Douglas Murray was somehow on the ice for two Canadiens goals on Saturday night, somehow managing to pick up secondary assists on both, somehow his first and second points as a member of the Canadiens.
Those of you who have been paying attention can be forgiven for being surprised by this news. Though he was signed in the off-season and had played in 22 games prior to the Senators game, he had only been on the ice for a single goal for up to that point, against the Predators. It’s more than just a cute statistical quirk on the stat sheet for a tough, stay-at-home, crease-clearing behemoth, though. At the half-pole of the season, the underlying numbers point to one, unfortunate, brutal truth: Douglas Murray is, bar none, the worst defenceman in the NHL.
Don't believe me? Look for him in all the different categories here (Hint: You might have to scroll down.)
Arik Parnass asked the question two months ago, but by now, it's really not a question anymore. Among the 185 defensemen who have played in 23 or more games so far this year, in even-strength situations, Murray is ranked dead last in 9 of the 19 available categories, and in the bottom three in five more. Scroll all the way down and you’ll see him at the very bottom for GF, GF%rel, CF, CF%, CF%rel, FF, FF%rel, SF, and PDO. He’s second-last in GF% and FF% and is ranked third-last in SF%, SF%rel and Sh%. He’s also (somehow) eighth-last in Sv%, despite playing in front of elite goaltending (the Canadiens have the sixth-best 5-on-5 save percentage in the league). If you take Murray’s "all situations" numbers instead of just 5-on-5 play, it’s somehow even more damning—he’s either last or second-last in almost all the above categories. (Don’t understand the categories? Don’t worry, neither does Canadiens management, apparently.)
What the numbers say is that Douglas Murray is a black hole in essentially every way. When he is on the ice, his team puts up worse puck-possession, shooting and scoring numbers than when any other defenceman on any other team is on the ice. This confirms the "eye test" that keen-eyed Habs fans have noticed when it comes to Murray. He can’t skate. He can barely shoot. He can’t handle the puck. He can hit, if it’s essentially a stationary object. He can block the puck, although he’s as likely to do that as deflect it or simply screen his goaltender. He single-handledly creates offensive-zone time and space for opposition players. What the numbers say is that when Murray is on the ice, the Canadiens are half short-handed.
Maybe you’re skeptical. Maybe you think Murray’s getting a rough ride on the back of numbers that arise naturally from the tough minutes he plays, rather than his inherent inability to compete at the NHL level. It's true that he plays a ton of short-handed minutes, but those don't factor into his 5-on-5 numbers, where he's the league's very worst defenceman. Well, he's probably facing really tough competition, right? What's that? He's actually seeing the sixth-easiest competition of D-men with at least 23 games played? How about that. What about zone starts, though? Would it interest you to know that Murray is the only Canadiens D-man getting more than 50% of his non-neutral starts in the offensive zone? Yet somehow, he’s still on the ice for radically fewer shots for than any other defenceman in the league. Maybe this whole season has just been a series of really bad coincidences for Murray?
Realistically, here’s why: Because he can’t play hockey. So naturally, it’s hard for him to help the team contain the puck in the offensive zone, and even harder for him to help them move it back there once it’s come out. Having watched most of the Canadiens’ games so far this season, I’m relatively confident in saying that if you lined up every player in the NHL and asked them to skate the length of an NHL regular ice rink, Murray would come in dead last. Unfortunately, his QoC and OZ% number suggest that Michel Therrien and the coaching staff already have an inkling about what we know: That, apart from penalty killing, where skating is typically not a serious asset, Douglas Murray is a big, lumbering liability on skates. Scratch that. He's the biggest, most lumbering liability on skates that's not part of the Toronto Maple Leafs' fourth line. Can you imagine what his league-worst defensive numbers would look like if he was starting in the D-zone more ofter and facing the opposition's best players more often? How much more league-worst than league-worst can a defenceman be?
Hockey is a game of speed and skill. Douglas Murray has neither—in spades. At this point in the season, it's relatively clear that he is openly the worst D-man in the league and GM Marc Bergevin needs to address the glaring mistake he made this summer. Every game Douglas Murray dresses, Canadiens management is saying, "We are comfortable fielding the worst defenceman in the league as part of our D-corps. It’s fine. We really don’t mind." In case you wonder why the team is fourth in the Eastern Conference and not higher, there’s your answer.
And in case you hang your head and wonder why the team gets eliminated in the first round of the playoffs this year, there’s your answer. Whatever reputation he's earned as a shrewd contract negotiator, Marc Bergevin doesn't know a good free-agent defenceman from a Montreal pothole.
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