TORONTO – Kyle Dubas has often adhered to a slice of advice from his predecessor, Lou Lamoriello.
If you’ve got time, use it.
A quick and catchy phrase, to be sure. But in terms of managing your NHL assets, the sentiment is also flawed.
As the Toronto Maple Leafs played the field and held back overtures to their own Jack Campbell — arguably the best goalie still searching for a job and a guy who wanted to keep battling for a “Sooooup!”-chanting Leaf Nation – so many of the other tires they kicked sped off in alternate directions.
Ville Husso is a Red Wing. Marc-Andre Fleury is a Wild. Alexandar Georgiev is an Avalanche. Vitek Vanecek is a Devil.
How does Campbell feel when he hears his GM is exploring every possible option outside of him?
Dubas liked Campbell at $1.65 million. For $25 million over five years? Not so much.
The GM wants a deal. He craves value.
Campbell and Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper are poised to strike rich, longer-term deals in a competitive free agent market, especially with Edmonton (keen on Campbell), Washington (keen on Kuemper) and Buffalo (cap space to spare) aggressively hunting for saves too.
So, as Elliotte Friedman reported Sunday, Dubas has circled back to the possibility of trading for Matt Murray out of Ottawa.
This is how you try to talk yourself into the idea that Murray is the answer for Toronto’s net:
• Murray wants to be a Leaf. Or, at the very least, he’s willing to be a Leaf.
The Thunder Bay, Ont., native holds a 10-team no-trade list and vetoed a trade to Buffalo during the draft.
“It’s hard,” Sabres GM Kevyn Adams said. “I don’t want to get too much into specifics. The reality is, we worked hard on a deal. But players have the ability when it’s in their contract to make those decisions. And we want players who want to be here. That’s the way we believe, so we move on.”
Unlike, say, Anaheim’s John Gibson, Murray is willing to make the move — a four-hour westbound drive across the 401.
• There is a way to make his cap hit more digestible.
A questionable contract when signed, the Senators are still on the hook for two more seasons of Murray at a $6.25 million cap hit (and $15 million in real dollars).
So bad is the money that Murray went unclaimed on waivers in November. Senators GM Pierre Dorion is willing to retain salary on his third-stringer. Exactly how much is unknown.
Twenty-five per cent retained would bring Murray’s cap hit down to $4.69 million. Fifty per cent retained — which may require a third party — brings the Leafs’ cost to $3.125 million.
(Point of comparison: The Leafs just sacrificed draft position to get out from Petr Mrazek at $3.8 million for the same term.)
• Familiarity breeds confidence.
Both Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe worked with Murray when he was a Soo Greyhound about a decade ago. They know the character, and there is a belief that if anyone can summon a bounce-back performance out of the goaltender, it’s them.
Further, Leafs goalie evaluator and developer Jon Elkin — the key voice in the trade to acquire draft pick Dennis Hildeby Friday — goes even further back with the two-time Stanley Cup winner.
Call up the homepage of Elkin’s goalie school, and you’ll be greeted with a photo of Murray in his Penguins kit, tagged with this quote: “I’ve been attending Jon’s camp since I was 10 and still work with him today. He’s taught me sound fundamentals and what it takes to succeed.”
To drill home the argument, here’s an Elkin retweet from February:
For better or worse, this Leafs regime is high on loyalty.
Despite a lack of playoff success, extensions and promotions have been granted to core members of the roster, the coaching staff, and the brass.
If 2022-23 is indeed a last stand, Dubas is going out surrounded by people he trusts.
• What if Toronto gets away with just-OK goaltending?
We wonder how much Dubas’ offence-first philosophy was reinforced by Colorado’s Cup run.
Kuemper hoisted the chalice after just 10 wins and a .902 save percentage. The Avalanche, to an extent, outscored some weaknesses. And the Leafs — wielding the fourth-best offence (3.43 goals per game) — trust they can win the 4-3 game.
Dubas is a firm believer in the large sample size.
So even though Murray has been a sub-.900 goalie over the past three seasons, he’s a playoff performer with a .911 career saves rate.
• If Murray doesn’t work out, there is time to adjust.
Should a fresh start and open path to seize the net of a relevant team not inspire a return to form for Murray, Dubas could still re-evaluate mid-season and make a second trade.
Just because Murray starts in October doesn’t guarantee he starts in April.
Now that we’ve tried hard talking ourselves into a Murray trade being good for the Leafs, here is why we’re not sold.
Murray has not been an above-average goaltender for three seasons now. Multiple injuries (and, most concerning, concussions) have taken a toll on a former world-beater.
Here’s a list, via Fox Sports:
There is a reason Murray has tumbled to third on the depth chart of the Senators, who are aggressively shopping him as they aim to climb back into a playoff race in 2023.
Dubas took a similar chance on the injury-prone Mrazek. The move flopped. Hence his scouring of Murray’s medical reports before green-lighting a deal here.
While it’s unclear what other potential trade targets — Montreal’s Jake Allen? Minnesota’s Cam Talbot? San Jose’s James Reimer? — might take to acquire, we do like those options better.
What a great opportunity to roll out Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly.
What a waste of talent if they cannot be supported in their own end.
Even the most frightening offensive juggernauts can get unravelled by troublesome goaltending performances. (Just ask Dave Tippett.)
So even though the price on Murray might be friendlier than others on a shrinking list of options, he is three years removed from dependable starts.
There is another saying in sports: You get what you pay for.