Hindsight is a teeth-kicker. Or, in the latest setback for Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray, a groin-separator. Murray, the oft-injured rearguard, is once again on the shelf due to an inadvertent kick he took to the mid-region against Chicago in pre-season action. At this point, it looks like Murray will miss the start of the regular season due to this groin injury and the timing couldn’t be worse.
Murray, about to turn 25, has just one 82-game outing to his name, but it’s not because he’s a detriment on the ice. The problem is actually keeping him on the ice. A back injury limited the blueliner to 44 games last season, while a broken hand knocked him out of the lineup for 15 games the season before that. Earlier in his career, serious ankle and knee injuries cost him in a pile of games.
Which is a long way of saying that we still don’t really know the ceiling for the second overall pick. When he was drafted, Murray was seen as a safe, consistent defenseman (one scout in Draft Preview compared him to Karl Alzner) and when he has been healthy in the NHL, he has shown off nice mobility - so he’s right for the time.
But at what point does Columbus have to factor in his injuries when it comes to his value?
Columbus selected Murray second overall in the 2012 draft, a class that has become a bit notorious at the top. First overall pick Nail Yakupov is already back in Russia, third overall pick Alex Galchenyuk was traded to Arizona after a stormy career start in Montreal, while fourth overall selection Griffin Reinhart was just placed on waivers after being traded twice - never playing a full season in the NHL.
This summer, Murray and the Blue Jackets came together on a one-year pact worth $2.8 million for the upcoming season. Certainly, there was a “show me” quality to the deal: Consider that most of the best defensemen from that 2012 class - Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Matt Dumba - have already been signed to long-term contracts by their respective franchises.
And Murray does need to earn that trust, but how much longer should the Blue Jackets wait?
Columbus is entering one of the most promising seasons in franchise history. Despite the turmoil surrounding Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, this team has the goaltending, the forward depth and two incredible defensemen in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, not to mention a coach in John Tortorella who has the room’s ear.
Werenski, however, is recovering from shoulder surgery. He might be ready for the season opener, but now with Murray down, the Jackets’ defensive depth looks pretty suspect. Markus Nuutivaara, Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington may all be needed and that’s a trio with just 225 total games of NHL experience, despite all of them being around Murray’s age. Even with all the injuries, Murray has suited up in 264 games for Columbus.
Glass half-full? The Blue Jackets can see if big youngster Gabriel Carlsson can seize more of a role on the team early on. But otherwise, there’s not a lot of good to the Murray situation.
Now, Murray will still be a restricted free agent next summer so the Blue Jackets aren’t losing him on the open market, but at one point does that second-pairing roster spot need to be filled on a more reliable basis?
While you can’t truly forecast injuries, there are certain players that seem more vulnerable than others and it can affect a team’s fortunes. St. Louis has gone through the same problem lately with Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri - when they’re in the lineup, they’re great, but they’re not in the lineup enough. The Blues should have been players the past few seasons, not a bubble playoff team at best.
For Columbus, time is of the essence. Panarin and Bobrovsky will be gone this summer, if not sooner. But the Blue Jackets can make some noise in the East if everything comes together. A healthy Murray is part of that equation.