Acquiring Ryan Murray is a no-lose move by the New Jersey Devils.
In hockey circles in the great state of Ohio, Ryan Murray will forever be known as a bust.
Unfair? Eh, maybe a little bit, but what else do you expect when a franchise takes a ‘can’t-miss defenseman’ second overall, especially when players like Mathew Dumba and Morgan Rielly have significantly outperformed the Everett Silvertips prospect.
Let’s just say when a team trades a top-2 pick for a fifth-rounder eight years down the line; it’s probably not going to go down as a W for the franchise, even if the 2012 NHL Entry Draft isn’t exactly heralded for its generational talent pool.
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But hey, it’s cool. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ trash can be another franchise’s treasure – which is exactly what the New Jersey Devils were banking on when new GM Tom Fitzgerald pulled off a deal to acquire the 27-year-old back in October.
Objectively speaking, Murray isn’t a bad player per se. When he’s healthy, happy, and in good spirits, he can actually be a vital cog in a good defensive rotation; he just hasn’t remained healthy all that often over the past seven years.
Since making his NHL debut in 2013, Murray has only played a full 82 game season once, all the way back in 2015-16. Since then, he’s only played 187 of a possible 316 games and has missed two of the Blue Jackets’ last four playoff appearances.
If you’re a team like the Blue Jackets who are gunning for a spot in the Finals with a near-maxed out salary cap situation, committing $4.7 million to a player like that just doesn’t make sense. But for a team like the Devils, who are effectively using the 2020-21 NHL season as a 56 game tryout, his abilities on the ice far outweigh the void left if he is unable to go.
In Murray, the Devils suddenly have a pretty good defensive top-four and an ideal player to pair up with P.K. Subban – assuming, of course, the team doesn’t instead give Will Butcher the nod on the top-line and play their newest defensive acquisition alongside Damon Severson. They also, funnily enough, have another veteran who can help fellow first-round pick Ty Smith transition to the NHL level, where he will officially be starting out the 2020-21 season after being retained in the team’s initial roster trimdown.
Like Murray, Smith is a WHL alum with top-four potential and a two-way game. In a perfect world, Smith will one day cement himself as the kind of player you can build a powerplay around, which was the kind of player Columbus envisioned when they used their second overall pick in the 2012 Entry Draft on a defenseman over plucky center Alex Galchenyuk.
Murray is only 27-years-old after all, he could still play in the NHL for a very, very long time if he takes a page out of Zdeno Chara‘s wellness plan.
Maybe Murray can rehab his career in the Garden State, serve as a solid role model for youngsters like Smith and Kevin Bahl, and parlay a bounceback season into a multi-year deal in the $3ish million AAV range. Heck, maybe Murray plays so well that that contract comes from the Devils, and he becomes some amalgamation of building block player Columbus envisioned after all. But either way, the New Jersey Devils are a better team with Ryan Murray on their roster in 2020-21, which is really all you can ask for in exchange for a late-round future pick.