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NHL - US Sports: Is Matt Murray the answer in goal for Toronto?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have made one of the most debated about moves of the NHL off-season acquiring netminder Matt Murray from the Ottawa Senators to be their number-one in place of Jack Campbell who signed as a free agent for the Edmonton Oilers.

Murray began his career in sensational style winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since then, injuries and a lack of consistency have plagued him and brought doubts about whether he can ever reach his rookie levels again.

It's a risky move for the Leafs, but one if it works out could prove a masterstroke. But which way will it go?

Shot to fame

Murray was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third round of the 2012 draft and after standing out with their AHL affiliate he was awarded his first NHL start in December 2015. 

He ended the debut season by dislodging Marc-Andre Fluery from the Penguins goal, starting 21 times in the playoffs, registering a 15-6 record to win the Stanley Cup. He had a .923 save-percentage and 2.08 goals-against-average (GAA).

The following season, Murray was crowned champion again splitting duties with Fleury to become the first rookie goalie to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. In 10 starts he went 7-3 and had a .937 save-percentage and 1.70 GAA.

Downward spiral

Murray was also sensational in the 2017/18 playoffs, recording the longest playoff shutout streak in Penguins franchise history at 225:49 and became the fastest goalie to reach 25 playoff wins in NHL history. 

However, in 2018/19 it all began to unravel and is where the questions marks about his health and ability to be an NHL number one all stem from.

Multiple concussions and several other injuries saw Murray miss significant time and his numbers fall.

In 2020, the Penguins gave up on him dealing him to the Ottawa Senators where the same issues have followed him.

Over two seasons with the Senators, Murray started just 45 out of a possible 138 regular season games (33 percent), 20 of which were last season. He had a 5-12-2 record, .906 save-percentage and 3.05 GAA. 
Murray, who is now 28, ended his time with the Senators with a six-game losing streak, giving up 13 goals in his final two games.

His last game came on 5th March, before he was sidelined for the remainder of the season. 

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Why the risk?

With much competition for available goalies this off-season, after deciding to move on from Campbell and Mrazek, the Leafs were left with limited options and all of which carried some level of risk. 

Murray comes with a $6.25million cap hit and despite the Senators retaining 25%, questions have been raised about the value he can offer over the two years remaining on his contract. 

The answer is that General Manager Kyle Dubas knows Murray well, as does Head Coach Sheldon Keefe from their time together at the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL.

They like his character, have done their own health checks, and likely feel with a much better defence structure in place and on a team with genuine Stanley Cup aspirations that he can bounce back.

Can Murray bounce back?

The reality is that only time will tell. Even though Murray has been a sub-.900 goalie over the past three seasons, Dubas prefers to look at the bigger picture and his .911 performance in the playoffs and two cup rings is certainly a major attraction. 

Despite pushing the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions to seven games and earning favourable reviews about their performance in the recent playoffs, the Leafs have still not managed to win a series since 2004. 

The Leafs had the sixth-best expected goals against last season, but their goaltending from Campbell and Mrazek was ranked 22nd and the worse among playoff teams other than the Washington Capitals. 

In a far better situation, with the trust of his bosses, Murray's numbers should improve. 

Saying he feels "extremely motivated" with "lots to prove", Murray has shown that he can perform when it matters most but that was some time ago. 

To demonstrate his championship winning form again and re-pay Dubas' faith, Murray needs to stay healthy, something for which there is just no guarantee. 

Samsonov in support

To reduce the Murray risk, the Leafs have also added 25-year-old Ilya Samsonov on a one-year, $1.8million contract from the Capitals.

In 44 games (39 starts) with Washington last season, Samsonov went 23-12-5 with a .896 save-percentage and 3.02 GAA. In the playoffs he made five appearances (four starts) with a .912 save-percentage and 2.97 GAA. 

Over four seasons with the Capitals and 89 career regular season games, the Russian has a record of 52-22-8 with a .902 save-percentage and 2.81 GAA. 

He has a .907 save percentage and 2.98 GAA in eight career playoff appearances.

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