Well, the Maple Leafs did it. After rumblings really started building, Toronto went off the beaten path with their goalie choice. In a trade that’s still surprising even with some warning, the Maple Leafs acquired Matt Murray in a trade from the Senators on Monday (yes, in 2022).
Crucially, the Senators only retained 25% of Matt Murray’s salary cap hit, instead of the maximum 50.
So, for the next two seasons, Matt Murray (28) carries a $4,687,500 cap hit. That full cap hit is written out for a reason. The Maple Leafs are a team facing salary cap challenges on a yearly basis, so every penny counts. They are wagering a ton of pennies on Matt Murray. Gulp.
The Maple Leafs also received some draft picks as part of the trade.
Maple Leafs receive: Matt Murray (25% off), a third-rounder in 2023, and a seventh-rounder in 2024.
Senators receive: “Future considerations.”
Those future considerations might include: “Hey, remember when we only had to retain 25% of Matt Murray’s contract to get out of the last couple years of his very, very risky and bad deal.”
But maybe Pierre Dorion will put his hand on the shoulder of a crestfallen Kyle Dubas down the line too?
Auston Matthews has two years left before UFA. If that's your window of contention, you've got to have a serious set of stones to spend those two years relying Matt Murray as your goaltender.
— Graeme Nichols (@6thSens) July 12, 2022
Let’s ponder a few defenses of the Maple Leafs’ trade for Matt Murray
Upon first hearing of a Matt Murray trade by the Maple Leafs, I … honestly couldn’t believe my ears.
But a not-insignificant portion of Maple Leafs fans and observers defended the idea of the deal. It almost started to sound reasonable, especially if the Senators boiled that cap hit closer to the low $3M range.
Matt Murray, traded to TOR with a 3x$4.7M cap hit, had some very tough years recently with PIT and OTT but had a nice run once he got healthy this year. Lots of upside but lots of risk too. #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/rtrgiSRL1s
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 12, 2022
Truthfully, I still wouldn’t have liked it. But with less-significant savings, the trade gets placed back in the “dubious” pile.
People were hitching their wagon to some solid stretches of play behind a very-not-solid Senators defense.
Matt Murray (traded along with his hefty contract and two late picks to Toronto) has, in twenty games this season, looked decent. pic.twitter.com/TIITTPQByK
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 12, 2022
Really, though, you risk talking yourself into a bad trade if you try to squeeze too much out of what Matt Murray did last season.
Most obviously, Matt Murray only played in 20 games last season. The previous year, he appeared in just 27.
While Matt Murray seemingly passed whatever physical tests were needed for the trade to be complete, I do wonder if the Maple Leafs are running the risk of making almost the same mistakes that they made with Petr Mrazek.
- Both goalies were coming off seasons of limited games played.
Sure, you can drool at Petr Mrazek’s .923 save percentage in 2020-21 (and 4.5 GSAA) with Carolina, but that was in just 12 games. Mrazek couldn’t hold the starting playoff job, even against a different goalie the Hurricanes moved on from.
Again, Matt Murray’s appeared in just 20, 27, and 38 games in the past three seasons. His numbers were pretty brutal in 2020-21 and 2019-20, to the point where it was very fair to wonder if he’d be out of the NHL entirely.
Instead, the Maple Leafs — a team with desperate contender aspirations — is depending on Matt Murray? Huh?
- Each goalie already carried serious injury concerns.
Just because Murray can technically play, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s in the right physical condition to be an important goalie. Mrazek’s injury issues didn’t just appear in Toronto, and it’s easy to imagine Murray facing serious health hurdles too.
And let’s be frank: when you’re investing almost $4.7M in salary cap space to a goalie, you’re not just expecting them to scratch and claw for every save.
You’re at least expecting league average goaltending, right? There’s only so much grace you can squeeze out of defenses like these:
There are currently 18 NHL goalies slated to carry a cap hit higher than Matt Murray's $4.68M next season. Presumably UFA's Jack Campbell and Darcy Kuemper will come in above that line, too.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) July 12, 2022
Goalies are strange, though
This Eric Engels tweet captures the vibe nicely:
I’m just going to say it: I don’t understand why Toronto wants Matt Murray.
I hope Matt Murray proves me and any other doubter wrong. I really just can’t see how this solves their goaltending situation.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) July 11, 2022
Goalies are unpredictable. Personally, I don’t hate the general aim of putting such a strong team in front of a goalie, that they almost “don’t matter.”
But that logic carries far more weight when that goalie is cheap. Will Matt Murray be better than a shaky option who might have been cheap, such as Braden Holtby or Jaroslav Halak (who both carry injury issues of their own)? Does his experience make him a better option than Ilya Samsonov?
That’s unclear. My preference would have been to go the trade route; coughing up assets would be worth it if you could get a lower-risk, higher-reward option like former Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer.
Also, if you go the one-year route, you gain more flexibility.
Maybe the Maple Leafs just stash Matt Murray on LTIR, and they essentially get a mulligan. Maybe Matt Murray shows that solid small sample size surges were legitimate (and that it didn’t matter how many of those appearances came when teams weren’t taking the Senators very seriously).
The Maple Leafs have done a lot right to try to build a contender, even if the playoff series wins haven’t been there. Yet, it’s debatable if they’ve truly earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to picking goalies.
With Matt Murray, the Maple Leafs are really going for it, and risking a lot that they’re correct with this trade. If nothing else, it will be fascinating to find out if this was the right move.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.