he doesn’t have experience as a number one goalie, but has shown potential throughout his career.

He is currently signed to a one-year $750,000 contract, and would likely be available immediately, at the right price. He is a risky option, but if the Senators wait a bit to see how he performs, he could be a great addition at the deadline.

Other Options

The Senators might not be enamoured by any of these three goalies. But they’re not doing any better with Murray, who is injured often and overpaid. He has proven himself as a clutch goalie in the past, but if he can’t play consistently enough to get the Senators to the playoffs, his clutch playoff performances can be disregarded.

If they move on from him, they could employ a tandem, split-share scenario with any one of Ullmark/Vladar/Comrie and Filip Gustavsson. A healthy goalie competition could be exactly what they need to spark this team to contend in the near future.