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Penguins’ Matt Murray: More talent doesn’t always mean more wins

March 15, 2018 GMT

Penguins goalie Matt Murray has only been through two NHL trade deadlines in his career and has yet to celebrate his 24th birthday, but he has gained some wisdom that battle-scarred general managers around the league might need a reminder of in the next week or so.

Constructing a hockey team is not like collecting baseball cards. More talent does not always mean better results.

Murray acquired this knowledge during his second season of junior hockey with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2011-12. Wanting to go all-in to bolster a roster led by center Nick Cousins and defenseman Darnell Nurse, GM Kyle Dubas made a big November trade.

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He sent out seven draft picks, including four second-rounders, a player and the rights to another player to acquire hotshot goalie prospect Jack Campbell, who made a name for himself playing for the United States in the World Junior Championships.

Immediately after acquiring Campbell, the Greyhounds lost 10 of their next 11 games. They went 29-33-6 and missed the playoffs.

The trade, which bumped him to backup status, lit a competitive fire under Murray that has never been extinguished. It’s probably a big reason he’s the player he is today.

It also taught him lessons about the correlation between talent and wins in the hockey world.

“It shows you that skill doesn’t always get the job done,” Murray said. “You can have all the skill in the world, and it won’t guarantee you anything at the end of the day. You have to put everything together. You can’t just work hard, either. You have to work smart. You have to be talented, and you have to be mentally tough. There’s a lot that goes into winning.”

This season, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has stated his intentions of doing whatever he can to improve his team’s roster for a run a three-peat. The Penguins have been linked in the rumor mill to plenty of big names, from Ottawa’s Derick Brassard and Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec at center to the Rangers’ Michael Grabner and Buffalo’s Evander Kane on the wing.

Given the team’s salary cap position, it won’t be easy for Rutherford to bring in multiple marquee players before Monday’s deadline.

Even if he did, Murray said the Penguins are the kind of team that can avoid the pitfalls late-season roster adjustments sometimes bring. They’re not the type of players who think dressing an impressive-looking lineup automatically leads to victories.

“Obviously, we have so many guys on this team that have been around for so long and have been successful for so long,” Murray said. “On any given night, they know what kind of game they need to bring and what they need to do to be successful.”

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In fact, Murray said, he said he thinks the way the Penguins assimilate new players into the group is one of the strengths of the team.

Two years ago, it was Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz. Last year, it was Ron Hainsey. This season, it’s Jamie Oleksiak and Riley Sheahan. Players don’t come to the Penguins and sputter. They come to the Penguins and thrive.

“That’s part of being successful as a team, having a connection on and off the ice,” Murray said. “When a guy comes in, you want to make him feel welcome. If he feels comfortable, he’s going to play better. It’s better for everybody. I think we’ve done a real good job of that the past few years.

“Even recently, Jamie has settled in really well. It feels like he’s been here for years. That’s part of having a successful team, I think, is having that togetherness.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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