Should the Blue Jackets re-sign Ryan Murray or look to make a trade?
2018-19 was Murray's best season to date with the Blue Jackets.
At times, he was the best defenseman on the ice and was a steady presence on the blue line, which allowed head coach John Tortorella to change pairings (without losing a step) if his top pairing struggled. Whether Murray was paired with Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, or David Savard during the season, his presence gave the Blue Jackets two top pairings, with Markus Nutivaara forming half of a solid third pairing that could be a second pairing on other teams.
But, here's the rub: Murray has missed 86 games over the past three seasons due to injury and while he is an RFA, his time in Columbus may be coming to an end. So what should the Blue Jackets do with this talented but unreliable defenseman?
If GM Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets are looking to make another run at the Stanley Cup, then having a player like Murray on the blue line is essential – and these types of players don’t hit the market often.
The Blue Jackets may be in "win now" mode, which means picks in the NHL Draft are not as valuable to them as capable and quality players. Murray could net a solid forward in return, but it would likely be a lesser-caliber player than the Predators got in Ryan Johansen when they dealt Jones.
Murray is still an RFA, although with arbitration rights, which means while he is likely to receive a raise from his current $2.8M deal. While he likely won’t see the type of pay raise Jeff Petry got as a UFA moving from Edmonton to Montreal ($5.5M AAV), we could see a deal similar to Damon Severson in New Jersey at $4.1M AAV.
Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson are set for pay raises after their entry-level deals expire season. It's likely at Dubois could see a deal in the range of $6M, similar to Dylan Larkin’s in Detroit, while Josh Anderson could see a deal like Tom Wilson’s in Washington at $5M annually.
With the need for approximately $11M in cap space next season for Dubois and Anderson, there may not be enough room in the budget for a player like Murray, especially if the Blue Jackets are looking to spend money in free agency.
With Jones, Savard, and Nutivaara locked up and Werenski either receiving a bridge deal to his last RFA-arbitration year or a longer-term deal, it may be time to move a defenseman – and Murray could be the player on the outside looking in.
End of the Day...
The Blue Jackets are going to need top-six forwards, with the likely departures of Artemi Panarin and Ryan Dzingel, and the possible departure of Matt Duchene. Murray could end up being part of a deal that brings a skilled forward in return, as well. If the Blue Jackets decide to hold on to Murray, don't expect them to give him a long-term deal.