NHL trade grades: Maple Leafs roll the dice on Senators goalie Matt Murray

The trade

Go Maple Leafs: Goalie Matt Murray, a third-round pick in 2023, and a seventh-round pick in 2024. Ottawa retains 25 percent of Murray’s contract.

Go Senators: Future considerations

Dom Luszczyszyn: I’m not going to pretend I know what the future holds for any goalie in this league – no one should. It’s an extremely blurry landscape where the only thing you can trust is the information in front of you and hope it works out the way it should. In that sense, it’s not hard to see what the Maple Leafs see in Matt Murray and why it’s still an incredible risk all at the same time.

On the one hand, Murray is a goalie with an incredible pedigree, a two-time Stanley Cup champion who has delivered in high-leverage situations. In 51 career playoff games, Murray has a .921 save percentage and has saved 6.6 goals above expectations. He has the potential to be a big game player and that’s something the Leafs obviously care a lot about given their recent playoff history.

At one point, Murray was seen as one of the league’s best young goalies and that talent is still within the 28-year-old. Somewhere. It was evident last season, especially after a demotion to the AHL. In 14 games afterward, Murray played his best hockey in years posting a .912 save percentage and saving 6.8 goals above expected, a mark that ranked 13th in the league. That’s average starter territory and that’s exactly what Toronto needs him to be. At a cap hit of $4.7 million… he better be. That, and good health is crucial here. Given what the team just went through with Petr Mrazek, it’s pretty wild they would go right back to another often-injured netminder.

Overall, it’s not a totally bad bet considering Murray’s career numbers, but boy is it ever a risky one given Murray’s more recent history. There’s a reason he was shipped out of Pittsburgh in the first place and that’s thanks to a prolonged three-year slump after the two championships. In 2016-17, his first year as a starter, Murray saved 17.2 goals above expectations. His next three years in Pittsburgh saw him at minus-9.3, plus-2.8, and minus-15.1. That rough streak continued in his first season in Ottawa and in the five years since winning a Stanley Cup, Murray has been much more bad than good. Five years is a long time and in that time frame, Murray has the 10th worst goals saved above expected in the league.

The hope is that 14 games of hockey in 2021-22 fueled by a chip on his shoulder can bring Murray back to where he was six or seven years ago, but that’s an extremely dangerous game to play at this price point for a cap team. It’s not unreasonable, but there’s every possibility that Murray is just a replacement-level goalie and the Leafs will have squandered yet another year with this core. What then?

It just doesn’t feel like strong asset management, especially the return for what is essentially a cap dump. A third and the seventh don’t do anything here and getting only 25 percent of Murray’s salary retained is a very tough look. Good on the Senators for getting out of it and this is another big win for them in what has been a strong offseason. But for Toronto, it’s extremely disappointing.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see Murray bounce back at all, assuming good health, especially behind Toronto’s system. But at this price, it feels way too expensive to find out for sure.

Maple Leafs: D+
Senators: A-

Corey Pronman: Matt Murray has always stood out due to his frame and great hockey sense. When he’s on, he’s making difficult saves look simple due to great reads and puck tracking. His lateral quickness has never stood out to me, and as he’s aged his ability to make saves in the high percentage areas has dwindled. His time in Ottawa since signing that four-year contract at the start of the 2020-21 season has obviously gone poorly, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think he could rebound. His career save percentage is still .911, he’s had major high moments in his career, and his hockey IQ is a legit NHL starting goalie attribute. When I did my 2012 redraft a few weeks ago I placed Murray 24th, suggesting a fringe 1A, great 1B type of goalie which is what I expect going forward.

The price is high on that type of netminder. A subpar free agent goalie market doesn’t give Toronto many good options, but you would hope if you’re paying $4.68 million for a goalie there aren’t questions about whether he’s a legit No.1

For Ottawa to get out from under this deal is a positive even though it doesn’t help them win more games. I imagine goalie prospect Mads Sogaard may soon get an opportunity to show he can play NHL games, but there is a lack of clarity on a goalie of the future and they had to pay some draft capital to get out of that deal plus the salary retention for a franchise that doesn’t spend to the cap.

Senators: B+
Maple Leafs: B-

Shayna Goldman: The Maple Leafs have a strong team in front of the blue paint, and the hope is probably that their strengths can mask weaknesses in net. Maybe they only need league-average goaltending from Murray. But there is a legitimate question on whether he can deliver that, or even stay healthy. His injury history isn’t exactly great, and it’s what derailed his comeback last year after trending in the right direction.

Before that injury, Murray managed to play relatively well behind an awful Senators’ defense in his 20 NHL games last year. Now, he should have an easier workload in Toronto, but they’re betting on him being able to sustain that through an entire season. Last year’s stint in the NHL, after being promoted from the AHL, was his best performance in quite some time, after two straight awful seasons. While Murray had an average year in 2018-19, it’s been some time since he’s been a huge difference-maker in a positive way — since 2016-17.

So it’s a risky play for a pivotal position, especially during the next few seasons should be the Maple Leafs’ best window to compete considering the timelines of their star players. That said, two years of Murray at about $4.7 in cap space may be a safer risk to take versus a long-term contract for Jack Campbell with an average annual value that’s upwards of $5 million. The goalie market wasn’t doing this team any favors, and there were worse options out there. But the bar is pretty low and this is such an important season for this team.

The draft picks added to the return could give Toronto more trade assets to use either over the summer or at the deadline to tweak this roster wherever necessary. But for only 25 percent retention, maybe the Maple Leafs should have tried to squeeze Ottawa for a bit more because there’s still a chance Murray can’t bounce back with his new club and build on that progress from last year.

For the Senators, they got Murray off their roster and had to pay to do so. It’s not the best deal for them, but they have their starter in Anton Forsberg who did a fine enough job managing chaos this past year before signing a three-year extension. Now Ottawa needs a backup goalie to support him (or they can use the newly found cap space to address their defense so their goaltenders won’t be so busy).

Maple Leafs: C+
Senators: B

(Photo: Marc DesRosiers/USA Today)


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