Originally, I had written a pre-emptive piece wondering why the rush to get Matt Murray off the books. Of course, I couldn’t write it fast enough as, prior to getting published, the Senators pulled the trigger on a deal to part ways with the 28-year-old goaltender on Monday night. Below is a modified postmortem version of my view of the deal where a number of the questions still remain the same.
I don’t know about all of you in Sens Nation, but since the Senators acquired Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks just prior to the 1st round of the NHL Amateur Draft, my optimism for the future of this franchise has gone up 100-fold.
The consensus in fan and media circles alike, is that Pierre Dorion got a great bounty for the 7th and 39th picks in this year’s draft and the 3rd rounder he parted with in 2024’s priority selection. While it can take a number of years to truly assess who won a trade, Dorion needed to do something to generate season’s ticket interest and to send a message to his team’s core that he was listening in the exit interviews. Mission accomplished.
In a world where a bird in the hand is typically better than two in the bush, he delivered a player who has played 82 games three times in his five NHL seasons and in two of those, he scored 41 goals. One of the other two seasons was the Covid-19 shortened season where he played 51 of 56 games.
Interestingly, media reported about three hours prior to this announcement, that the 7th overall pick that was sent to Chicago, was originally intended as a first-round swap with Buffalo for their 16th overall pick along while retaining an unknown amount of salary to unload goalie Matt Murray. Murray did his then employer the greatest favour by refusing to waive his 10 team no-trade, which included the Sabres, thus initiating plan B.
Fast forward four days, and Murray has now been dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 3rd round pick in 2023 and a 7th round pick in 2024 with Ottawa retaining 25% of Murray’s remaining $15 million salary and $12.5 million cap hit over the next two years. Compensation to Ottawa will come in the form of future considerations.
Again, the general consensus in fan and media circles is that Dorion is bordering on GM of the year for his work and that Dubas has been fleeced. Without seeing Murray play in a Leafs uniform, I find that to be slightly premature. There was a time when Matt Murray was an elite goalie in the league. He played like an elite goalie for very brief periods as a Senator. If his health concerns are behind him, and he returns to form, he is a bargain at the price the Leafs will be paying him and Dorion will feel like Andy Garcia in Ocean’s 11. How likely is that? It’s hard to say. That said, he is now a divisional opponent playing for a strong team. If he plays like the Matt Murray who played for the Senators and spends most of his time in sick bay, then Dorion made out like Danny Ocean instead. Both options are plausible.
Taking it back to before the trade….
Here's the problem. How the initial deal that was negotiated with the Sabres took precedence to the DeBrincat deal, has me scratching my head. Now that Murray has been dealt, I will take it a step further wonder aloud why the Senators were in such a hurry to move Matt Murray anywhere much less a divisional opponent? Apparently, they were in such a rush to do so that they were prepared to retain an unknown amount of his annual cap hit and pay a top 10 1st round pick for the pleasure of doing so. Thankfully, the Leafs deal wasn’t so generous. However, I still feel like we did a divisional opponent a favour.
I agree that the ship on Murray being the number one goalie in Ottawa and leading them to the promised land had sailed. He has struggled with play, injuries, been waived and he quashed a trade. That spells toxic relationship in just about any language. I understand why the team didn’t want him around, and I also understand why Murray would want to move on. I further understand why he would not want to take his act to Buffalo. I would have refused to waive my NTC for that deal too.
Trent Mann was on record as saying that options continued to be explored to move Murray and that Murray was fully aware of this. Transparency is refreshing, isn’t it?
Here’s my concern. Perhaps I am alone in my way of thinking, however, I saw Dorion as being in the driver’s seat and deals within the division that help opponents need to come at a cost to them and not the Senators. Dorion needed to realize that it’s him that is doing any team a favour by providing cost certainty for the next two years at $6.25 million cap hit per season for a goalie who is 28 years old with two Stanley Cup rings.
The Leafs, and others in a cap crunch needing a goalie, wanted to get that done before unrestricted free agency starts and bidding wars push the cost of available goalies out of their remaining cap range. Colorado’s deal with the Rangers to acquire and extend Alexander Georgiev of the New York Rangers is a prime example of that. The Leafs had just under $10.25 million left prior to the deal. They now have just over $6.36 million left to extend Rasmus Sandin and find a back-up goalie for Murray. They were already on record that Ilya Mikheyev will not be returning. Jack Campbell is going to test free agency. Darcy Kuemper is the only goaltender available in free agency with Stanley Cup Pedigree and the Leafs would not have been able to afford him and retain other assets. In terms of goalies with Cup pedigree, Matt Murray was the only other one out there being made available. Yes, he comes with health concerns. Hey, that’s what LTIR is for isn’t it? If Murray comes up lame again, the Leafs have the financial resources to use that loophole and backfill Murray with someone else.
