Analyzing the Douglas Murray signing

Earlier today <a href="">Marc Bergevin signed Douglas Murray to a one-year contract worth $1.5M</a>, but was it smart?

Douglas Murray is a big, hard-hitting defenseman, who at 33 years old is in the midst of a steep decline in his abilities. He's gone from being a serviceable top-4 defenseman on powerful San Jose Sharks teams, to an immobile, minimally skilled fringe defenseman. Fortunately for San Jose, being big and gritty is worth a lot to many general managers, and Murray's reputation from earlier in his career had not completely eroded by the time he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for two second round picks; grand larceny.

There were 147 defensemen to play over 500 minutes at even strength in the NHL last season. Where do you think newly signed Montreal Canadiens defenseman Douglas Murray ranks among those?

Using Fenwick, we can gauge how Murray impacted the flow of play when he was on the ice last season. Because Murray is known as a defensive defenseman with very little offense, we'll focus more on how his team defended than how they created offense.

Because many people aren't big into advances statistics, we'll also take a look at goals for and against, and see how Murray looks in that analysis.

Fenwick Performance
Statistic Murray's performance Rank
Time on ice 608:46 114
Fenwick for % 46.1% 123
Fenwick events against/60 45.3 138

This is not a good start for Murray. His ice time suggests that he's used more than he should be thus far, and his results are those of a guy who is constantly hemmed in his own zone, and outshot mercilessly. But what about goals? Maybe he outperforms his possession statistics.

Goal performance
Statistic Murray's performance Rank
Time on ice 608:46 114
Goals for percentage 42.5% 126
Goals against/60 2.3 81

While the percentage of goals for while he's on the ice is flat-out awful, Murray's goals against per 60 minutes of even strength ice time isn't that bad, in fact it's at a second pairing level. This is a bit of a misleading statistic though, since the goaltenders Murray played in front of gave him the 44th best save percentage of all 147 defensemen in this breakdown at 92.9%.

At first I thought that perhaps it was possible that Murray had a skill for reducing shots against that didn't translate directly to his Fenwick numbers, but looking at his shot statistics, he ranked 126th in shots against per 60 minutes with 31.7.

What about teammate effects, maybe Murray was dragged down?

Fenwick Teammate Performance
Statistic Murray's performance Rank
Team Fenwick for % 51.7 49
Team Fenwick events against/60 38.9 54
Team Fenwick against differential/60 -6.6 143

Using Murray's teammates' statistics while he's not on the ice, we can see that he played with generally strong possession players both in Pittsburgh and in San Jose last season. We can also see that the differential Murray caused on his teammates' possession statistics when they played with him was among the very worst in the entire NHL, a shift of 6.6 more Fenwick attempts against every 60 minutes of even strength ice time. Essentially this proves that Murray's reputation as being good defensively is busted.

I was going to use goal statistics here to add balance, but considering the goaltending Murray received last season, we know how that affects the numbers and I don't think it's necessary. What we can look at though, is strength of opponents. Maybe Murray was hard matched against great players and it drove down his effectiveness?

Fenwick Opponent Performance
Statistic Murray's competition Rank
Opponents Fenwick for % 50 77
Opponents Fenwick events for/60 39.2 98
Opponents Fenwick for/against differential/60 -6.1 140

This helps Murray out a bit, as he legitimately faced average level competition, which is higher than his abilities should earn him. However once again, the shift he causes as a differential is awful, among the worst in the league. His negative differential means that his opponents register 6.1 more fenwick events for their team per 60 minutes when playing against Murray than they do on average, that's very bad.

Where does he fit in on the Habs?

There were five defensemen on the Canadiens last season to play over 500 even strength minutes, so we can compare their rankings in these categories to Murray to see how strong or weak he is on a relative basis. Instead of posting the raw numbers in the boxes, we'll post their league ranks.

Statistic Subban Markov Emelin Gorges Bouillon Murray
Fenwick for % 2 55 54 26 35 123
Fenwick events against/60 6 71 50 17 36 138
Team Fenwick for % 53 13 27 29 15 49
Team Fenwick events against/60 50 13 26 43 22 54
Team Fenwick against differential 4 138 101 21 77 143
Opponents Fenwick for % 127 97 64 109 137 77
Opponents Fenwick events for/60 45 41 15 31 64 98
Opponents Fenwick for/against differential 5 59 40 12 32 140

What we can see here is that the Canadiens defensemen were leaps and bounds better as a unit than what Murray provides from a possession standpoint. We can also see that three Canadiens defenders had far better teammates to work with than Murray did, however each of them had a better impact on their teammates than Murray did.

We can also see that while by Fenwick percentage it looks like Murray was playing tougher competition, the offenses that the Canadiens defensemen were facing were significantly stronger, and the five Habs had far superior results against them.

You can also see that Subban is a stud but we already knew that.

What was Bergevin thinking?

It's pretty obvious what Bergevin is trying to do here. After Alexei Emelin went down with a knee injury, the Canadiens' defense when Subban wasn't on the ice were losing tons of battles on the boards, and teams were carrying the puck in more easily, along with retrieving more dump ins. Bergevin likely believes that a big, tough defenseman will provide some fear for opponents as they cross the Habs' blueline, and hopefully win some battles along the boards.

Was it a disastrous move?

Undoubtedly, no. But it's not the first mistake that Bergevin has made. There can be debate over the signing of Daniel Briere, but at the very least there is a chance that his personal shooting percentage comes back to life and he could score goals. Murray is not a maybe anymore, he's a bad player, one of the worst at his position in the league.

Bergevin has made a plethora of "character" signings since he was hired, such players as Brandon Prust, Travis Moen, Francis Bouillon, Colby Armstrong, Davis Drewiske, George Parros and now Douglas Murray. Not all of these are mistakes. Prust for one, is a very good player. Armstrong was also solid in the role he was put in, and even overachieved when he was needed on the 3rd line due to injuries. Drewiske is cheap and serviceable. Francis Bouillon is old, small, and of limited use, but he doesn't actively hurt your team when he plays, either.

Bergevin's mistakes so far seem to be limited to the fringes of his lineup, Parros as the 13th forward doesn't make the team a whole lot worse, and Murray as the 7th defenseman doesn't either. Moen is too expensive for the role he plays, but he has trade value should it come to that.

The problem with Bergevin's mistakes though, are the flawed thinking that goes into them. Subban's bridge deal would look like a stroke of genius if the Canadiens were to win the Cup this year, but can we honestly say that Bergevin improved the team this summer? Sure, the kids will get better, but that's not a move of his. What he has done is replace the bottom part of the lineup with worse players than he employed last year. Will it make the Canadiens awful? No, not at all. However, the whole goal is to get better, and that hasn't happened. If anything, they're slightly worse.

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