GARRIOCH: Matt Murray could break through enemy lines in Battle of Ontario

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Will Matt Murray suit up for the enemy in the Battle of Ontario next season?

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While all was quiet on the Ottawa Senators front over the weekend after general manager Pierre Dorion sealed a huge deal for double-40 goal scorer Alex DeBrincat ahead of Thursday’s NHL Draft, a lot of work went into been done behind the scenes.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have emerged as favorites in a deal for Murray. Hockey Night in Canada‘s Elliotte Friedman reported Sunday that « talks have intensified » between the Leafs and Senators this weekend.

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There have also been talks with the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals and Arizona Coyotes, among others, but Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe have a history with Murray since their days with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL.

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Murray, who has two years left with a cap of $6.25 million per season, is at the forefront of talks between Ottawa and Toronto. The NHL goalie market is shrinking and TSN’s Darren Dreger reported Sunday that the Leafs are no closer to a contract extension with starter Jack Campbell.

As we noted in this space on Saturday, Dorion and his hockey operations staff left the Bell Center on Friday with a priority of trying to move Murray and acquire a right-handed defenseman.

There was a buzz at the Bell Center that a deal could be reached to send Murray to the Leafs before the draft was over. There were rumors that Toronto wanted to take a closer look at Murray’s medical records before signing a trade.

Murray suffered a concussion to end the year and was barred from playing at the IIHF World Championship in May. He’s been at the Canadian Tire Center most days training during the off-season and is expected to return to skating next week.

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Dorion certainly didn’t seem worried about Murray’s health when he met local media in Montreal for the draft.

« Matt is doing great, » Dorion said. “He pushed hard at the end of the year to play for us and (for Team Canada) at the world championship. We decided as an organization that he just needed to be healthy for next year. I’ve been to the rink almost every day for the past month and he’s been there.

“He’s been training, he hasn’t been on the ice, but he’s going to do it next week. We expect a full recovery for him.

All of those talks came after Murray said no to a trade with Buffalo last Tuesday. He refused to waive his no-move clause to join the Sabers. That deal would have sent Murray to Buffalo with the 7th overall pick in exchange for the Sabers’ 16th pick.

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The club would then have packed the No. 16 to get DeBrincat.

The Senators would have kept 25% of Murray’s salary in the trade with Buffalo. The 28-year-old will get $15 million in real dollars. To accommodate the Leafs, the Senators would have to keep their salary.

There has been speculation on social media that if the deal goes through, there’s a chance that right-handed defenseman Justin Holl will return to Ottawa in trade. He has a year left at $2 million, but it’s unclear if Holl has even been discussed.

It’s been suggested the Senators could buy out Murray’s contract, but that doesn’t seem realistic. There’s only $5 million in savings, and if he were to return to camp and was unable to do the job, he could be sent to the American Hockey League branch in Belleville.

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Troubled by injuries and inconsistencies, Murray would probably prefer to stay with the Senators, but he’s the odd one out. Anton Forsberg is the No.1 and Filip Gustavsson has also signed a one-way contract for next season as a substitute.

Say what you will about Murray’s game, he’s still a two-time Stanley Cup champion and might be worth the risk for a contender like the Leafs.

Murray was having a good spell in goal when he was injured in a March 4 game against the Coyotes. If he’s healthy, he can still be one of the best goalies in the NHL, because we’ve seen him at times with the Senators.

Why wouldn’t Ottawa keep it, if that’s the case? That’s because taking that salary off the books would give Dorion room to make other moves and Murray just hasn’t worked in Ottawa, so a fresh start could help.

The Senators won’t spend up to the NHL’s $82.5 million U.S. salary cap next season, but they still need to sign four restricted free agents before camp in September. That includes center Josh Norris, wingers Mathieu Joseph and Alex Formenton, and defenseman Erik Brannstrom.

If Murray is dealt, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Senators to explore the goaltending market for a trade or free agency. Forsberg is named as the starter entering the camp, but it might be a good idea to bring in someone who can push Gustavsson for the backup role.

Stay tuned.

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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