'Extremely motivated' Murray excited for opportunity with Leafs: 'A lot to prove'

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TORONTO — Matt Murray is excited about the opportunity.

He also knows there are more than a few doubters.

The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired the goaltender — a player looking for a return to form that helped him twice win the Stanley Cup early in his career — from the Ottawa Senators on Monday along with two draft picks in exchange for future considerations.

The move by Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas is undoubtedly a bold one in a shrinking netminding market with last year's No. 1 option, all-star Jack Campbell, set to hit free agency Wednesday as Toronto looks to settle its biggest summer question mark.

But despite solid career numbers, Murray's statistical profile has fallen off the last three seasons, including two in the nation's capital after a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, due to both poor play and injury.

"I'm extremely motivated," Murray said Tuesday on a video conference call with reporters.

"I have a lot to prove."

Social media lit up — it's the Leafs, after all — once the trade was reportedly close, and then exploded when it was announced.

There was criticism of Murray the player, his contract, and the fact Ottawa is only eating 25 per cent of the remaining dollars.

The 28-year-old is intent on showing that Dubas, who along with Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe had Murray in junior with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds a decade ago, was right to take the plunge.

"It's all about pushing myself to try to be the absolute best that I can be," he said. "Toronto is a great place to do it.

"A whole lot of excitement on my part."

Murray's acquisition was necessitated by a number of factors, including Campbell appearing poised to bolt and few other realistic No. 1 options in the marketplace where the dollars and term would make sense.

Toronto also dealt underperforming netminder Petr Mrazek to the Chicago Blackhawks to clear salary cap space at the draft to pave the way for the Murray move.

The Leafs could look for another goalie to work alongside Murray. But given the salary commitment of close to US$4.69 million over the next two seasons — Ottawa is picking up that chunk of his $6.25-million cap hit through 2023-24 — it's safe to assume Murray will be the starter when training camp opens.

Toronto set team records for wins and points last season, while Auston Matthews became the first Leaf to score 60 goals, and the third to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP.

But an ultra-talented roster that also includes Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander up front was once again unable to advance in the post-season — an overall franchise playoff drought that dates back to 2004 and includes seven straight series defeats.

"There's so many great players on this team," Murray said. "It's something that I'm super, super excited to join."

A third-round pick of the Penguins in 2012, he's appeared in 246 regular-season games, posting a record of 132-78-22 with a .911 save percentage, 2.77 goals-against average and 14 shutouts.

The Thunder Bay, Ont., native owns a 29-21 playoff record, including Cup wins with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017, to go along with a .921 save percentage, 2.18 GAA and six shutouts.

A big worry from a Toronto perspective, however, has to be Murray's injury history — which includes concussions — and his recent sample size, especially with Ottawa.

The rebuilding Senators signed the netminder to a four-year, $25-million contract after an October 2020 trade with an eye toward having him lead a young group from the crease out.

The fit just never worked in the nation's capital, and Murray's decline began before he left the Penguins.

In his last season with Pittsburgh and two in Ottawa, he played just 85 games, going 35-36-8, with an .899 save percentage, 3.06 GAA and four shutouts.

A low point came in November when he was placed on waivers, went unclaimed by the NHL's other 31 teams, and was demoted to the American Hockey League.

Murray could have sulked.

He instead rebounded with a 5-4-2 record, a .941 save percentage and a shutout in 11 games over a six-week stretch after rejoining the big club in January before a couple of bad outings and a neck injury ended his season in March.

"There's no hard feelings," Murray said of how things went in Ottawa. "But I'm focusing on the present and the near future.

"That's where my energy and my attention and my focus is."

He'll be working in Toronto with new goalie coach Curtis Sanford and Jon Elkin, who's the Leafs' head of development at the position and has a long history with Murray dating back to the latter's childhood at his hockey school.

"He knows me well, he knows my game well, knows how to push me," Murray said of Elkin. "I think he can provide a lot of insight in all those regards."

Murray grew up a Leafs fan. It was also his late father's favourite team.

"We used to watch games together," he said of James Murray, who died in 2018. "Just being able to put on that jersey for the first time I think is going to be something really special.

"Can't wait to see everything that it holds and to get things started."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2022.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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