Matt Murray believes he can recapture top form with Maple Leafs


Matt Murray spoke the words no Maple Leaf from the past 55 years have been able to.

“Winning the Stanley Cup, that’s what we’re all here for,” said Toronto’s newest goaltender.

The 28-year-old from Thunder Bay had a rough couple of years as an Ottawa Senator, but backstopped the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017.

“It was a dream come true for me,” said Murray, in a video conference call from his home in Ottawa. “It’s something that you’re always pushing toward. It taught me a lot of lessons that I can continue to apply here, especially in the city of Toronto. I’m excited and really grateful that I get this opportunity.”

Murray’s acquisition on Monday — more of an Ottawa Senators fire-sale with the team retaining 25 per cent of his salary and throwing in a couple of draft picks while getting nothing off Toronto — was generally panned. Murray gets it.

“I’m extremely motivated,” he said. “I think I have a lot to prove. And I think coming here, this is a place where I wanted to be.”

Truth is, GM Kyle Dubas had very few choices when shopping for a No. 1 goalie. His own prospects, like Joseph Woll and Erik Källgren, aren’t quite ready. He didn’t want to commit big dollars and long term to his own free agent, Jack Campbell, or Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper.

But another previous champion, Murray, was available. He knew them from their days together with the Soo Greyhounds, as did coach Sheldon Keefe and goalie adviser Jon Elkin.

Murray’s bottom line should come in at cheaper cap hit ($4.6 million) than what pending free agent goalies will earn, and for a shorter term, just two years left on his contract.

Getting a goalie off a scrap heap is less than ideal for a team that considers itself a Cup contender, but Murray believes he can be the goalie he once was. He acknowledges the Leafs have a superstar lineup, but it’s the support staff — trainers, masseurs and doctors — that have impressed him the most. For a goalie with a history of injury, that kind of support can help him stay healthy.

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) is now a teammate with Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray. The two played against each other in February 2021

“I’ve had so many staff members reach out that are willing to help with literally every aspect of my move and making things simple,” said Murray. “And I’m very grateful for that. And I intend to lean on that support staff and just try to do everything I can to maximize my potential.”

To call 2021-22 a lost season for Murray is perhaps an understatement. In October, he missed some time after Chris Kreider’s knee clipped him in the head. In early November, there were 10 days on the COVID list in the early part of the season. Back then, that meant self isolation, no working out, to start the season. And COVID hit him hard. For a goalie trying to find a rhythm, it’s a nightmare.

He suffered another head injury in February involving Oskar Sundqvist of the St. Louis Blues. On March 5 in Arizona he collided with teammate Nikita Zaitsev in the goalmouth and missed the rest of the season with a concussion.

In between — actually playing for a young team with a defensive shortcomings — was no treat either.

The low point, for Murray, might have been what came after clearing waivers in November.

The team was in Los Angeles. He flew home, on a commercial flight, to Ottawa to collect his things and head to Belleville. It’s a long flight at the best of times, with a connection in Toronto. It’s longer when you have so much time to contemplate your hockey future.

He told reporters in Belleville he was there to “make the most out of it, and get back up there (to the NHL) as soon as possible.”

He did get back, and played well for short stretches. Over six weeks between mid-January and mid-February, Murray posted a 5-4-2 record with a .941 save percentage and 2.02 GAA in 11 starts.

“If I’m able to do that for a full season, then it’s a heck of a season,” Murray told reporters in Ottawa on locker cleanout day.

Now a Leaf, he took control of his news conference before the first question was even asked.

“I just wanted to make a quick statement and just say how excited I am, how intense the last few days have been, and how exciting they’ve been. I’m really looking forward. Can’t wait to join a team with such great players, staff, organization, fan base. Everything about this team is top notch.”

While he knows Elkin, Keefe and Dubas well, Murray is only starting to get to know Curtis Sanford, the Leafs new goalie coach. He’s also in the process of moving his family to Toronto, already checking out real estate.

“I’m focusing on the present and the near future. It’s a busy near future for me,” said Murray. “It’s all about pushing myself to try to be the absolute best that I can be. I feel like I have another gear to get to. And I think Toronto is a great place to do it.”

Then eventually he’ll put on that jersey that his late father, Jim, taught him to love.

“It was definitely my favourite childhood team was. It was my dad’s favourite team. We used to watch games together,” said Murray. “So being able to put on that jersey for the first time, I think is going to be something really special for me. So I just can’t wait to see everything that it holds and to get things started.”

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