The Toronto Maple Leafs made their all-important choice in goal. They were able to acquire two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie Matt Murray from the Ottawa Senators along with two draft picks in exchange for future considerations.
While getting a goalie for free is good in most circumstances, this situation with Murray comes with a lot of risk. It’s great if he regains his form and helps the Maple Leafs find postseason success. It’s awful and potentially franchise changing if he struggles.
The Maple Leafs did sign Ilya Samsonov to join Murray. There will be an open competition to see who emerges as the number one. Most expect that to be Murray. But if Samsonov can shrug off his struggles with the Washington Capitals, the Maple Leafs may have made one of the most shrewd moves in free agency.
Maple Leafs Had Better Options
The focus going into this offseason was how the Maple Leafs were finally going to address their goaltending. Jack Campbell is now with the Oilers as expected. Petr Mrazek got traded as many expected he would. There was a need for not just one goalie but two.
The Maple Leafs saw a unique opportunity with Murray to bring him in to play behind a deep team. It may work. It might not work. But they did have better options out there.
In order for them to compete with the east heavyweights, they needed to bring in someone who could stand in with the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin. Is Murray the answer right now?
If you could assure that Murray plays like he did in Pittsburgh, then ok. But given his struggles and injury history, it’s a huge risk especially when you consider the Maple Leafs have two more shots at this thing before they have to pay up for Auston Matthews long-term.
In looking around the league, the Maple Leafs had better options out there. With the Senators retaining 25% of Murray’s cap hit, the Maple Leafs are on the hook for $4.6875 million this year and next.
Campbell signed with the Oilers for $5 million AAV. While the term would have been a question for the Maple Leafs, it’s still surprising to see the cap hit being close to what they’re taking on for Murray.
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Darcy Kuemper signed on with the Washington Capitals for five years and $5.25 million AAV. Again the fifth year seems like the issue from a Maple Leafs standpoint. But the AAV was close.
Both Campbell and Kuemper should have been good options for the Maple Leafs. There’s a third option that they should have gone after that is a little more unconventional. But when you have a chance to acquire a 23-year old goalie who is clearly on the upswing, you should try to make it happen.
How much different would the narrative be around the Maple Leafs if they had a solid answer in net? This is why they should have tried an offer sheet for Dallas Stars’ young stud Jake Oettinger.
Why Oettinger Would Have Made Sense
Although it’s a tool rarely used, an offer sheet is a legal means to try to acquire good talent from other teams. Oettinger is currently an RFA who is coming off his entry-level deal. If his playoffs was any indication, he’s going to get a massive raise.
One look at the Stars’ current roster situation tells the story. Although they sit with around $11.4 million in cap space, the Stars have another big RFA signing to finish with Jason Robertson. This is where an Oettinger offer sheet could have put the Stars in a real bind.
From a Maple Leafs’ perspective, why not submit an offer sheet for four years at $5 million or more up to around $6.3 million? Considering what Murray counts against them today, it wouldn’t have been a dramatic difference in AAV.
It would have forced the Stars into making a huge decision. With Robertson un-signed, would they have matched anything around $6 million? We’ll never know now unless another team goes down this road with Oettinger.
The cost of this offer sheet would have been a first and third-round pick. The Maple Leafs have their own 2023 first and third rounders making them eligible to make this kind of offer sheet. Given that they’re likely a playoff team, giving up a late first and a late third is absolutely worth landing an up and coming star goalie over multiple years. The Stars may have matched but you have to try anyway.
The Maple Leafs could have elected to address their goaltending in various ways. They chose to take a huge risk in Murray. They should have tried to land a star in Oettinger via an offer sheet.
For those that say teams will take revenge, who cares? The offer sheet is a perfectly legal method to conduct business. Don’t let that be in the CBA next time if too may people have an issue with it.
When it comes to a team in the Maple Leafs trying to win the Stanley Cup, you need to place your bets in sure things. Murray is not a sure thing. While Oettinger is not a sure thing either, he doesn’t come with as much risk and would thus be worth the effort of an offer sheet. If two later draft picks help secure your net for years and win in the playoffs, you do it.
Time will tell if the decision to acquire Murray was the right one. The Maple Leafs had better, less risky options available to them. In this particular case, an Oettinger offer sheet was the better way to go, even if it would have cost them a couple draft picks.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.