The difficult part in accurately assessing Monday morning's more-interesting-than-you-might think trade between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks is knowing just how good a defenceman Douglas Murray is any more. For the longest time, Murray was one of those quietly underrated players that you had to see on a regular basis to really appreciate. He is, first and foremost, a side of beef on skates – 245 pounds, 6-3 and plays big.
At his best, there are few in the game who hit harder – and there are not many forwards who want to go into his corner, when he is back retrieving a puck. In the 2010 and 2011 playoffs, he averaged 20:21 minutes and 19:30 minutes in ice time respectively and was a key contributor on a Sharks' team that played 33 playoff games over that two-year span.
Pittsburgh gave up two second-rounders to acquire Murray, who is 33 and on an expiring contract. Even though the Sharks are in the midst of a second-half swoon, they are still a viable playoff contender in the Western Conference and so likely believe they can get there, with or without Murray. This year, Murray is averaging just a little over 17 minutes per night of playing time, which is the lowest ice time among their regulars on defence. So you'd have to conclude from how he's been deployed this year that some of his minutes have gone to Brad Stuart and of course, Dan Boyle, at 23-plus minutes per night, is still the team's No. 1 defencemen.
All of which begs the question, are the Penguins getting the player Murray once was, or a lesser version?
At first blush, I like the deal from Pittsburgh's perspective because the one variable that you can never predict is if a player that's gone stale in one organization could be rejuvenated by a move to another. Pittsburgh had a lot of flash and dash on the blue line; now it has added an important physical component as well.
When you factor in Sunday's addition of Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars, they've added two heart-and-soul players in a short time, without surrendering a player off their roster. Pittsburgh was stacked already; is red hot (12 wins in a row) and will eventually get centre Evgeni Malkin back from a shoulder injury. Games are won on the ice, not on paper, but Penguins' general manager Ray Shero has made two really smart, preemptive strikes, more than a week in advance of the trade deadline, that his team zooming to the top of the ranks of Stanley Cup contenders, at least among teams in the Eastern Conference. It'll be interesting to see how the Boston Bruins respond. With a Jarome Iginla deal maybe?