Matt Murray is a 6-foot-4 goaltender who has won two Stanley Cups and supplanted a beloved veteran. He has also suffered three lower body injuries including a torn groin, a broken hand, one upper body injury and now three concussions.
No, he doesn’t answer to the name “Lucky,” but the Penguins should be officially worried about the long-term prospects of keeping their goaltender healthy. Eight injuries in 113 games should scare the Penguins, who presumably felt Murray had a run of back luck leading into this season but that luck would even out.
Murray has racked up an injury list worth of a 13-year-veteran. He’s averaging an injury almost once every 14 games. And three concussions should be taken very seriously. As we learn more about head injuries, three head knocks in
18 30 months begin to put a player in dangerous territory, especially one only 24-years-old.
Do three concussions mean a soft melon and the dangers which accompany that? Four? Where is the line for Murray and the Penguins? If Murray returns and suffers his fourth concussion this season, does that keep him out for the remainder of the season? These are not only questions for the Penguins, but for Murray himself.
Murray is intellectually sharp. Simply watch his interviews. There’s usually a greater thought process than the average puck raker when Murray dodges questions or does get into an answer. Few athletes are unaware of the dangers of concussions in 2018, and so neither party will rush Murray back.
However, concussions are not the only issue facing Murray and the Penguins.
Lower body injuries have also been an issue with Murray. His torn groin in warmups for Game 1, Round 1 in 2017 launched Marc-Andre Fleury’s farewell through the first two-plus rounds of the playoffs. Other injuries have followed Murray, too.
He broke his blocker hand in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He dove across the crease and thought he simply jammed his thumb. Only later did x-rays reveal the fracture. And while some of the injuries like the broken hand have been fluky, the volume indicates it is more than bad luck.
Some athletes just can’t stay healthy (looking at you, Beau Bennett) and are injury prone. Be it freak accidents, collisions or recklessness, injuries follow some players. Murray is teetering on the borderline of that category. He isn’t an extreme case like Bennett, but he played in only 49 games in each of the past two seasons. And he’s not off to a healthy start this season.
If the injury to Murray doesn’t raise an eyebrow for Penguins management, it should. Since it is only October, the Penguins have plenty of time to fully determine if Casey DeSmith or Tristan Jarry are capable of winning big games and providing consistent puck-stopping efforts.
The Penguins are not in a must-trade scenario, at least not until after Jarry and DeSmith get their say.
The importance of the question–if the Penguins have a second goaltender able to win playoff games–cannot be overstated. Look no further than other teams in the Metro Division who were undone last season by bad goaltending. If Philadelphia, Carolina or the New York Islanders had better puck stopping, the latter two could easily have made the playoffs. And Philadelphia would have given the Penguins more than a gong-show worthy series in Round 1.
For both DeSmith and Jarry, last season was their first in the NHL (but DeSmith, 27, is too old to be a “rookie”). And both were inconsistent, just like the Penguins team defensive zone coverage, though DeSmith’s final stat lines made a strong case to be the backup this season. DeSmith posted a .921 save percentage and a 2.40 goals-against average.
Since Murray is out indefinitely, that means it could be only a week or many weeks. Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury missed two months following his third concussion in 30 months, including a pair of concussions suffered during his Penguins tenure in 2015-16.
The Penguins will have to make a determination before the Feb. 25 trade deadline if DeSmith and Jarry can handle the bright lights. Despite sputtering out of the gate, the Penguins are a stacked team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. Goaltending will be paramount in that chase.
Given Murray’s health status and the risk of future injury, the Penguins will need to have a highly capable backup. After the concerns about Murray’s health, the concerns if he can stay healthy, concerns about backups readiness, comes the concern what could happen in the worst case scenario.
**Editors note: Pittsburgh Hockey Now incorrectly stated Murray had three concussions in 18 months, dating back to April, 2016. That is 30 months ago, not 18. We apologize for the error but do not feel it changes the sentiment of the column.