Could Douglas Murray draw interest at the draft?

We're just over a week away from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh and along with endless speculation and contentious arguments regarding 18-year-olds that 95% of them have never seen in action, the hockey world is abuzz over the aspect of the draft that people really tune in to see: an out-of-breath Darren Dreger providing up-to-the-minute information on whether or not Tomas Kaberle has been asked to waive his no-movement clause. And also trades.

It was on the draft floor a year ago that the Sharks sent Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and their first rounder to Minnesota for Brent Burns and with such a paltry free agent class this summer, it seems likely that we'll see quite a bit of wheeling and dealing next Friday. With the Sharks having already acquired the exclusive negotiating rights to Brad Stuart, one player who could be on the move is defenseman Douglas Murray who CSN Insider Kevin Kurz believes is the odd man out on the team's blueline. If the Sharks are able to sign Stuart, it makes little sense for them to pay Murray $2.5 million to play on the team's third pairing, bumping a cheaper (and, frankly, better) option in Jason Demers to the press box. The terrific Jonathan Willis of Oilers Nation, who discussed the possibility of Doug Wilson moving Murray (and if Edmonton should be interested) earlier today, believes the 32-year-old stopper could be an attractive commodity for a variety of teams:

Even so, I wouldn’t have a problem with the Oilers trading for Murray – except that on the open market I don’t think everyone will be looking at him as a third-pairing guy. He’s affordable, hits an area of need for a lot of teams, and is on a no-risk one-year contract. There are bound to be teams out there that look at his bright points and will pay to take him, teams that don’t have Andy Sutton under contract - teams that would drive up the price of Murray on the open market.

After Ryan Suter (who reportedly is only interested in taking his talents to a Western Conference club), Matt Carle and Barret Jackman, there really isn't much in the way of top-four defensemen available on the free agent market and most of the blueliners conceivably available via trade either carry hefty price tags (Paul Martin), are just not very good (Jeff Schultz) or both (Keith Ballard). Enter Murray, whose reputation as a fierce physical specimen and effective own-zone defender precedes him around the league. As discussed in his season review, and as noted by nearly anyone who watched him this season, it was an awful year for Murray, easily the worst of his NHL career. He was outshot to a greater extent than any other San Jose defenseman (finishing with the fourth-worst Relative Corsi rating in the league) despite only facing the second-toughs and was a boat anchor to just about every d-man he was paired with.

Thankfully, the hockey gods smiled on Murray somewhat as Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss combined to post a .944 even-strength SV% this season when Murray was on the ice, salvaging a positive plus-minus rating for Crankshaft. So it's entirely possible an organization that evaluates players based on conventional metrics (and didn't heavily scout Murray this season) could be fooled into thinking there wasn't a drop-off in his play. Even teams aware of Murray's abysmal season might be willing to bank on it being a result of his in-season injuries and not a sign of impending decline, choosing to instead focus on Murray's solid track record as a capable top four d-man. With just one season left on Murray's deal at only a $2.5 million cap hit, there isn't much risk here.

It's unclear what the Sharks would actually be able to get in return for Murray. Unless they actually think Johnny Oduya is someone to rely on in top-four minutes over a full season, the Chicago Blackhawks might be interested trade partners (especially if they unload Niklas Hjalmarsson as rumored) and could be willing to part with Michael Frolik, which would be a fantastic return albeit perhaps wishful thinking. As they're likely losing Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek to free agency and ex-Shark Derek Joslin was probably the worst defenseman in the NHL this season, the Hurricanes might want a second pairing of Murray and standout youngster Justin Faulk. With only Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips and Jared Cowen under contract on their blueline for next season, the Senators seem like a possibility as well. Unless an intense bidding war erupts for some reason, I think the best-case scenario as far as a return goes would be a 2nd round pick which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world as the Sharks' only selection between 17th overall and 138th is the compensatory choice they received as a result of not signing Patrick White. Regardless, it should make for an interesting storyline heading into the draft, particularly if the organization comes to terms with Stuart in the coming week.