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Ex-Shark of the Week: Douglas Murray

The towering Swede is this week’s ex-Shark.

San Jose Sharks v Colorado Avalanche
Douglas Murray during warmups prior to a 2007 Sharks-Avalanche game.

The first thing you need to know about Douglas Murray is that he is beloved. When he left the Sharks, players and coaches alike were effusive in a way you rarely see. Dan Boyle sang his praises to the San Jose Mercury News:

“I think everyone talks about his physical play, but he had a huge heart. He always worked his ass off out there, which I appreciated. Guys in the East, forwards in the East, if they don’t know who he is they’re going to know shortly. He’s got to be possibly the hardest hitter in the game, I would think.”

The second thing you need to know about Douglas Murray is that he was a 6’3’’, 245-pound defenseman. He played like a 6’3’’, 245-pound defenseman. He would fight, he would body you off of the puck, and he would hit. Oh, would he hit:

But he was also beloved because, for a little while, he was a damn good hockey player. That part of him was deeply underappreciated by the Sharks fanbase while it was happening, and it’s something you should remember: Douglas Murray was a very effective defenseman on some of the best teams in San Jose Sharks history. He was more than a lovable lug: he could really play.

San Jose Sharks v Anaheim Mighty Ducks
A very young Douglas Murray defends against Petr Sykora during his rookie season in 2005-06.
Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Douglas Murray was born in Bromma, a Swedish town just outside of Stockholm, on March 12, 1980. He grew up playing hockey in Sweden, discovered he was pretty good at it, and came to the United States to play prep school hockey at the Portledge School in upstate New York while moonlighting for the New York Apple Core Junior A Team that has also produced NHLers Rob Scuderi and Eric Nystrom, among others. He caught the eye of the Sharks, who drafted him 241st overall in the 1999 NHL Draft.

San Jose expected Douglas Murray would take time to develop, which is why they drafted him even though he had already committed to Cornell University. Murray played for four years at Cornell, where he was named a First Team All-American twice and captained the Big Red as a senior. He graduated in 2003 with a Bachelor’s degree in hotel management from Cornell’s famed (seriously!) School of Hotel Management, and he is the co-holder of a patent for a brilliant device called the UberTap, a hands-free keg tap that can fill three cups of beer in the amount of time it would otherwise take to fill one (again, seriously!)

San Jose Sharks v Dallas Stars
Douglas Murray battles with Sharks fan favorite Brenden Morrow in 2006.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The fresh-faced Ivy League graduate quickly found himself in that most desirable of destinations: Cleveland, Ohio. Douglas Murray played two full seasons in the AHL for the Cleveland Barons, developing just about as San Jose’s brass expected. After being named co-Player of the Year during the 2004-05 lockout with Josh Gorges, it was about time for Douglas Murray to start making an impact at the NHL level. On December 2, 2005, he was finally called up to the Sharks and made his NHL debut. Few took notice, probably because it was someone else’s first game in Sharks teal: Joe Thornton.

But Douglas Murray would soon make his presence known. After bouncing in and out of the lineup for most of the 05-06 and 06-07 seasons, Murray found himself penciled into San Jose’s lineup for 66 games in the 07-08 season and began to craft a consistent game. Ron Wilson paired him most frequently with Christian Ehrhoff, which was a blessing: Ehrhoff was one of the most agile young defensemen in the league at the time, which mitigated Murray’s relatively sluggish footspeed. Murray could worry less about breaking out of the zone and handling the puck and focus more on playing the physical game he had developed over the years. It was an approach that would pay dividends in the years to come.

Phoenix Coyotes v San Jose Sharks
Douglas Murray sits on the bench with his buddies Christian Ehrhoff and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic during a 2007 tilt against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

A most unexpected thing happened on June 4th, 2008: San Jose traded for Dan Boyle. This irrevocably changed Douglas Murray’s career, though he didn’t know it at the time. Murray had fought 11 times during the 2007-08 season and established a reputation among Sharks fans as a bruiser who was too willing to take the body and go for the big hit. In other words, he was beloved, but widely acknowledged as a defensive liability. But for the next three years (2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11), Douglas Murray was constantly paired with Dan Boyle. And he became a legitimate, NHL-quality defenseman. I’m not joking. People forget this because he never scored much (his ceiling was 17 points in 2009-10), but Douglas Murray became a confident, rock-solid defensive presence during the years he was paired with Boyle. Playing about fifteen minutes per game against quality competition, he consistently posted possession numbers indicating that he was the team’s third or fourth best defenseman. That’s phenomenal when it comes from a hulking presence who will take the fight to Satan himself:

Peak Douglas Murray was fantastic. Seriously. I cannot emphasize to you how fun watching Douglas Murray from 2009 through 2011 was. He was right next to Dan Boyle, one of the NHL’s greatest offensive defensemen at the height of his powers, and he was entirely unafraid of anything. It was thrilling. He played so well the idea of him making Team Sweden — which seemed like a joke when it was first floated in the run-up to the 2010 Olympics — became a reality. It was an honor well-deserved.

As is so often the case with large defensemen who rely on their physicality to get by, age began to catch up with Douglas Murray as he headed toward his mid-thirties. The 2011-12 marked a major step back for the hulking Swede: shifting off of his longstanding pairing with Dan Boyle, he played chiefly with Brent Burns and posted by far the worst possession numbers of his career. Our own The Neutral gave him a “D” on his end-of-season review — and I would’ve given him an F.

2012-13 was even worse. Doug Wilson recognized that the Burns-Murray pairing wasn’t working. His solution, unfortunately, was to sign an aged and hugely diminished Brad Stuart and to pair him with Douglas Murray. If you weren’t watching that Sharks team, it’s hard to emphasize how painful it was to watch that duo. Murray and Stuart were constantly pinned down in their own end on defensive zone starts, had trouble moving the puck forward, and generally looked wholly outmoded for the NHL in 2013.

Colorado Avalanche v San Jose Sharks
Douglas Murray and Brad Stuart congratulate Antti Niemi for bailing them out once again.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

But Douglas Murray gave Sharks fans one final gift just as their frustration reached a boiling point near the trade deadline. It turned out that the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted his physicality very badly. So badly, in fact, that they offered Doug Wilson two second round picks for him. No fool, Doug Wilson said yes, and Douglas Murray was shipped off to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Reactions here at the time were ecstatic. In retrospect, it’s a great deal: one of those picks was traded to Detroit to move up to select Mirco Mueller (the Wings chose Tyler Bertuzzi), and the other was used to select current Sharks prospect Noah Rod. Pause for a moment and tap your sticks for Murray’s final fight as a Shark here:

Murray played for the Penguins during their 2013 Stanley Cup run, then signed with Montreal that offseason. After 53 games with the Canadiens, he played a year in Germany and announced his retirement in October of 2016. San Jose honored him by naming him to the second team of the Sharks 25th Anniversary team, and he’ll hear cheers from the Sharks faithful every time he appears on the Shark Tank jumbotron for years to come. It’s merited: remember, not only could he hit and punch, he could play.