TORONTO – A resounding win for the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ salary cap compliance will surely raise questions about the nature and severity of a Matt Murray injury that will sideline the goaltender indefinitely.
The Maple Leafs announced Wednesday that Murray would be placed on long-term injured reserve prior to the start of the 2023-24 season, the final one on Murray’s contract with the club.
While general manager Brad Treliving had cracked a second buyout window this week, thanks to Ilya Samsonov‘s filing for arbitration, teams are prohibited from buying out injured players.
A Murray buyout would’ve cost the penny-counting Leafs $687,500 against their cap this season and $2 million the next.
So, while Murray’s official health status has turned for the worse from May, his unavailability will help the team paying him $4.69 million to not tend goal duck under the salary ceiling on opening night.
Suffice it to say, Murray’s history with concussions has taken a serious toll. He will not be ready to play any time soon, we’ve learned.
Treliving declined to comment on Murray’s health when reached by Sportsnet Wednesday afternoon, noting that it’s a private matter for the player.
The cheques will keep rolling in, but a proud athlete is paying a mental levy here.
Murray is a two-time Stanley Cup champion who arrived in Toronto last fall as the presumptive Number 1. After suffering a trio of injuries (abductor, ankle, head), he was passed over in favour of Ilya Samsonov and, later, prospect Joseph Woll when the games mattered most.
“That’s when you want to be playing especially,” Murray said, following elimination. “My role in coming back from the concussion was just to do whatever was asked me to help the team win. At the end of the day, that’s my No. 1 focus, helping the team win. So, that’s where my head’s at.”
How Murray helps the Leafs win today is quietly joining Jake Muzzin on LTIR.
A buyout hurts the books. An insistence on ice time forces another move. A salary-dump trade borrows from the picks-and-prospects pool.
“Matt Murray is a good goalie. I think we’d all agree the biggest challenge has been availability,” Treliving said last month in Nashville.
What’s curious to those outside the doctor’s office is that, although he had not played since his April 2 concussion, Murray appeared to be trending in an encouraging direction.
“He’s been cleared. He’s healthy,” head coach Sheldon Keefe announced prior to Game 4 of Toronto’s second-round series versus Florida, during which Murray sat on the bench as Woll’s backup.
Murray himself struck a positive tone on locker cleanout day in mid-May.
“I felt great. I was using practice time at the end of the year as games almost. All of my practices were very focused, and [I] felt great in practice,” Murray said then.
“I was ready to go if called upon. Again, my role was to do whatever is asked me to help the team win. That’s what I did.”
Murray posted a 14-8-2 record with a .903 save percentage in his 26 appearances for the Maple Leafs. Not nearly as much work as either he or former GM Kyle Dubas envisioned.
“Yeah, it’s been difficult. I think it’s a time for reflection, some introspection, try to figure out what you could have done better,” Murray said in May. “A lot of ups and downs.”
At that time, the 29-year-old said he planned to attack another summer of training, to rediscover the form and consistency of those strong runs of starts, now drifting farther apart.
“I loved my summer last year when I came in, so the plan is for more of the same,” Murray said.
“My goal is to maintain kind of a level that I was playing in November and December and trying to maintain that all season. I think if I can do that, I’ll be in really good shape.”
Good shape, ultimately, has proven the undoing here.
Murray’s list of documented ailments and injuries features 15 separate entries between late 2017 and April 2, possibly his final appearance in a Leafs uniform.
Plenty mention the head.
It’s no stretch to imagine a medical team advising the goaltender to avoid contact sport.
Where this LTIR slide leaves Murray’s career is an answer for another day.
Where it leaves Treliving’s Maple Leafs, with a trim or two on the fringes, is cap compatible and relying on a very cost-effective (if relatively unproven) $4.3-million tandem of Samsonov and Woll to backstop Toronto into contention.