As reported by Gulitti, Matt Gelb at NJ.com's blog, and listed on NHL.com's free agent tracker, the New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Cory Murphy. Gulitti and Gelb did state it was a two-way deal. According to the NHLPA's site, Murphy will make $875,000 next season.
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I'm glad that it is a two-way contract as Murphy's NHL career has spanned 2 seasons and he has only played 79 games. Murphy has struggled with injuries, with a bruised shoulder in 2007-08 (30 games missed), a shoulder injury and a broken foot last season (30 games missed on the shoulder, 12 for the foot). With the Devils already having their top 6 returning from last season and prospects/Lowell regulars like Jay Leach, Matthew Corrente, and Tyler Eckford already rising up the depth chart, it's a very possible that Murphy could be on the outside looking in right now.
Speaking of the depth chart for a moment, let me offer this thought. As a result of this signing, while he was resigned earlier this month, I think Andy Greene's #6 spot on the team just got even more competition.
However, Murphy's big advantage is that he's an offensive defenseman. Despite not being able to stay healthy for a whole season, he's been able to get into power play situations where he has contributed plenty of points given his lack of NHL experience. It was his production in the SM-Liiga that drew attention to the NHL and if he can stay healthy enough, he could be a solid power play specialist. The Devils don't have anyone like that on the blueline and so Murphy could hang on the roster for that alone.
Because it's a two-way deal, I like the signing - if he works out, he can boost the blueline's offense. If he doesn't, well, he'll go to Lowell where he can use his experience to the benefit the young players there. More on what Murphy could bring to the table after the jump. But first, a poll:
First, there is this summary on Cory Murphy from Althea Pashman, an Examiner for the Tampa Bay Lightning. She provides a solid bio of the player and this important section about what he did for Tampa Bay in the short time he played for the Lightning:
Murphy had become a very valuable asset to the Lightning’s power-play and to their team play for his puck handling, logging major minutes and mostly for his becoming the quarterback on the power-play. In my opinion, Murphy needs to be re-signed, because of what he brings to the team – especially on the power-play, despite his susceptibility to injuries. He has 50 point potential.
A brief analysis by James Mirtle corroborates Murphy's effectiveness on the power play. When Mirtle was evaluating remaining UFAs almost a week after the July 1 frenzy, he found that Murphy was the best power play specialist available. This is what he concluded from the list of power play specialists:
Not a lot of options here now that's off the table, although played big minutes with the man advantage in Tampa Bay and racked up some decent points. He would be a good fit somewhere as a No. 6 or 7 defender who plays on the power play somewhere.
Well, that somewhere is now in New Jersey. Actually, the name should sound fairly familiar to those who peruse ILWT on the regular. In the comments in this free agent defenseman post, as he was brought up by ILWT member Zelepukin as a possibility. I didn't think he was a realistic possibility. Here's his response.
I totally disagree with you on Murphy John.
He’s a low risk/high reward candidate… so he’s 31 and coming off a broken foot? He’s also the sort of offensive defenseman who if stays healthy and surrounded by the right team WILL put up at least 40 pts and be an asset on the PP. Will all of that happen? Who knows… but he’s a guy who will probably not be getting more than a mill a year and I personally think at 1 mill he’s worth a look, especially if he Devils go nowhere with bergeron
Well, that will teach me to wave off suggestions; the Devils obviously figured Murphy's attributes were worth a contract!
I responded further by stating that the likelihood of this was quite low and continued to cast doubt on Murphy. Naturally, I put my foot in my mouth (fingers in a shoe? I don't know the Internet equivalent of this phrase) by asking why he wasn't playing for a full season - as I learned he was injured and therefore could not. Sorry about that.
I'm still skeptical of the idea that if he's healthy and if he's around the right players and if he fits in the system and gets power play time, he'll put up 40-50 points. Very few defenseman do this even if they are healthy and in excellent situations, systems and units - much less third pairing power play specialists.
That said, I'm not doubting the offensive efficiency; I just think the first expectation should be to actually make it onto a crowded blueline in New Jersey and stay healthy so he can be used as necessary. That it was a two-way deal protects the Devils from carrying him as an extra defenseman or risking waivers should he go up and down to Lowell. It seems to me that there's not a lot of downside available for New Jersey and so I like the deal for that reason. Hopefully, Murphy can avoid injury for his upcoming third season in the NHL.