Murray trade to Maple Leafs could be big gamble for GM Dubas

“I’m just super, super excited,” the goalie said. “I just wanted to get that off my chest right away.”

Perhaps Murray was trying to calm the waters in Toronto, where the trade certainly raised more than a few eyebrows. After all, he had five wins last season and is coming to a team that enters every season hoping to capture its first Stanley Cup championship since 1967.

And though Murray may have taken some heat off himself by declaring how excited he is to play for the Maple Leafs, only a strong performance from him can keep the heat off general manager Kyle Dubas.

The Maple Leafs acquired Murray in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on Monday. With Jack Campbell expected to leave Toronto when the free agent market opens Wednesday, it appears Murray will be their No. 1 goalie next season.

If the 28-year-old can recapture the form that helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, this trade could be a steal for the Maple Leafs. But if Murray continues to struggle like he did in two seasons with Ottawa, the move could determine the future of Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas.

Dubas was named GM on May 11, 2018. Since then, the Maple Leafs have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs all four seasons, and they set their single-season records for most points (115), victories (54) and home wins ( 31) in 2021-22.

As impressive as that resume is, the Maple Leafs have not advanced to the second round in that span. In fact, the Maple Leafs and the Seattle Kraken are the only two teams not to have won a playoff round since the NHL salary cap era started in 2005-06.

The Kraken are an expansion team that has been in the NHL for one season. The Maple Leafs have been playing since 1917.

Video: NHL Tonight on the Maple Leafs getting Matt Murray

Frederik Andersen was Toronto’s No. 1 goalie for the first two seasons of the Dubas regime and went 65-29-14 during the regular season from 2018-20. But he was 5-7 in the postseason, with the Maple Leafs being eliminated by the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets. He signed with the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent after the 2020-21 season.

Toronto acquired Campbell in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 5, 2020, when Andersen was out with a neck injury. He went 51-14-9 during the regular season for the Maple Leafs but was 6-8 in the playoffs in series losses to the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rather than re-signing Campbell or trying to sign Darcy Kuemperwho helped the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup last month, the Maple Leafs traded future considerations for Murray, a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and a seventh-round selection in the 2024 NHL Draft.

Ottawa will retain 25 percent of Murray’s salary, which means the average annual value of his contract, which has two seasons remaining, for Toronto is $4.688 million. That is more than that of Marc-Andre Fleury ($3.5 million AAV), who signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, and just below that of City Husso ($4.75 million AAV), who signed a three-year, $14.25 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings after he was traded from the St. Louis Blues on Friday.

Are the Maple Leafs a better team with Murray than they were with Campbell and Andersen? Or than they would have been with Kuemper, Husso or Fleury?

Judging by the trade, Dubas is betting they can be.

Final judgment might have to wait until the postseason and can’t be made fairly at least until Dubas’ work on the roster is completed in free agency, a process that could very well see Toronto end up with another goalie for depth purposes.

Either way, the gamble on Murray seems to be a big one, especially when you take recent history into account.

In 2020-21, his first season with the Senators, Murray was 10-13-1 with an NHL career-worst 3.38 GAA and .893 save percentage in 27 games (25 starts). He began this season 0-5-0 with a 3.26 GAA and .890 save percentage before being placed on waivers Nov. 27 and assigned to Belleville of the American Hockey League the following day. He eventually was recalled and ended up finishing 5-12-2 with a 3.05 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games for the Senators.

Though he was cleared medically by the Maple Leafs prior to the trade becoming official, his recent string of injuries can’t be ignored. He played 47 games over the two seasons with the Senators, limited by various items, including a concussion that ended his 2021-22 season.

The Maple Leafs are banking on their familiarity with Murray as a key in getting him back to form.

He played three seasons with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League while Dubas was general manager there, and Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe coached him there for two seasons. Jon Elkin, the Maple Leafs head of goalie evaluation and development, has been Murray’s personal coach since the goalie was 10.

In his NHL career, Murray is 132-78-22 with a 2.77 GAA and .911 save percentage in 246 regular-season games (238 starts). But he is 35-36-8 with a 3.06 GAA and .899 save percentage since the start of 2019-20 after going 97-42-14 with a 2.62 GAA and .917 save percentage his first four seasons.

Prior to the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft last week, Dubas was asked about his job security and how contingent a successful 2022-23 season, including postseason success, was to that.

“I think it’s a fair question,” he said. “I feel [my job is] on the line every year and I’m judged at the end of every season. I don’t necessarily feel there’s more of a pressure [now].

“It is a very important thing for me personally to help deliver for the organization.”

He’s counting on Murray to do just that.

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