The Toronto Maple Leafs addressed a hole at their third goalie spot by extending Matt Murray on a one-year, $875k contract.

Murray missed all of 2023-24 with injury, as the team stashed him on long-term injured reserve due to hip surgery in an attempt to deal with long-standing ailments that derailed Murray’s career. With Murray out of the picture, the team signed Martin Jones to play as the third goalie who was ferried back and forth between the AHL and NHL. Now, with Murray ostensibly healthy, it appears that he will be taking Jones’ gig and will serve as the team’s third goalie this season behind Joseph Woll and Anthony Stolarz, the latter of whom was signed earlier today.

Murray’s story is likely familiar to Leafs fans at this point. A third-round pick by Pittsburgh out of the Soo Greyhounds back in 2012, he struggled for most of his OHL career before blossoming in his final junior season. Murray then joined Pittsburgh’s farm system and showed out well in the AHL, earning him a late-season promotion to the team in 2015-16.

After posting a .930 SV% in 13 games to close the regular season, the Penguins rode the hot hand, and Murray delivered them a Stanley Cup with a .923 SV% in 21 playoff games. From there, Murray was the Penguins’ starter for the next four seasons, winning another Cup in 2016-17 (though he was injured for part of the playoffs, Murray did play in the Stanley Cup Final). However, his play declined in 2019-20, and with the injury concern mixed in, the Penguins smartly unloaded him to Ottawa in October 2020.

Murray’s tenure in Ottawa was a disaster, as the goalie was seldom healthy and inconsistent when he was. A breakdown of trust between player and management led to Ottawa’s desire to get out of Murray’s onerous contract. The Leafs took Murray off Ottawa’s hands with a limited sweetener in the summer of 2022, allowing then-GM Kyle Dubas to reunite with a former Greyhound.

Murray played 26 games for the Leafs in 2022-23, showing flashes of excellent play, but again, Murray was too injured to ever get into a proper rhythm or become the starter. Ilya Samsonov won the net and was the playoff starter, with Murray too injured to compete. When Samsonov went down in the postseason, Murray was still too injured (or the team didn’t trust him enough) to take over, as the inexperienced Joe Woll took the baton instead.

With Murray facing one more year at a decent cap hit, the Leafs got a break when Murray elected for hip surgery in summer 2023, allowing his contract to come off the cap for 2023-24. Muray rehabbed in time to appear in a few games for the Marlies late in the season, but he was never in the conversation to see NHL action.

As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Murray was seeking a one-year prove-it deal to show NHL teams that he can still play at this level, likely with AHL time tossed in. Turns out, he received that deal from Toronto to stay with the team he cheered for growing up.

Expectations ought to be low for Murray. The upside is probably higher than that of Martin Jones last year since Murray is still only 30 and has shown flashes of starter-calibre play, but it’s hard to believe anything like that will come to fruition. If Murray can simply make it through a full season of pro hockey (either NHL or AHL) healthy, that would be a big victory for the Leafs and, more importantly, for Murray. His career is now on the ropes, and this could be his last chance to prove that he can still play in North American pro hockey. Murray should be motivated and taking his training very seriously to prepare for this season.

As for the Leafs, rostering an experienced third goalie is important, given the realities of their tandem. Both Joe Woll and Anthony Stolarz provide legitimate reasons to be excited. They are also sizable risks. Woll has dealt with his own chronic injury problems and has seldom shouldered significant loads in his pro career. Stolarz has been healthier but has not played more than 28 games in a single season in his NHL career. Between the risk of injury and the risk of poor performance, the probability that the Maple Leafs will need a third goalie at some point in 2024-25 is quite high. Jones provided that service rather admirably last season in playing 22 games when the Leafs needed it between Woll’s injury and Samsonov’s terrible performance. That is a plausible outcome for Murray this season.

Murray is certainly a risk in and of himself, but there are few appetizing third-goalie options around the league. If they were appetizing, they wouldn’t be a third goalie. Murray, at least, has some pedigree and familiarity with the organization. Leafs management should know better than anyone else if his body is ready to handle the rigors of a season post-surgery, and if they are making this bet, you have to believe they’ve done their homework.

If they haven’t, or it doesn’t work out, third goalies aren’t hard to acquire if they need one, and this is a one-year contract worth nearly the league minimum. There is a little bit of risk for the 2024-25 Leafs in the regular season with this signing of Murray, but very little in terms of broader risk. If it doesn’t work, Brad Treliving can fix the mistake much easier than almost any other position on the roster.