Matt Murray’s career difficulties following his departure from the Penguins in October 2020 are continuing.
The Toronto Maple Leafs announced earlier this week that Murray will be added to the Leafs’ long-term injured reserve prior to the 2023-24 campaign.
Let’s hope, for the sake of Murray’s concussion history, that this is a move motivated by cap manipulation.
Murray has not played since suffering a head injury on April 2, although Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe described him as “healthy” during the playoffs.
There are plenty of reasons the Leafs might want to keep Murray sidelined for now, even if he is ready to play. By removing him from the active roster, the Leafs clear out almost $4.7 million of valuable space they need for new acquisitions like Tyler Bertuzzi and John Klingberg. The team already has another No. 1 goaltender ready to go, with Ilya Samsonov locked in through arbitration.
Either way, the move is not good news for Murray, whose career has been marred by uncertainty and missed time following his departure from the Penguins.
In two campaigns with the Ottawa Senators and one with the Leafs since, Murray has never topped 27 games in a season.
Lucas Raymond collides with Matt Murray— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) April 2, 2023
nasty fall pic.twitter.com/VsLay5lyqe
The list of reasons why Murray has missed time is extensive and concerning.
During the 2020-21 season, Murray suffered an upper-body injury in February and a lower-body injury in April. In 2021-22, the goaltender went through a non-COVID illness and head injury in October, a bout of COVID-19 in November, an undisclosed injury in February and a neck injury and post-concussion syndrome in March.
He suffered an abductor injury in October of the 2022-23 campaign, followed by an ankle injury in January and finally the head injury in April.
Penguins fans remember the series of injuries that routinely impacted Murray’s health and ability to play during his time in Pittsburgh. After a down 2019-20 campaign, the hope was that Murray would be able to regroup during a healthy season elsewhere.
That has not happened.
Although Murray has put up .900-plus save percentages over the last two seasons following two rough campaigns in the .890s, his solid games for Ottawa and Toronto have come too infrequently to get a good gauge on what his full-season outlook would be.
Considering that uncertainty, combined with the near impossibility of fitting in Murray’s salary under the Leafs cap, it seems likely Toronto’s plan is to lean on Samsonov next season with league-minimum-salaried Joseph Woll as backup, leaving Murray in cap limbo.
Whether a cap-circumvention measure or a reflection of Murray’s health, the Leafs’ move must be a difficult pill to swallow for a player who was looking at a first-string position in Toronto less than one year ago.