May 23, 2012 12:38 PM
It wasn’t necessarily an easy choice, but it’s one Mike Murphy is comfortable with.
Speaking about his decision to sign a contract with Spartak Moscow of the top Russian league (KHL) rather than return to the Carolina Hurricanes organization, the 23-year-old said that his development was the most important factor.
“(Spartak) scouted me, liked what I did and made me an offer I couldn’t say no to,” he said. “They want me to be their No. 1 guy in what I think is the second-best league in the world. Me and my agent thought it was the best move for my career.”
Still, excitement isn’t the only emotion he’s felt ever since agreeing to make the big move overseas.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I’m excited, but I’m also leaving a good thing. If the offer didn’t come, I could have been excited to come back to Charlotte. There were two really good opportunities, but I feel like this one was better for my development.”
Murphy spent each of the last two seasons with the Checkers, during which time he became the team’s all-time leader in most statistical categories for a goaltender. He was set to officially become a restricted free agent later this summer, and felt that the Hurricanes’ situation could not provide him with the same level of experience as what he hopes to find in Russia.
“(Hurricanes backup) Brian Boucher is under contract for another year, and he’s behind one of the best goalies in the world who plays a ton,” said Murphy, referring to Cam Ward. “I know I’ll get a bunch of games over there, but even if I don’t, I’ll still be practicing with the top team and working with their goalie coach every day.
“It’s not the NHL, but for me it was a good choice.”
As long as the Hurricanes present him with a qualifying offer by late June, which they’re likely to do, the team will retain Murphy’s rights as long as he’s overseas. That means a return to North America would have to go through the Hurricanes one way or another, though Murphy’s not quite sure where he’ll be in a few years’ time.
“It’s uncertain right now,” he said. “Everyone wants to play in the NHL and that’s still my dream, but if I love it over here it could be different. I’m just going to try to work every day I’m there and see where it goes.”
The Hurricanes’ only public comment on the matter came via Director of Hockey Operations Ron Francis, who told the team’s official website that he found the decision to be “surprising and disappointing.” While relations between the player and the team that drafted him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft may not be at an all-time high, it should be noted that the Hurricanes twice welcomed back defenseman Anton Babchuk from KHL stints of his own.
“I know they understand that Boucher is under contract for another year and that this was a better opportunity to develop,” said Murphy. “I would also understand if they took it the wrong way, but it was an offer I couldn’t say no to.
“I hope I didn’t burn any bridges, because it was definitely not my intention to do that. It’s definitely nothing against the Hurricanes or the Charlotte Checkers. They gave me everything I have. They drafted me and gave me a chance to do what I love.”
Murphy said that he had multiple offers to go overseas, but conversations with two other NHL draft picks who signed with different KHL teams, former Belleville Bulls teammate Kevin Lalande and former Checkers teammate Oskar Osala, encouraged him to choose Spartak.
“They said this was by far the best place to play,” he said. “I wouldn’t have left for the KHL just for anything. Oskar said he’s had a great time playing in the KHL, and that was great to hear.”
“The biggest thing for Murphy to adjust to will be the culture, as he plans to start trying to learn some Russian before me makes the trip to Moscow. In that sense, he’ll be entering strange territory, which is in stark contrast to the comfort level he built over the last two seasons in Charlotte.
“When we came to Charlotte from Albany, it was night and day,” said Murphy, referring to the franchise’s move in 2010. “The owner, Michael Kahn, is amazing, and I don’t know anyone who didn’t like playing here. There are a lot of jealous players around the league.”
Reflecting on his memories with the Checkers, Murphy said that he got goosebumps just talking about the team’s series-clinching win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Game 6 of the East Division Finals. Murphy was in goal as the team scored four goals in the last 13 minutes to earn a 4-3 win in regulation.
That was part of what Murphy called a “breakout” year in Charlotte, during which time he built relationships that he’ll now have to leave behind.
“Ever since the announcement I’ve been reading my Twitter feed with all the support,” he said. “Everyone knows I love Charlotte more than anything in the world, and it will be really tough to leave.”