Sharks fans’ favorite scapegoat is officially gone. Originally reported by TSN, veteran defenseman Douglas Murray has been traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. David Pollak is reporting the Sharks both a 2013 and a 2014 second-round in return.
It’s an impressive haul for general manager Doug Wilson, who hasn’t exactly been the toast of San Jose recently. A second-round pick in the NHL draft isn’t valued the same way a second-round pick would be in the NFL draft, but getting two solid draft opportunities in exchange for the team’s worst defenseman can only be considered a win for this franchise.
And so ends over half a season’s worth of questionable decision making on the defensive end for Todd McLellan and his staff. Murray — who was linked to Tiger Woods’ ex-wife Elin Nordegren back in December — started every game for the Sharks except for one, and while he has never been fast on his skates or nimble handling the puck, Murray’s deficiencies were glaring to seemingly everyone except for the decision makers.
In the one game Murray didn’t start San Jose out-shot the Phoenix Coyotes 33-21 and didn’t allow a goal. It’s not to say the Sharks’ defensive has been terrible otherwise — I’d argue it’s been above average — but it broke down when Murray was on the ice. Although he’s tied for 20th league-wide in blocked shots with 65 and boasted 56 hits on the year, he’s -8 on the season, hasn’t scored a goal and (probably accidentally) racked up only three assists.
McLellan has said he liked Murray because of his physicality and willingness to block shots.
“Teams know when he plays,” McLellan said. “We know when he plays. Is he the fastest player? No, he never will be. But, he’s physical, good on the penalty kill, he blocks shots, his commitment level is very high in the game. He’s willing to step in and get involved in extracurricular [activity], so there’s a lot of elements that be brings.”
But what he brings in hits and blocks, he lacks in mobility and an ability to puck handle. His immobile nature made for tough times in the Sharks’ defensive end. His inability to move the puck made breakouts and transitions nearly impossible. None of this seemed to matter as Murray not only continued to play, but he played important minutes every game.
The curiosity of the decision to continually start Murray over the often-healthy scratched Jason Demers and Justin Braun was trumped only by the Sharks’ favorite defensive pairing of Murray and Brad Stuart. Stuart is still a quality defenseman, but his play has was hampered by his counterpart every time they took the ice together. As a left-handed shooter playing on the right side of the blue line, it was difficult for Stuart to keep pucks from being cleared on the attack. When the pairing ended up in their own zone, Stuart was constantly scrambling to make up the ground Murray couldn’t cover.
I always had a sneaking suspicion Murray stayed in the lineup because he was being shopped, but even that doesn’t explain why they weren’t matching him with a faster, younger alternative.
We’ll see the Murray-less future of the Sharks’ defensive pairings tonight when San Jose faces the red hot Anaheim Ducks. It will mean both Braun and Demers see permanent spots on the active roster as well as a new partner for Stuart, but it will also mean fans will need to find something else to complain about.