The chance that Matt Murray will stay with the Toronto Maple Leafs is slim to none; however, getting rid of his contract is going to take a miracle it seems. There are few trade possibilities and a potential buyout seems about the only way out.
When exploring trade possibilities for Murray, it’s starting to become evident that finding a partner might prove tough. There are only a limited number of teams with both the cap space and the motivation to take on Murray’s contract, even if the Maple Leafs sweeten the deal. Currently, the two teams that stand out are the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks.
That’s when Murray’s no-trade clause kicks in to further complicate things. As a result, a contract buyout would seem to be the most plausible outcome. That presents the Maple Leafs with salary cap issues; however, it also allows the team to allocate its player resources. Meaning they won’t lose a prized player in the deal.
The biggest job is to plan around the dead salary cap space ($2 million) for the 2024-25 season.
It would seem pretty clear right now, unless something radical is in the works (such as trading William Nylander), that as the team creates its regular-season roster, the two goalies will be Ilya Samsonov and Joe Woll.
Moving Murray’s contract is a challenging task, given the current landscape of NHL goaltending. But moving that contract has to be done sooner or later – and probably sooner. Without the salary-cap space, the Maple Leafs’ other player moves are limited.
When it comes to NHL goalies, most teams already have a goalie duo in place and are committed to their current netminders. Unless a team is simply bringing in Murray’s contract knowing they’ll never play him, there are limited trade options for Murray.
His salary-cap hit is large at a $4,687,500 contract. Most teams would rather allocate those funds toward finding a reliable goalie. And, for as good as Murray is when he’s healthy, sadly he wasn’t healthy that often last season.
With him being unable to play regularly, trade partners for Murray are reduced. Perhaps that leaves only the Blackhawks and the Ducks as the likely teams who would bring him on.
The Ducks have the cap space to take on Murray’s contract. However, they also have some rising stars who will need bigger contracts soon. These young talents include Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras, and Jamie Drysdale.
As well, given that the Ducks are rebuilding, they might not be looking to go anywhere higher than the salary-cap floor.
Because southern California is not a hotbed of hockey – unless there’s a winning team to watch – the Duck’s ticket sales would probably not easily cover Murray’s added salary. There’s no rush for them to add more costs to a team that isn’t pulling in the profit this season.
The Blackhawks could be a stronger likelihood for a trade. But they might want something the Maple Leafs don’t want to give up. The Blackhawks only have four NHL defensemen currently under contract. As a result, they could be seeking a defenseman who they could add to their roster.
The Maple Leafs would probably sacrifice Conor Timmins; however, they would likely not want to move Timothy Liljegren to the Blackhawks as the sweetener. Chicago might want more than the team would likely want to move.
Making the whole business of moving Murray even more complex is Murray’s no-trade clause (NTC). If he’s not interested in moving, either Chicago or Anaheim would need to be on his list of preferred destinations. One might think of southern California as a destination; but, Chicago might be iffy.
This NTC further narrows the options for a potential trade.
Given the challenges mentioned above, finding a trade partner and the added cost of a potential sweetener for any deal might make the Maple Leafs blink. As a result, buying out Murray’s contract seems increasingly likely.
The Maple Leafs would then have to strategize their plans around the $2 million dead cap space that would result from the buyout. But that comes during the 2024-25 season.
Perhaps, given the Maple Leafs’ number of expiring contracts next season, they would have the flexibility to navigate the situation.
But the whole issue is becoming increasingly complex. Whatever happens, might be a surprise.