Matt Murray starts into the net on opening night of Maple Leafs
The NHL season starts tomorrow night actually (two starters in Prague don’t count, especially since they feature the Sharks), or as it’s known for most hockey around the world, “Six months does this affect the Leaf?” That’s right, the sport’s biggest soap opera, the question of whether the Leafs can make it into May, is set to kick off in Wednesday night.
Essentially, the Leafs are running it again, as there haven’t been many forward or defensive changes this year. Calle Jarnkrok was brought in to help raise the third lane, but that’s what it is. Other than that, it’s the lineup you already know and… know. Auston Matthews on the front row alongside Mitch Marner, John Tavares on Monday as he returns from injury, William Nylander avoids all the rotten vegetables Leafs fans throw at him while claiming he’s money high price leader who should be traded because he’s a guy who wasn’t born in Swift Current or London or anything. They’ll still try to make 3rd and 4th lines with whatever they pick up from empty office spaces and alleyways, possibly draft picks for veterans that no one else wants. but advertised as desperately wanting to go to Toronto.
The only change that people will notice is once again in the network. The place that used to be Freddy Andersen, who was later usurped by Jack Campbell, is now Matt Murray. And just like the previous two, our question should be “Um… are you serious about this?”
The Leafs themselves and their fans would counter that unlike Andersen and Campbell, Murray comes to the actual Cup pedigree. And it’s true. He’s won the title twice in a row, winning the Cup for the Penguins, and one of them made his full run back (he was halfway through his 2017 victory through injury). However, 2017 is looking far away in the rearview mirror, and Murray hasn’t really successfully negotiated the marathon of an 82-game regular season as both a starter and a finisher. . After that 2017 Cup, he took on the starting position for the Pens for two seasons and is average while making around 50 appearances. But he wasn’t good enough for the Penguins to convince them they shouldn’t give the job to Tristan Jarry, which they quickly did during the 2019-2020 season when Murray disbanded.
Murray was transferred to Ottawa before he had to be paid like a two-time Cup-winning goalkeeper like him, and things didn’t go well in Ottawa. During two seasons in the capital, though one of which was a COVID season that will never be mentioned again, Murray’s savings rate has failed to hit ,900. And he hasn’t started more than 25 games either. While the COVID season has been pretty rough for judging purposes, it doesn’t look like the Canadian league is full of celebrity heavyweights. And whenever Murray gets on the ice, he’s getting petty theft.
Last season may not be as bad as it seems at first glance. The .906 savings rate overall certainly leans towards the hard-to-handle without quite getting there, but in those 20 starts, Murray has saved 3.2 goals more than expected, thanks to the realistic nature of last season’s Sens. At a per-game rate, this is still just average for goals saved above expectations, but at least it’s representative.
It is curious, however, that the Senators, who were supposed to make a big leap this year with their off-season run, didn’t think Murray would provide the foundation for the new roster. their page to do so. Anton Forsberg last year was much better and healthier.
The Leafs, seemingly for their 17th consecutive season, will assume the rest of the team is good enough that they can pull through with just average scoring. If Murray can make all the saves he has to, they’ll be fine. They’ll point to last season’s Avs, who won the Cup with Darcy Kuemper putting out .902 in the knockouts, and then quickly let him focus on Caps in free agency, finding out anyone who also can put .902 when it’s the most annoying.
But Leafs are not Avs. While they can match the top lines with the champions, they don’t have the blue line like the Avs, at least not yet. They couldn’t push the gameplay into every shift as aggressively as Colorado, and Morgan Rielly wasn’t Cale Makar, no matter how much they wished it existed. Rielly is good, and maybe I’d better admit him because I love winning the Leafs, but today’s Cup champions come with a top man of the year. Is Rielly really like that?
The wildcard here is Rasmus Sundin, to whom the Leafs leaned a little controversial contract negotiations this season. Sundin’s stats from last year were pretty glittery, with an expected goal rate of 58.4% even with starting less than half of his shifts in the attacking area. Sandin will earn the highest four minutes? Do they have the stones to downgrade Jake Muzzin to the third pair to do so?
The Leafs always have a ticking clock, simply because of the heat of the fans and the pressure of the team each season. But this time things look more acute than before, as Matthews is in the final two years of his contract and another playoff could start some intriguing conversations about how long he wants to stay in Toronto. The same goes for Nylander. Big changes always seem to be promised for Toronto every season but will never happen after this season if they can’t explode in the first round again.
One thing that will happen for the Leafs is that the split has come back to them for a bit. Tampa added another Final-run to the odometer and lost Ondřej Palat. The Bruins are on a Spinal Tap reunion tour. The Panthers either trust Sergei Bobrovsky to keep it going for another season or let Spencer Knight take over during the rough times while also trusting the whole thing with one of the biggest idiots around who’s going on. continued to advance as Paul Maurice’s coach. The Leafs can win this division with ease and can end up beating a bad first game. Though that doesn’t do much compared to Montreal two years ago, does it? And the end of this league is creeping up, as Ottawa, Detroit, and even Buffalo will get better than they used to. Winning in this division will be exactly an amount before the knockout that the other divisions will not.
But it will still come to Murray at some point, whether he or the Leafs like it or not. The Leafs are a very good defensive team that is always appreciated in the fight whenever they beat a frog in the playoffs. And it’s been six years since Murray made stellar saves in the spring by the time these playoffs hit. It just takes a big unrealized savings to sink the whole thing. The Leafs have been trying to haggle for this spot in the basement for a while now, and this is their latest shot at it. If this doesn’t work, so what?