New Penguins defenseman Douglas Murray’s nickname is Crankshaft, which surely derives from his bruising physical style of play.
But that’s just speculation, as the true origin of the moniker has been a mystery during Murray’s years in the league and he chose not to elaborate on Wednesday when asked, saying with a grin, “It’s still not going to get told if it helps the legend.”
What Murray did say is that he’s OK with the nickname; he just doesn’t like the shortened version of it – as his off-ice persona is much different than his one on the ice.
“A few guys I’ve heard throw it out here,” Murray said. “They asked me, ‘what do you want to be called?’ I said I’ve had so many nicknames through the years, but the one that actually stuck was Crankshaft and it turned into Cranky, which I don’t like because I’m not a cranky person (laughs).”
He’s most certainly not. In San Jose, where he spent all eight seasons of his NHL career, Murray was a popular guy liked by everyone in the Sharks locker room. After Pittsburgh landed Murray from San Jose on Monday, Penguins general manager Ray Shero spoke of the Swedish defenseman’s heart and character as the main reason for the acquisition and something he wanted on his roster for the playoffs.
Murray is sure to be a fan favorite as well with the punishing way he plays, which is reminiscent of fellow Swede and former Penguin Ulf Samuelsson. The only people who won’t like Murray, a physical specimen at a hulking 6-foot-3, 245 pounds and now the biggest defenseman on the Penguins roster, are his opponents.
“That’s definitely my strength,” said Murray, who led the Sharks in hits the last five seasons. “I try to be physical.”
When asked to compare Murray to former Penguin Hal Gill, another big defenseman, Shero said he believed he “brings a physical edge. Maybe more of a physical edge and a meanness than Hal brought.”
Murray’s only caveat is that he’s trying to be smarter with his hitting, something he said he has to be mindful of considering the emotions of playing for a new team.
“I’ve played in the league for some time now, so I hope I can keep my emotions in check here early so I don’t try to run around and get out of position,” Murray said. “That’s probably one thing I’ve improved on, but letting the hits come to you instead of trying to get them.”
Penguins forward Tanner Glass played in the Western Conference for most of his career, meaning he’s played against Douglas Murray many times. He said trying to play the body on Murray is an unpleasant experience.
“Forechecking Doug Murray is not fun, especially trying to hit that guy,” Glass said. “It’s like you hit the boards and it’s a human being.”
So yes, Penguins fans should be ready for the gritty Murray to lay bonecrushing hits on the ice, as he said he’s going to bring that presence. They can also expect him to drop the gloves, as he said he will stand up for teammates when needed and has done so many times in his career. But what fans should also expect is a steady defensive presence, especially on the penalty kill.
Murray is a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman. He led San Jose with 64 blocked shots and was averaging 2:53 shorthanded minutes per game with the Sharks, which ranked second on the team. So he’ll be tasked with clearing the crease in front of his goaltender and shoring up the Penguins’ penalty kill, which has improved drastically over the last stretch of games but still ranks 22nd in the league.
“Definitely penalty killing, steady defensively, play a strong game,” Murray said of his role.
Murray played on a lot of teams stacked with talent in San Jose, but never won a Cup there. While he’s excited to join a team going like the Penguins are, he’s more focused on the big picture here in Pittsburgh and is looking forward to the opportunity.
“Their goal is not the winning streak, it’s to win the Stanley Cup,” he said. “I’ve been around long enough that the winning streak is not going to give you anything for free in the playoffs except maybe a higher seed. With the Sharks, we went 20 games unbeaten going into the playoffs and we didn’t win it. So, I hope we keep it going, more than anything to get two points, but I try not to worry about that.”