Should the Edmonton Oilers talk to San Jose about Douglas Murray?

San Jose is in an interesting situation this summer. They recently acquired the rights to Brad Stuart from Detroit and are expected to sign him in the near future. With Dan Boyle, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic populating the other three spots in their top-four, speculation has it that tough as nails rearguard Douglas Murray may be trade bait for the team.

Is he a player the Oilers should go after?

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It feels a little weird saying this, but my answer is just a lukewarm ‘maybe.’

Why the Oilers Should Pursue Murray

I’ll start by saying that I love Murray’s combination of physical play and discipline. A lot of players that go for the big hit end up getting penalties or suspensions (hello, Andy Sutton), but Murray doesn’t. In just 60 games he was easily the Sharks’ most physical defenseman, but he ended up with a relatively paltry 13 minor penalties. It isn’t an aberration, either – even with fighting majors thrown in, Murray hasn’t taken more than 70 minutes in penalties in any of the last four seasons. Despite that, he manages to be a physically intimidating presence.

Murray has also played tough competition for years. He struggled in that role in 2011-12, but he has been a top four defenseman for a very good team for a long time, and by and large he’s been pretty successful at it.

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Then there’s his contract. Murray has just a single season left on his current deal, at $2.5 million. There’s no risk there and for a defenseman with his track record that salary is pretty reasonable.

Why The Oilers Shouldn’t Pursue Murray

My primary fear with Murray is just that he’s slowing down. In 2010-11, he routinely played over 20:00 despite not being a part of the power play; on the season he averaged 19:36 per night. He was down a full minute this season and didn’t play even 15 minutes in any of the Sharks’ last three playoff games.

There are also signs of decline in the shot data. Murray’s Corsi numbers (Corsi is the combination of all shots, missed shots and blocked shots when a player is on the ice and gives a good estimate of which team controls possession) fell off a cliff, despite a drop in his responsibilities and level of opposition.

Some of that might be due to injury. In the article linked at the outset to this piece, Sharks’ writer Kevin Kurz explained things this way:

Murray has one year remaining on his deal for $2.5 million, and it was clear in the postseason against St. Louis (and even before then) that he’d lost a step. The hard-hitting Murray suffered through an injury-plagued 2011-12, and that may have affected his foot speed down the stretch and in the playoffs, but even early in the season he didn’t seem to be moving very well.

That opinion is borne out in the early season numbers. Prior to Murray’s first time missed to injury the Sharks had a Fenwick (Fenwick is just like Corsi, but excludes blocked shots, thus not penalizing players – like Murray – who rely in part on their ability to get into shooting lanes to defend) rating of plus-67 at even-strength without Murray on the ice; with Murray on the ice that number dipped to minus-30.

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Those declines suggest to me that Murray would probably be most effective in a reduced role, perhaps as a nasty third-pairing defender on a good team. That’s a role that has great value in a lot of places, but less so to the Oilers than most. What the Oilers really need is help in their top-four; if they’d traded Andy Sutton at the deadline last year things might be different, but they chose to keep him to play the same role that Murray would play in a perfect world.

Even so, I wouldn’t have a problem with the Oilers trading for Murray – except that on the open market I don’t think everyone will be looking at him as a third-pairing guy. He’s affordable, hits an area of need for a lot of teams, and is on a no-risk one-year contract. There are bound to be teams out there that look at his bright points and will pay to take him, teams that don’t have Andy Sutton under contract – teams that would drive up the price of Murray on the open market.

Even if those teams don’t push the market up, San Jose is under no compunction to trade Murray right now. Colin White and Jim Vandermeer are unrestricted free agents; the Sharks could just as easily let Murray slide to their third pairing if they don’t get an offer that suits them.

The Honda Accord

My first car was a little black Honda Accord, a miserable beast that wouldn’t go faster than 70 kilometres per hour up a steep hill, needed its oil topped up every time I refilled the gas tank, and somehow kept running despite a list of maladies longer than this page. It did, on the other hand, have headlights that popped up and down when I flipped a switch. I loved that car.

