On Thursday, the Carolina Hurricanes sent Ryan Murphy to the Charlotte Checkers with the expectation that he will play on Saturday. The big positive here is that Murphy is returning pretty quickly from a concussion that occurred in the Flyers game on November 14.
Why it make sense
After about a 2-week layoff from game action, the biggest thing is to get Murphy back into the swing of things and playing regular minutes. With Jaccob Slavin 3 games into his first NHL stint and holding his own at the NHL level, the move to send Murphy to Charlotte makes sense for a few reasons.
First, Francis and Peters at a minimum probably want a longer look at Slavin in the NHL lineup after a decent start and just getting to the point where he settles in. Second, Ryan Murphy needs ice time. As a young player and especially after a layoff, he needs to get out and play 20+ minutes of hockey on a regular basis.
Rational for rehab versus just being sent to AHL
Some might question why this was not an injury rehab assignment. The use of that is really more for players who must go through waivers. For those players, it offers a way to send them briefly to the AHL without the risk of having them claimed by another team. Ryan Murphy does not need to clear waivers and is also on a 2-way contract. The upshot for the Hurricanes is that if they actually send him to Charlotte NOT on a rehab assignment is that the AHL part of his contract kicks in and saves the Hurricanes a few bucks.
What it means short term
Jaccob Slavin’s play so far does make the Canes blue line situation more crowded both short-term and long-term which definitely impacts Ryan Murphy and everyone else who hopes to compete for NHL ice time. But I would not read too much into his ‘demotion’ (I do not really even consider it that) to the AHL.
Murphy needs to get back into game action, and Francis and Peters probably want a bit longer look at Slavin. In addition, the Checkers are still a bit banged up and need a few more players. So getting Murphy back into a lineup just makes sense.
I actually think that Murphy’s play has been generally good and trending upward before his concussion. He is still trying to figure out how to convert his ability to carry the puck into more scoring for himself and the forwards on the ice in front of him. But at the same time, he has made significant strides defending without the puck.
Where he fits long term
Before the season started, I had Ryan Murphy pegged as a player who hopefully was ready to grow into the role of a good #5/#6 defenseman who was great offensively and brought that to the table even in a lesser role. I am not sure he is all the way there yet, but I think he is still moving in that direction. That role could still be a slot for Murphy, but along the way the picture is becoming more crowded. Brett Pesce came from a ways down the depth chart and looks to be NHL ready. Noah Hanifin has proven that he is capable of developing at the NHL level now and obviously has high upside in the near future. Jaccob Slavin is now trying (and doing pretty well through a couple games) to stake his claim to being an NHL defenseman sooner rather than later. Interestingly, despite being a left shot, Slavin has been playing on the right side so far in Charlotte and seems comfortable in this role. When you do the math, the Canes have up to 3 right side defensemen (Faulk, Pesce, Slavin) in the lineup right now with James Wisniewski also to reenter the mix for 2016-17. I recently suggested that the Canes consider trying a right/right combination of Pesce/Faulk in this post HERE. Of the 3 younger players, all are a bit younger, bigger and at least per projections possibly more well-rounded.
When you couple this with the fact that the Canes still have a few more promising young defensemen still on the way (Fleury and McKeown in juniors and Carrick in Charlotte) and are light on near NHL-ready forward prospects, I suggested recently in THIS POST that perhaps Francis would consider making a trade or 2 to balance out the prospects. As a young player with NHL experience and upside, Ryan Murphy could be right in the crosshairs of such a project. His 2015-16 salary is cap friendly for a team that wants young help now, and he is a restricted free agent this summer which should make his next contract affordable.
Might someone like Kerby Rychel who is a young power forward who is struggling to find room on a crowded Columbus forward roster be available? Could a cap-constrained team like the Blackhawks find Murphy’s combination of low salary, modest NHL experience and potential upside enticing as a player who might fit in a bottom pairing now and grow from there?
Who knows who is available and what the interest level is for Murphy or other Canes D prospects, but I think these are the types of conversations that Ron Francis will be having as the trade winds start to blow over the next couple weeks.
One way or another, I would expect Ryan Murphy to be back in the NHL fairly soon. Whether being evaluated for a future role with the Hurricanes or showcased for a trade to improve the team’s future at forward, NHL ice time will need to be part of that equation. I would expect Murphy to get a week or 2 in Charlotte to get back up to speed and then find his way back to Raleigh sometime thereafter.