On October 7th, 2020, the Ottawa Senators sent forward Jonathon Gruden along with a 2020 2nd round draft pick over to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for the services of goaltender Matt Murray — potentially, Ottawa’s goaltender of the future.
When GM Pierre Dorion gave him a 4-year, $25 million dollar extension less than a week later, the thought was that he had BETTER be the goaltender of the future.
In his first 12 games in a Senators’ uniform, Murray struggled to the tune of an .882 save percentage that accompanied a sieve-like 3.69 goals against average (GAA). Both marks were well below the career averages he put together in his first five seasons in Pittsburgh (.916 SV% + 2.58 GAA). When he was shelved just over a month ago with the dreaded “upper-body injury”, the entire fanbase was left wondering, if not doubting, what version of the young, but already decorated tendy they would be getting going forward.
After missing a month, Murray has returned to the crease and the early returns have been overwhelmingly positive. In his first game back, he stopped 32 of 35 pucks (.914 SV%). Then, of course, the shutout on Saturday versus the Habs and on Monday night, he put together his 3rd straight quality outing by denying 26 of 28 pucks en route to a 4-2 win.
Now, with the Seattle Kraken’s July 21st expansion draft just 3 months away, the time to speculate which goalie Dorion will take off the chopping block has arrived.
The expansion rules, via NHL.com: Current NHL teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie; or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie. All first and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection.
After getting his hands tied in the Vegas expansion draft and losing a valuable defender in Marc Methot, GM Pierre Dorion has his roster constructed in such a way this time around that most of his bases are covered. However, Murray’s absence opened the door to Joey Daccord, Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg, who were thoroughly impressive filling in, which may have caught Seattle's eye. Correspondingly, Dorion may not be able to skate by the expansion draft as easily as he originally envisioned.
Looking at Marcus Hogberg, this is a guy who began the year as the 2nd string goalie. I think seeing him backup Anton Forsberg not once, not twice, but three times this past week was a pretty good indication of how the organization views Hogie. Over the past 2 seasons, Hogberg’s .894 SV% places him only behind Malcolm Subban and Carter Hutton for the worst among active goalies. In 11 games this season, Hogberg’s .866 SV% makes it no surprise that, at 26 years of age, the Sens' 2013 3rd round draft pick now finds himself down towards the bottom of the pecking order.
Before a leg injury ended Joey Daccord’s 2020-2021 campaign prematurely, the 2015 7th rounder was making a believer out of me. Looking at the numbers, a couple of not so shiny outings (6 goals on 37 shots March 12 vs EDM) brought his SV% down to a sub .900 mark of .897.
Looking at his 8 starts individually though, getting torched by Draisaitl and McDavid is nothing to hang your head about, and it shouldn’t overshadow the fact that 6 of his 8 starts were superb as he stabilized a position that was in an extreme state of disarray. Not to mention he came off as a charismatic Bostonian, beloved by his teammates. So, at 24 years of age with promising characteristics on and off the ice, Joey Daccord will be an attractive option for Seattle. Although, coming off a major injury, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dorion was willing to roll the dice and instead protect one of his other netminders.
Perhaps Filip Gustavsson?
The Gus Bus has been another positive storyline from the 2020-21 season. A Penguins’ 2nd round draft pick in 2016, the Sens acquired Gustavsson as part of the Derick Brassard deal in 2018. After a couple of underwhelming seasons in Belleville, the 22 year old came into this season as the Sens' fourth string option.
Even after stumbling out of the gate in the minors, injuries opened the door for Gustavsson with the big club. In 4 starts, he dazzled to the tune of a .946 SV% as the Sens went 2-1-1 in front of him. Turning heads with an all-time cup of coffee, he has since continued that strong play down in Belleville (.917% in 11 games). As a 4 year pro, Gustavsson will be eligible in the expansion draft. Given the promise he’s shown this season, the pending RFA could be an attractive option for Seattle if Dorion leaves him exposed.
Despite the encouraging stretch Gustavsson put together, Dorion still had enough incentive (given the injuries) to go out and acquire Anton Forsberg, a journeyman tendy in his 10th pro season. In 6 games with Ottawa, he is 2-3-1 with a .910 SV%. His serviceable play, coupled with some added experience, allowed him to quickly gain favour with head coach DJ Smith, who has consistently giving Forsberg the nod over Hogberg. All that being said, Forsberg is a pending UFA and doesn’t figure to be on Seattle’s expansion radar.
So there you go. 5 goalies and one protection slot available. Coming into the season, Pierre Dorion I’m sure figured he would just protect Matt Murray and that would be that. As it stands right now, I’d imagine that’s where he’s leaning, but the play of those in his absence (along with his poor start this season) makes it a much more interesting conversation.
The fact of the matter is, the Sens just can’t afford to enter next season with uncertainty between the pipes. Realistically, their playoff hopes are tethered to that position. Essentially, the only way for the Sens to enter 2021-22 with a fair amount of confidence in their goaltending would be if Matt Murray continues to play well down the stretch. As good as Daccord and Gustavsson were in limited action, that would ideally be more of a 3-way battle for the backup spot between them and Hogberg (if he’s still with the organization). Of the 5 goalies Ottawa has on their roster, only one guy has put together sustained success at the NHL level. And that would be Matt Murray. Plain and simply, when Dorion gave that extension to Murray before the season started, it was more or less an acknowledgment that he HAS to be the guy.
As we know all too well, starting goalies don’t grow on trees. Therefore, when you take a big swing in the trade market and acquire one, you can’t afford for that guy to not pan out.
All that being said, you don’t necessarily have to protect him. Given the price tag Dorion attached to him — even if he stops every shot from now until the end of the season — I'm not sure Seattle will be confident enough in his ability to take on that kind of money.
Pierre Dorion has to weigh risk vs reward. If you tempt fate and leave Murray exposed in an effort to keep, say, Joey Daccord off the chopping block, then the obvious risk would be if Dorion misread the room and wound up losing his starting netminder.
It’s worth noting that there’s a better-than-good chance none of Ottawa’s netminders get claimed by the Kraken. Names like Antti Raanta, David Rittich, Petr Mrazek, and Pavel Francouz promise to be available, and Seattle will almost certainly seek out established options in net. But the expansion draft doesn’t figure to be a place where you take a flyer on a young guy. Playing it safe by not adding Murray to the list of veteran goalies available would be, in my opinion, the wise move for the Senators.
I’ll wrap up with an exercise I do all the time: What’s the worst case scenario?
To me, seeing Matt Murray drafted and potentially playing well with Seattle while the Sens consistently lose 6-5 would be a tough, tough pill to swallow. For Dorion, the guy making the decision, he would almost certainly lose his job if that turned out to be the case.
Personally, I don’t get the sense Dorion is a dumb person. Nor do I think he has self destructive tendencies. Losing Matt Murray and watching him flourish in Seattle? That would be self-sabotage in its purest form.
By Cam Clement | Sens Nation Hockey