The New Jersey Devils have made their first trade in 2019 and it is a swap of minor league defensemen. As announced earlier this evening on their website, the Devils traded 24-year old left-shooting defenseman Michael Kapla to the Minnesota Wild organization for 25-year old right-shooting defenseman Ryan Murphy. As clarified in this tweet by the Devils, Murphy will report to Binghamton.
This is a minor league deal. Kapla made five appearances for New Jersey in the 2016-17 after he signed a contract out of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Since then, Kapla has played all of his pro hockey in the AHL. He has not been called up to play. He has not threatened for a job in training camp or preseason. He has also not had a good 2018-19 season. According to Jeff’s second quarter grades and evaluations for the Binghamton Devils, Kapla received a D+ for two straight quarters. Alicia wrote the following about the defenseman:
Kapla does not seem to be improving defensively and continues to make mistakes on basic defensive plays. At times, I wonder if he would not do better as a forward as he is 3rd on the team in assists with 13 so far this season. Kapla was on a four-game point streak, getting assists in each of the four games between Christmas & New Year’s night. While I recognize his contributions offensively, Kapla has to do better defensively to help out the team.
Those offensive contributions are one goal, fifteen assists, and 42 shots in 45 games with Binghamton. While Kapla was on pace to surpass his production in his first season with Binghamton, the poor grades suggest that the production is not enough.
At the very least, Ryan Murphy will fill in the production Kapla provided. Murphy has been a consistent producer from the back in the AHL. Per Elite Prospects, he has a career 0.63 point per game rate in the AHL. In this season, Murphy has three goals, twelve assists, and 48 shots on net in 35 games with Iowa this season. Murphy has also been called up quite a bit in his career. While he has been unable to stick in the NHL, that he keeps getting opportunities suggests that he does well enough in the minors to warrant a look here and there. I’m sure it also helps that he is a right-shooting defenseman.
Like Kapla, Murphy seems to have more of an offensive skillset - which has not really translated to the pros. Here is what Justin Lape at Canes Country wrote about Murphy, who was originally drafted by Carolina in the first round in 2011. It is a good summation of his time in the NHL as any:
Ahhh, the infamous Ryan Murphy draft. The puck-moving blueliner was selected 12th overall and was seen as a high-risk, high-reward selection. His size was questionable and he needed additional weight in order to be a reliable defender at the professional level. He did not put on the weight needed and his game failed to translate. The Hurricanes defender spent five nondescript seasons with the franchise before being shipped out with goaltender Eddie Lack to Calgary last summer. Murphy was released by the Flames a day later and eventually signed with the Minnesota Wild, with whom he played just 21 games.
Murphy failed to even come close to a full season of play for the Hurricanes and his numbers failed to live up to the initial hype. His career high, in both games and points, was a 48-game, 13-point season in 2013-14. His four goals that year were also a career high. Despite being heralded as a great puck mover, Murphy’s career Corsi numbers remain below 50% as well as his Fenwick numbers. Murphy was sheltered in his time in Carolina and given ample opportunity to grow offensively, given his zone starts were mostly in the offensive zone, yet he never did. Murphy remains one of Carolina’s biggest busts.
In other words, I wouldn’t get too excited about Murphy as a New Jersey Devil. Perhaps Murphy will get a look here and there in New Jersey, but he is just depth at this point. Even with Sami Vatanen out with a concussion and Ben Lovejoy still out, the right-shooting defensemen depth chart runs Severson, Mueller (he apparently can play this side), and Santini. With Eric Gryba and John Ramage as the team’s other RHDs, Murphy may not be the first choice anyway.
If you are a Binghamton fan, though, I think some excitement is warranted. Not only is Kapla is gone, Murphy has plenty of AHL experience to do well at that level. He may be helpful for a blueline that could seriously use it. If Murphy does not work out, then it’s not huge deal. It’s not like the defense can be that much worse. Moreover, according to CapFriendly, Murphy’s contract ends this season and he is a pending unrestricted free agent. The Devils could let him walk if that happens. Kapla is a pending restricted free agent, so doing so would more easily open up a contract spot later this year.
There is nothing to really dislike about this deal. Kapla was an undrafted free agent out of college for New Jersey. He didn’t really develop or break out in anyway to warrant more than a handful of NHL games he received at the end of a lost Devils season. Based on Alicia’s comments and the grades by Jeff’s panel, Kapla was having a poor season anyway. Acquiring Murphy for him is a good move with very, very little risk.
BehrintheWild is hopeful that Kapla can help Iowa in this post at Hockey Wilderness about this trade. As for me, I like it. Jeff, who is more into Binghamton than I am, really likes it. Now I want to know is whether you, the reader, like it or not. What do you make of the Kapla-for-Murphy deal? If you’re a Binghamton fan, do you think this is an upgrade on defense? Could we see Murphy get a look in New Jersey? Should we want that? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Murphy in the comments. Thank you for reading.