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Matt Murray's conditioning loan an unmitigated disaster so far


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Mike Armenti
April 18, 2024  (11:34)
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Matt Murray practicing with the Maple Leafs
Photo credit: Sportsnet

Last week, we saw the Toronto Maple Leafs assign goaltender Matt Murray to a conditioning loan with the AHL's Toronto Marlies, which was a huge step forward in his recovery from bilateral hip surgery.

Murray was believed to have been dealing with a lingering issue with his hips for some time prior to finally going under the knife. Last summer, it was believed that the Maple Leafs would potentially look to buy out the final year of Murray's contract, but when it was announced that he'd be headed to LTIR instead, there were many accusations being tossed around about the Leafs potentially circumventing the cap. However, when it was finally revealed that Murray would miss the entire 2023-24 season, the talk surrounding cap circumvention quieted considerably. Until, that is, he began practicing with the Leafs almost a month ago.
The timing couldn't have worked out any better for Murray and the Leafs, as his conditioning loan lined up perfectly with the end of the season. Thus far, Murray has made it into 2 games for the Marlies, with the ability to play at least one more before his loan ends. The Leafs do, however, have the option to request an extension of up to additional games beyond the original 3, which would mean that he could play in each of the Marlies' two final games of the season. As the
Leafs' current 4th string netminder, he's unlikely to see any play in the postseason, but stranger things have happened and injuries do occur, so giving Murray as much runway as possible here is important.
In Murray's first outing with the Marlies, he was able to secure a win, albeit a sloppy one. Everyone, I'm sure, was expecting his first game back in over a year to be a rough one, but allowing 5 goals on 27 shots may have been a little rougher than expected. Still, a win is a win and they never ask "how?", just "how many?".
Murray had his second appearance of the season with the Marlies last night, only this time, he wasn't able to hold it together for the win, dropping a 3-1 decision to the Rochester Americans. There was one Rochester goal in specific that he probably wants back.
With Murray carrying a 1-1-0 record to begin his conditioning loan, all eyes will be on the 29-year-old to see what he can accomplish in his 3rd and final game, unless the Leafs opt to request an extension. So far, through 2 games, he carries a 3.92 GAA and a .852 SV%. Those numbers may not inspire a lot of confidence, but it's worth mentioning that after more than a year away and with such a tough recovery, it's going to take some time. Unfortunately, time is not something the Leafs or Marlies have in abundance, as the playoffs are soon to be under way.
For Murray, the expectations are obviously low right now. I don't think he's under any misconceptions about what his conditioning loan means. He's simply with the Marlies for the next 1-2 games and then he'll be 4th in line behind Ilya Samsonov, Joseph Woll and Martin Jones for duty for the Leafs in the playoffs. The real conversation will begin at the conclusion of the playoffs as we approach the summer.
With Murray having missed the entire 2023-24 campaign, any hope he had of signing a big multi-year contract are gone. His only option now will be a 1-year prove it deal at something close to the league minimum. At 29 years of age, he's still young enough that, if healthy, and if his hips allow it, he may be able to bounce back and provide a few good years to teams before he really begins to decline.
You can only play the hand you're dealt, and for Murray, it's been a tough run of years since winning back-to-back Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. If he does opt to stick around in Toronto playing the same role next season that Martin Jones played this year, as the team's 3rd string goalie, he may be able to give himself enough of a spotlight to prove that he can still play and set himself up for a decent contract in the summer of 2025. However, for now, there's a lot left to prove.
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Matt Murray's conditioning loan an unmitigated disaster so far

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