The Matt Murray era has been an unmitigated disaster in Ottawa. Since the Senators gave up a second-round pick and prospect Jonathan Gruden to acquire the up-and-down netminder from the Pittsburgh Penguins before the 2020-21 season and signed him to an unsubstantiated four-year, $25MM contract, they have seen almost all down and no up. Murray has a 10-18-1 record with an .892 save percentage and 3.35 GAA, easily the worst numbers of his career. The Senators ran out of patience with their overpriced and underperforming starter last week, placing Murray on waivers and, after he unsurprisingly cleared, reassigned him to the AHL’s Belleville Senators. It seemed like it could be the beginning of the end of a troubled relationship between team and player.
Yet, Pierre Dorion feels otherwise. The Ottawa GM made it clear when speaking with the media on Saturday that that Senators are not done with Murray. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun writes that Dorion stated definitively that Murray will play for the Senators again and Dorion expects that to come at some point this season. “He’s just got to find his game, not be under the NHL microscope,” Dorion said. “At some point in time he’ll be back with Ottawa.” Dorion added that Murray has had factors working against him during his time in Ottawa, including injuries and a change in goaltending coach, but that the team remains confident that he can return to form and re-gain a role on the NHL roster.
Seeing as the Senators don’t need the cap savings afforded by having Murray in the minors nor will they part ways with trade capital to move Murray, it does seem likely that the veteran netminder will play out his contract in Ottawa barring a buyout or mutual termination or a major shift in the status quo of his trade value. However, that does not mean that Murray’s welfare needs to take precedence for the rebuilding Senators. Murray’s replacement on the NHL roster is Filip Gustavsson and the well-regarded 23-year-old is much more important to Ottawa’s future than is Murray, as evidenced by the club’s decision to protect the former over the latter in the Seattle Expansion Draft this past summer. With Anton Forsberg playing well and NHL experience of vital importance to potential future starter Gustavsson, why rush Murray back this season? What is more is that Ottawa also has several other impressive prospects pushing their way through the system, such as Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese, who could also come into play next season and beyond and would seemingly be of greater importance than trying to force Murray to perform in the NHL. Unless Murray, at one point a budding star with an incredible postseason resume, can greatly improve his play – first in the AHL and then consistently in the NHL – Dorion and company should be careful not to confuse the priorities of a rebuilding team.