Anyway, somebody backed into my driver’s side door when it was parked, leaving it dented but usable. I took into my local assessor, who took one look at it and walked over to me.

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"Listen," he said, "I can replace the door. We’ll find something similar at a wrecking yard, paint it to match and have it installed. Or, if you think there are more pressing concerns, we can give you $400 and you can spend it on whatever you want."

Given that I’d paid $400 for the entire car, it was a pretty easy decision for me.

The Oilers defense is a lot like that car. It has a serious list of problems. The Oilers have an opportunity this summer to use the assets they have to address some of them.

I really like Douglas Murray, and if things were different I’d love to see the Oilers pick him up. But I suspect he’s going to be a pricey acquisition if he switches teams, and given his struggles this year I think the Oilers would be better off using their assets to acquire a defender who can add some punch to their top-four. A year from now, with Andy Sutton off the books and Murray a free agent, things might be different, but right now he’s not a guy I’d view as a priority target.

If you’re driving a Lamborghini, you fix everything as perfectly as you can. When you’re driving a junker, you need to prioritize.

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Should the Oilers…

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I like Murray. At 2.5 he’s worth that, but at yrs end he’ll be looking for more for the 2013-2014 season. I’d take a pass on Murray in that 3.5-4 per season range, which he’ll ask for and probably get then. Smid, Peckham and Sutton aren’t much different than the blood and guts Murray.

    If Edmonton had a decent/competitive club when he’s up for renewal, he may come for around 8 mill over 3 yrs. As it sits now, Edmonton would have to cough up 12 over 3 yrs to bring him to this perennial next yr hockey town.

    • I think the latter paragraph raises a key point – if Edmonton can take a big step forward this year, Murray might be both affordable and a good fit for need.

      Right now, he’s probably pricey to acquire (asset-wise) and not a perfect fit for need.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’d rather see them target an UFA like Sarich who will only cost $ and cap space and not assets. Plus he shoots right which the Oilers need big time.

  • RexLibris

    I really like this analogy at the end and the analysis in whole.

    The many criticisms I hear/read about the Oilers not upgrading their roster by trading for this and trading for that always seems to synonymous with, as you’ve so aptly described, fixing a clunker. Why trade a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick on a rebuilding team for a defenseman who isn’t going to make a significant improvement to the team as a whole?

    The pick could produce useful replacement-level talent for a team that eventually will need to address contractual attrition. The defenceman in question is likely to be gone long before then.

    When other teams in the same situation have made similar moves, essentially out of impatience and appeasement, it almost always backfires.

    The Oilers defence isn’t very good, but we can’t afford to trade for the kind of personnel that will make it good overnight, and there is no point in fixing the low-end of the roster because it won’t do much more than add a point or two in the season’s-end standings.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it seems to me that your analogy can also be applied to this common complaint as well.

  • Lexi

    The guy from San Jose I think they might be able to get as he is one year from UFA is Vlasic. I think they could get him for Hemsky.

    I believe if the Oilers pick Yak, they should wait for the Nash/Parise moves to happen and then they should be able to get a vet Dman for Hemsky from one of the teams that missed out on them. Guys I think they could get are; Tyutin, Enstrom, Streit, Green, Timmonen, Vlasic, Hjalmarsson, Martin, McBain, Schenn, Gunnersson. Personally I think this is better than crazily overpaying Wideman or Garrison (though I think Carle would be worth it).

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Good tough guy, but he will be 33 this coming season. Injury prone now and slowing down.
    Makes $2.500..If he is not good enough for Sharks @ 5 th postion, chances are thats all he will be with the Oilers… Makes almost a #1 mil more than Sutton, for similar player, then you have to give up an asset for a one year test. Mostly his age is not a fit for the Oilers young team.
    Oilers need big time help on the top four D.
    Ericsson, will either stay [Panthers] or sign with Vanc on a home town discount.
    Oilers next target should be UFA Matt Carle.

  • misfit

    I like Douglas Murray a lot more as Dan Boyle’s defense partner than Brent Burns’, and I don’t think it has anything to do with style of play either. I just think Boyle just makes players look better than they are. Sort of like how for years the second best defenseman in Detroit was “the guy playing with Lidstrom”.

