After seven seasons in the NHL, Ryan Murray is very much a known entity. The #2 overall pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012 has never quite lived up to his draft position, but he has skills which make him a valuable contributor on the blue line. He positions himself well in the defensive zone, and is one of the best passers on the team.
The problem? He just can’t stay healthy. He played all 82 games in a season just once - in his third season, 2015-16. In every other season he has missed at least 16 games, with his total failing to top 60 games over any of the last four years. He missed two of the last four postseasons in their entirety.
While he has suffered injuries to seemingly every part of his body, the injury which cost him 43 games this season was his back. Per Aaron Portzline of The Athletic back in March:
But when Murray’s lower back turned wonky again this December, he went looking for new answers to what had become a frustrating problem.
“We dealt with it differently this time,” Murray said.
Murray and Blue Jackets head athletic trainer Mike Vogt traveled to see a doctor in Canada, one who specializes in the body’s core muscles and has studied extensively the interconnected mechanics of the back.
After he examined Murray and studied his long history of injury, there was good news and bad news.
The bad news: Murray’s back will need to be a daily priority — repeated exercise and stretches, proper moving and lifting techniques, etc. — for the rest of his life, not just for the rest of his playing career. At 26 years old, he has the back of a much older man.
The good news: Doctors don’t see any reason why Murray, if he keeps up with the daily exercises, shouldn’t be able to play regularly and sustain a long career.
Murray won’t be doing some of the same strenuous workouts as the rest of the Blue Jackets, but he’s spent the last two months doing daily workouts to build up his core muscles and to help relieve stress on the lower back area where the affected disk resides.
Part of the approach to keeping him healthy is limiting the workload during busy weeks. He had to sit out for a game on the Western Canada trip after playing just two games after returning. In the qualifying round, he sat out Game 4 against Toronto, which was the second leg of a back-to-back.
Ryan Murray 2019-20 Stats
Games Played: 27
5v5 CF%: 47.6
5v5 FF%: 49.3
Games Played: 9
5v5 CF%: 49.2
5v5 FF%: 50.0
Murray is entering the final year of a two year contract which pays him $4,700,000 with a cap hit of $4,600,000. He will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Might he be a trade chip? Normally a veteran defenseman on an expiring contract is valuable at the deadline. But is he worth the cost with the injury risk?
If the Blue Jackets can’t trade him, will they let him walk or will they try to re-sign him? Obviously it would be for a smaller hit. Is he worth keeping around for what he provides in the 50 or so games that he’s healthy?
In the one win against Tampa in the playoffs, Murray scored the first playoff goal of his career, positioning himself on the doorstep to receive a feed from Pierre-Luc Dubois:
Special credit to his first game back from injury, on March 1 at Nationwide Arena when he had two key assists as the Blue Jackets erased a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3 (but he was also on ice for those first three goals against).
On December 14, Murray got injured after playing just 11:35 in Ottawa. He would miss the next two and a half months.
How would you grade Ryan Murray’s 2019-20 season?
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