Time has run out for Matt Murray and the Maple Leafs

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
10 months ago
Another day, another Matt Murray injury. It’s a sad reality and one that I’m sure no one is less happy about than Matt Murray.
Saturday night, Murray played just over 16 minutes before being injured. It is the third injury of the year for Matt Murray who has missed time with a groin injury than an ankle injury. He’s been limited to just 26 games this year and while it was expected that reaching even the 50% mark of the starts for the Leafs would be a challenge for him, his reliability is only part of the problem when it comes to any concerns that exist for him heading into the postseason.
January 17th is the last day that Matt Murray had a five game save percentage above .900. In just four of the 12 games Matt Murray has played in calendar 2023 has he exceeded .900. When he has, he’s done so by a fair margin, but compared to eight games out of 14 above .900 to start the season, there has been a steep drop off and Murray’s numbers now closely mirror what he produced with the Senators last year.
A lot of the numbers that are celebrated about Murray, namely his .915 road save percentage are driven by his beginning of the year performance. His last five road outings have yielded Murray a .895 save percentage and a 2-3-0 record. If anyone was still talking about the benefit of home/away split duties in the playoffs should likely look at Murray’s decline and also look at his decline on the road as well.
I guess speaking of playoff usage to date this season it has only been Murray in net against the Lightning for the Leafs. The results work out to be somewhat positive as Murray and the Leafs have a 1-0-1 record against the Lightning with a 2.50 GAA and a .904 save percentage. The Leafs haven’t faced the Lightning since December 20th. It’s also worth noting those two games include a .947 save percentage and a .879 save percentage. Not that it’s very relevant but Murray’s lifetime against Tampa has him at a .895 save percentage in 10 games.
So here the Leafs are with a goaltender who isn’t performing and his health can be called into constant question. If he wasn’t a two time Stanley Cup winner with a .921 save percentage in the playoffs we probably wouldn’t be having any kind of conversation about Murray at all, Toronto would simply trust the net to Samsonov and try Joseph Woll as the backup. It’s worth noting that since those back-to-back cup wins in Pittsburgh to start Murray’s career, his save percentage in the playoffs dropped to .908, and .906, before briefly bouncing up to .914, and then Murray failed to make the playoffs the next two seasons. The Penguins were out in the first round in his Murray’s last two playoff appearances. This hasn’t killed the playoff narrative.

So what makes sense for the playoffs?

It needs to be Samsonov’s net. There isn’t any case for handing it over to Murray at all. Even if you like the road narrative, it changes if you look at the recent history. The same five game sample we looked at for Murray, Samsonov is better. He has a 3-2-0 road record with 1 shutout and a .901 save percentage. Not great, but better than what Murray was doing. Samsonov has a more recent post season appearance and his save percentage was .912. Not as good as Murray’s most recent result, but not so bad that you can make a case for Murray either.
As for who should be the backup, might I suggest a strategy that the 2016 and 2017 Penguins deployed, and that is trusting the young goaltender on a heater and going with Joseph Woll. Woll might only have eight career games to his name and only four of them have come this season, but four straight games of a .900 save percentage or better isn’t something that has come easily for any Leafs goaltender this season, and couple that with his .927 save percentage on the Marlies and he looks like a legitimate option. There is still time to get Woll a few more games in a Leafs jersey this season and see if he is someone Toronto can feel comfortable with.

What’s next for Murray?

I think there is no other option other than a buyout. (Maybe LTIR next season.)
Next year a Murray buyout would free up $4M for the Leafs before stinging a little in 2024-25. Neither cap hit warrants enough of a hit that it is worth paying another team to take on Murray for them, but I guess you can always explore trades as someone might gloss over the whole decline thing and just see a .903 save percentage and an expiring contract as a worthwhile risk. That seems like a ton of wishful thinking.
If the only two options available to the Leafs were to run back with Jack Campbell on a long term contract or give Matt Murray a try, Toronto made the right decision. And at moments it seemed like naysayers would be proven wrong on Murray as well. Alas, things didn’t go as planned and while the Leafs goaltender coaches did an admirable job, injuries are likely too much of a factor in Murray’s career and that is incredibly unfortunate for him as well as everyone who wanted to see him succeed.
The Leafs did find some level of success with Ilya Samsonov and now more than ever it’s time to steer into that. The playoffs are a big workload for another goaltender who has only had half a season of work, but Samsonov is the best option and arguably Woll is the best Plan B.
Data sourced from Hockey Reference and MoneyPuck

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