    I wouldn’t have any problems with the Oilers adding Murray, but he wouldn’t be a player I would bring in as the solution to our defense.

  • I would talk to them. To me he would be an improvement in our bottom pairing, but if they see him as a top 4 they would want to much back.

    Different if we saw ourselves going for a cup this year, but I think we can all agree that is far fetched.

  • CaptainLander

    If Oil can dump some not working out great players I go after him.

    to Oilers: Murray
    San Jose: Peckam & Omark

    Oil: Murray takes Peckam’s place, but is more experience an should be less prone to error.

    The Oil get 2 players off the books.

    San Jose: Relieve a small amount of cap and have 2 young players that may yet turn out to be NHLers. All for about the same cost.

  • If San Jose took Omark and Peckam, I would have to wonder what was wrong with Murray. I would be very skeptical as he is a great 3rd pairing that is bid and tough or a lower end 2nd pairing. Obviously worth more than a couple of fringe players.

    I see Omark going the way of Schremp and I don’t think Peckam is an NHL player. If he was tougher he could be a 7th defenceman. He is a willing combatant, but I don’t think he is an enforcer people would fear. Outside of the enforcer role I really don’t think he makes a team unless it is a non-contending team with major defensive wekanesses.

    I could see them taking JW’s trade of Hartikainan and a draft pick, but on a team that is lacking big skilled wingers would you really be willing to part with him fot a stop gap player?

    I see Murray being a solid option for 1 to 2 years. At that point with diminishing skills and our developing young Dmen I think he is expendable.

  • Doug Murray is not a real target, I would hope. Declining asset that would cost assets to acquire.

    Would love to think we could be in on the Garrison discussion but his goal outburst, unsustainable I suspect, probably takes him out of our range and that is unfortunate because his two-way play was the real value here. Curious to know who of Garrison or Campbell was really stirring the drink between the two of them for the Panthers.

    Carle in Philly is a legit target to be sure and may be somewhat under everyone else’s radar with a positive Relative Corsi at a better than average QualComp and slightly more defensive average zone start.

    The other player I’d like to target would be Jackman in St. Louis. If we can risk the injury gods (surely they have exacted enough from us already), I’d be really interested if we could get a good deal done with Colaiacovo. I was stunned to see his positioning on St. Louis’ Usage Chart – not what I expected at all.

  • Here’s to hoping MacT can apply enough pressure to Dithers to make some moves that will help the Oil move forward. Tambo will probably talk to San Jose, sadly it will be just talk.

    Countin down to Yakupov… And hoping (wishing) for Murray, Reilly, Reinhart or Dumba to coming to Oil Country.

  • Aitch

    No need to target bottom 3rd pairing D. We have them in spades. And there’s no point in upgrading marginally on the backend when you’re looking up from 29. Some folks are touting Smid-Petry as the #1 pairing. They’d be third line in LA. I hope they can keep progressing as they did last season, but I’m not banking on two guys who had breakout years to lead the backend consistently either. Too risky.

    If the Oilers are serious about upgrading the blue line and can’t do it in free agency, tradings the only option. But, there’s already an NHL veteran defense corp signed so someone has to be shipped out if we’re bringing in upgrades. (*Barring any changes to the CBA which allows for deals to be terminated.)

    There’s only two on the open market I see worth spending money on; Suter and Schultz. The rest of the guys on the open market are just small upgrades. As for trades, well, you gotta aim for guys with a pedigree of being a 1st pairing guy. Start sending back some 3-for-1 deals from Edmonton!

    To Whoever: Current Oilers D + Oilers D prospect + Player who could use a new home
    To Edmonton: 1st Pairing D-man

    There are enough good assets in each category that Tambo could pull it off a couple of times, if he played the cards right. Maybe that’s not enough even if you pair up the tops in each category.

    oh, and stay away from Murray.

  • justDOit

    Murray with Sutton, Barker and maybe a call-up of Plante, would lead to stopwatches being useless during defence drills in practice – the coaches would just have to glance at the calendar occasionally.