Just 10 months and 33 games into a four year contract worth $25 million, the Senators have seen enough of goalie Matt Murray – for now, at least. They're apparently placing him on waivers on Saturday afternoon.
The two-time Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh (2015-16 and 2016-17) was acquired by the Senators last October in a trade for forward prospect Jonathan Gruden and a second-round draft pick in the 2020 NHL Draft (G Joel Blomqvist). The Sens signed Murray to his contract just a few days later and he made his Ottawa debut on opening night this past January.
In general, it was hard not to get excited about a new goalie with two Stanley Cup rings who's still so young. But you know what they say when something seems to good to be true.
To their credit, the analytics crowd was hollering loudly from day one about the poor state of Murray's game back in Pittsburgh. Every beat writer in Pittsburgh will tell you Murray had been regressing for a while. The Sens should have stopped a little longer to consider those numbers and ask the questions, "Why is Pittsburgh willing to move on from this guy?" "Why should we be willing to sign him to a long term deal if Pittsburgh isn't?"
The Sens obviously believed the Penguins wanted to save money, let their premier goalie walk in free agency, and go with the cheaper Tristan Jarry. Historically, that's exactly how the Senators would have handled a situation like that. Not unreasonably, they also bought into the theory of, "He's young. He's done it before and he can do it again now for us."
But who knows what's happened to Murray along the way. He might not even know. Some have suggested he hasn't been the same since the passing of his Dad. Others maintained he lost some confidence when those awesome Pittsburgh championship teams – that could insulate any goalie – began to fade. If that's the case, the rebuilding Ottawa Senators with their perpetual rebuild, an inexperienced head coach, and a blue line laced with either bargain bin veterans or kids learning on the job, have been exactly the wrong place for a fallen star goalie to figure things out.
Regardless of how we arrived here, Murray is the club's third best goalie and simply hasn't earned the right to keep his NHL spot. And if he has any chance to rediscover his NHL form – something he lost long before leaving Pittsburgh – he needs to play. He's still only 27. Perhaps he can regain his confidence and sort himself out at the lower level.
It also makes sense financially. There's always a chance another club has the same thought process Ottawa did last October. The Senators are the NHL's last place team, after all, so any club that puts in a claim will fancy themselves as better options for Murray's possible resurrection. But it isn't likely, not with that contract.
Murray will likely wind up in the AHL with Belleville, but the Senators can't wait on him for long. This club has a wealth of intriguing young goalies. If Murray doesn't start to show he has a chance to be a number one goalie again, all he's doing is blocking the development of others.
Placing Murray on waivers is not a bad hockey move. But in the eyes of Eugene Melnyk, it does shine the spotlight on yet another poor, costly decision by GM Pierre Dorion and his staff. And it does mean Melnyk may be staring down the barrel of yet another buyout.
It feels today like this move has lit the fuse. And it brings us to the Sens' shaky pyramid of power.
Like a curious toddler, Melnyk's fingerprints are always all over everything, including things he shouldn't be touching. He'll ignore any role he has in this mess and simply be outraged over the standings and performance, particularly after the recent opening of the vault for White, Chabot, Dadonov (now gone), Murray, Batherson and Tkachuk.
Only 12 active NHL general managers have been on the job longer than Dorion, who took over in 2016. In his first season, the club went to the conference final. Since then, they've missed the playoffs every year, sometimes by design, and usually by many miles. Meanwhile, you've got an ambitious assistant GM in Pierre McGuire, hired by the owner. McGuire didn't move here to be Dorion's long-term assistant. He wants to be the next GM.
And then you've got a head coach in DJ Smith who seems like a nice guy but there's been nothing yet to indicate he'll emerge as a good NHL head coach. Smith has had junior success, but just like players, that's no guarantee of success at the NHL level. As a friend said to me this week, one of the biggest issues this club is that the coaching position is treated like an expense when it should be thought of as an investment. Maybe one day Melnyk will discover a coaching diamond in the rough that way, and maybe Smith is that guy. But chances are he is not. For one, his player evaluations, young and old, have not been great. He's been slow to embrace young players who are ready (Zub, Brannstrom, Thomson, Gustavsson) and slow to cut bait on veterans.
Meanwhile, it's almost gotten to the point right now where the Senators should steer clear of unrestricted free agents or players about to become UFAs. Their pro scouting staff has missed the mark far too often. And the best UFA's want to go where the money is and where they can win.
In both cases, that's not Ottawa. Not right now. And things sure look like they're about to come to a boil.
By Steve Warne | Sens Nation Hockey