GLENDALE – The Coyotes made a major commitment to a player they envision as a future leader when they signed defenseman Connor Murphy to a six-year contract on Thursday.
Murphy, 23, was a restricted free agent coming off his most productive NHL season in 2015-16 when he notched career-highs in goals (six), assists (11) and points (17), and ranked second on the team with 175 hits and 139 blocked shots. He also improved his plus-minus rating by 32 by going from -27 in 2014-15 to +5 last season.
|Connor Murphy. Photo by Getty Images. |
"There are risks in a long-term deal," General Manager John Chayka said. "This is certainly a projection deal, but at the same time when the risk increases you hope that the reward does as well. We feel on the flipside of this is that we’re getting a right-shot defenseman that can play in our top four and play with some real good players. He’s kind of a hard defenseman to find in a sense that he has an ability to play against the game’s top competition and defend well, but (with him) you’re not losing mobility and puck movement."
Murphy said he’s thrilled to agree to such a lengthy deal with the Coyotes, the team that picked him 20th overall at the 2011 NHL Draft.
"I can't say enough how fortunate I am to have management and ownership and a team that believes in me and puts trust in where they think I am and where I'm going to be with the organization," Murphy said. "I'm extremely excited. I love Arizona and love my teammates and the future that we have with this team. I couldn't be more excited to be a part of it."
When a player signs such a lengthy contract, fans sometimes worry about that player becoming satisfied and/or complacent. Chayka said Coyotes fans should not worry about that happening with Murphy.
"He’s a high character guy," Chayka said. "We expect him to be a part of our leadership core moving forward, and I don’t have any issues or beliefs that complacency will be an issue at all. He’s very dedicated to his craft and he continues to improve in all areas of his game. We feel strongly about where his work ethic and the continual development of his game can take him."
Murphy said the long-term contract gives him opportunity and confidence to help him achieve personal goals.
"For me, it adds a little more motivation to become that consistent top defenseman that I want to become," Murphy said.
|Connor Murphy. Photo by Norm Hall. |
Murphy, who helped lead Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2016 IIHF World Championship earlier this off-season, said he would continue to work with skating coach Dawn Braid this summer, and he hopes to add more muscle to his 6-foot-4, 212-pound frame. He is expected to again be paired with Oliver Ekman-Larsson next season.
The Coyotes now have 10 defensemen on their off-season roster, including three key players inked to long-term contracts: Ekman-Larsson has three years left on six-year deal, newcomer Alex Goligoski has a five-year deal and Murphy has a six-year agreement. All three are expected to slide into major leadership roles once captain Shane Doan hangs up his skates.
"We’ve got a young group of players here and Shane Doan is not going to play forever," Chayka said. "At some point there’s going to be some leadership core to step up and take on some of that, and Connor Murphy is a guy we feel has that ability."
With Murphy – and defenseman Michael Stone – recently re-signed, Chayka can dedicate more attention to re-signing forward Tobias Rieder, the team’s last remaining unsigned restricted free agent.
"We’ve still got some work to do on him," Chayka said.