This is precisely what I would have been telling potential suitors, especially the Leafs. If they balked at the idea, then lots of luck, fellas.
Let’s examine option two. There were multiple options available. The Senators had $20.7 million in available cap space prior to the deal after the Colin White buyout and taking on DeBrincat’s $6.6 million hit for the coming season. Granted, now they have just under $23.7 million. The previous amount of $20.7 million was more than enough to get Norris done, decide how to proceed with Formenton and Brannstrom and acquire a top four defenseman in free agency. They should have had enough in the kitty when all that was done to start thinking about Artem Zub’s and Tim Stutzle’s extensions for next season.
The Senators could have held onto Murray until camp and let potential suitors watch him in pre-season and see how his health is. Let the Leafs and Oilers try to figure out their goaltending woes by not being able to sign Darcy Kuemper and overpaying an unproven Jack Campbell. Obviously, teams don’t want to wait until the eve of the season to resolve their goaltending concerns. Dorion’s timeline was not and should not have been their timeline. He could have afforded to wait. The teams looking to avoid free agency bidding wars were the ones up against it. It would have taken some nerve, but teams might have loosened up if Murray had passed his physical, made it through training camp and played well in the pre-season. Then the price for Murray would have gone up and not down. If Murray’s health had faltered, LTIR is also an option for the Senators and, need I remind everyone, we have two other goalies on one-way deals in Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson. They would have been under no obligation to replace his cap hit and the insurance company would have picked up 80% of the tab.
That’s not a bad plan B as the team is no worse for ware on the ice, marginally worse for ware off the ice by paying 20% of Murray’s $7 million salary for the coming season. The option also would have made other cap strapped teams succumb to lesser options with no Stanley Cup pedigree or pay more to acquire Murray. Easier said than done I will concede. Still a viable option in my view.
Plan C would have been the least desirable option, but still very viable. If Murray’s health held up and no trade is made, the Senators are still cap compliant with three goalies on the roster. Again, it’s not ideal. However, the idea of moving Murray to a divisional opponent and retaining 25% of salary and giving up multiple picks to help the Leafs land a 28-year-old two-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender who could regain his form is nauseating to contemplate. Helping them be cap compliant to meet other requirements also feels like we did them a favour.
Murray would have started the season on the understanding that he is playing himself into a trade. It’s in his best interests to play well and garner interest from teams to show them he is back and good to go. Every season, more than one number one goalie goes down. Obviously, if he had played inconsistently, there wouldn’t have been much of a trade market for him. The Senators may have had to waive him again, which would have surely caused some hard feelings like it did last year. I am way beyond worrying about what athletes who underperform in their jobs and still get paid millions of dollars really care. I am not insensitive to people regardless of their income, but this is a business.
The ball would have been in Murray’s court and my guess is, if he is healthy, he will deliver, and he can be moved at fair market value rather than as damaged goods.
As a fan who believes in Murphy’s Law, you need to plan for the worst. There is risk in this deal for the Senators. Let’s try to imagine what Future Considerations means. If the worst happens and the Leafs get the Murray of 2016-17 who won a Cup and beat the Senators in the playoffs doing it, those Future Considerations had better be very considerate.
Here’s what I am thinking:
1) Leafs miss the playoffs/Murray plays less than half the games in either season – return the 7th round pick from 2024 draft.
2) Leafs make the playoffs/Murray plays half the games or more in either season – Sens get Leafs 4th round pick in 2024
3) Leafs win a playoff round/Murray plays half the games or more in either season – Sens get Leafs 3rd round pick in 2024
4) Leafs win two playoff rounds/Murray plays half the games or more in either season – Sens get Leafs 2nd round pick in 2024
5) Leafs win conference final/Murray plays half the games or more in either season – Sens get Leafs 1st round pick in 2024
6) Leafs win the Stanley Cup/Murray plays half the games or more in either season – Sens get Leafs 1st round pick in 2024 and 2025.
I know that’s not likely. However, teams attach lottery insurance to draft pick trades all the time and they do it to plan for the worst possible outcome. I sincerely hope Dorion did that here.
In so far as saying Pierre Dorion has had a great week by buying out Colin White, moving picks to acquire DeBrincat and getting Murray off the books, let’s temper that somewhat. It takes no skill to buyout a player who was signed to a bad contract that didn’t pan out. The DeBrincat deal seems like a fine piece of work, regardless of the outcome. It checks all the boxes and makes sense on many levels. Matt Murray was not only a signing that didn’t pan out, but he was also a trade of a 2nd round pick to acquire.
What we know from the past two seasons is that Pierre Dorion can keep the Titanic afloat. Now he needs to stop running into icebergs.
Murray needed to be moved. He just needed to move when it made sense for the Sens to move him and at a price that won’t make the organization regret it. Perhaps that is what took place. Let’s revisit this in December.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey