There's no question that Matt Murray is a reclamation project. But his teammates are excited about the one thing he adds that most of their previous goaltenders in Toronto haven't been able to do...Win.
"I've seen what Matt has proven in his career. Anytime you win two Stanley Cups, it's pretty impressive," Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said in an interview last month. "Just speaking for myself how hard it is every single year to earn an opportunity to play in the playoffs and wanting to go as far as you can and win the ultimate prize and how difficult that is. Those are experiences and successes you can lean on."
Murray helped guide the Pittsburgh Penguins to Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, but his career has been tumultuous since. After he was pushed aside in favour of Tristan Jarry following the 2019-20 season, Murray signed a four-year, $25 million deal with the Ottawa Senators in October of 2020.
The 28-year-old struggled mightily with Ottawa. Murray was placed on waivers in November and assigned to the club's AHL affiliate in Belleville before he returned later in the season where he showed signs of improvement.
Like a person trying to buy low on a once-strong blue chip stock, Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is hoping to jump on Murray's upswing, while pushing a better team in front of the net.
"He showed the signs of the goaltender that he had been in the past," Dubas said of Murray's performance late last season.
When Murray returned to the Senators at the turn of 2022, he posted a .912 save percentage over the course of 14 games. He was shut down for the season in March with post-concussion syndrome and the goaltender's injury history is certainly a risk that Toronto has to deal with.
But that's where Ilya Samsonov's signing comes into play.
The 25-year-old goalie was left unqualified by the Washington Capitals and the Leafs snapped him up on a one-year $1.8 million contract just a couple of days later.
"Two goalies who have made their mark," Mitch Marner said of the new tandem. "Obviously Murray a little more with the two cups. A great competitor who wants to get back to his self and we have the people who can get him back to it. He's excited for the moment, he's excited to take it head on and we're lucky to have him. Same thing with Ilya."
The Maple Leafs acquired Murray in a trade with the Ottawa Senators along with a third-round selection in the 2023 NHL Draft and a seventh-round selection in the 2024 NHL Draft in exchange for future considerations. Ottawa retained 25 per cent of Murray's salary cap hit. His acquisition by Dubas was more about the short-term commitment to a goaltender than the long-term case that was made had they elected to retain Jack Campbell.
Toronto's previous starter in goal signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
Everything is about playoffs experience
The Maple Leafs head into the 2022-23 season in desperate need of showing signs of improvement in the playoffs. Despite setting a franchise record for points (115) and wins (54), the season will be remembered for once again failing to advance past the opening round of the playoffs, something the club has not been able to do since 2004.
Looking at all of the new additions for Toronto, they all come with playoffs experience.
Murray has 51 games of playoffs experience and 12 games of Cup Final experience.
Samsonov has eight games of playoff experience in his young NHL career.
Calle Jarnkrok, signed to a four-year deal, has 75 games of playoff experience split between the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames and five games of Cup Final experience in 2017.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, signed to a one-year deal, has 27 games of playoff experience and two games of Cup Final experience.
Adam Gaudette, signed to a one-year deal, has 10 games of playoff experience with the Vancouver Canucks.
Victor Mete has 10 games of playoff experience with the Montreal Canadiens.
Jordie Benn has 23 games of playoff experience split between four different NHL clubs.
The seven newcomers have combined for 204 games of playoffs experience and 17 games of Cup Final experience.
Does having a Cup-winning goaltender translate to success? It didn't work for Toronto when they acquired Jean-Sebastian Giguere on Jan. 31 2010. The following season, a combination of injuries to Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson opened the door for James Reimer to get a chance he essentially took over as the team's starter in 2011.
Giguere was 33 when he arrived in Toronto. Murray is 28 and has a better team in front of him.
It might work this time around. And it might not.
"The Cup experience I think always helps," Dubas said. "How much? I'm not sure but you'd rather have it than not."