After suffering from concussions toward the end of the season, Marc-Andre Fleury lost his starting goaltending position to rookie goaltender Matt Murray. Once Murray hit a small slump in the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay, the Penguins have Fleury one last shot. Playing in game five, Fleury just didn’t look his best. The Penguins lost the game in overtime and Fleury admitted to not being 100%. Fleury remainder the Penguins backup as Matt Murray helped guide the Penguins to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup Championship.
After a lot of trade speculation, Jim Rutherford maintained that he intends to keep both Fleury and Murray on the roster for the upcoming season. While it is presumed that Matt Murray would be the team’s starter, Marc-Andre Fleury thinks otherwise. Hoping to win his starting position back, Fleury now says that he “won’t go down without a fight.”
I think it’s great that Marc-Andre Fleury is determined to win his position back. The idea of Fleury vs Murray could really bring out the best in both players. The real question, though, is can Fleury actually win his starting spot back?
Matt Murray was phenomenal in the playoffs. He tied the rookie record for playoff wins (15) and was considered by many the Penguins best player during the playoffs. His play was absolutely stellar and should only improve moving forward. Being only 22 years old, it’s not illogical to see Murray as the team’s netminder for years to come.
When you look at the basic stats, does Fleury really have a chance to even remain on this team? Matt Murray is only 22 years old and the only way he can go is up. Marc- Andre Fleury is 31. That’s almost ten years older than Murray. Murray also has a salary of $550,000 a year, which is hardly a comparable figure to his production. Marc-Andre Fleury, on the other hand, makes $5.75 million for the next three years. If the team decided to trade Fleury, the money could be used to either 1) bring in a top-six forward or top-four defenseman or 2) be used on Matt Murray’s next contract. Fleury’s contract could be used to help the team in other ways.
For the upcoming season, though, Fleury does have a chance. It’s hard to forget that without Fleury, the Penguins probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs. Fleury carried the team while their play was lackluster and pretty much kept them from sinking. He played arguably some of his best hockey until he was concussed later in the season. How can anyone forget about that?
What covers Fleury’s play, though, was Matt Murray’s. Murray won the Penguins the Stanley Cup. That’s no easy task and he was able to guide them to championship in only his first season. With how great he’s played, Murray can only get better….right?
Matt Murray has been highly regarded by many teams in the NHL. It’s well perceived that Murray is going to be an exceptional goaltender moving forward. People also thought the same thing with Andrew Hammond. After earning the hearts of fans and the starting position in Ottawa, Hammond helped the Senators do the impossible and make the playoffs. That was the best we ever saw from Hammond. Teams watched footage of him and learned his habits. Pretty soon he was right back on the bench as a backup and still can’t steal the starting spot back from Craig Anderson. What if the same happens to Murray?
It’s hard to see Murray dropping as bad as Hammond but it’s not impossible. If Murray comes to training camp and shows signs of a sophomore slump, Fleury could easily win his starting spot back. The Penguins could easily win a Stanley Cup if Fleury performs like he did earlier last season.
Let’s say both Murray and Fleury look great in training camp. Who starts? If that’s the case, then both. Matt Murray is entering the final year of his contract already. Making $550,000 a year is extremely cheap for a player of his caliber. If Murray starts the entire season, he’s going to want a huge payday. It’s not ludicrous to think Murray would receive $5-6 million on the open market. Looking at some of the contracts teams paid this offseason, teams would throw large amounts of money to lure in Murray. Thankfully, Murray is still a restricted free agent (RFA), meaning the team can match any offer sheet.
Looking at this, if the team splits the amount of starts between Fleury and Murray, then the Penguins may be able to push for Murray to receive a cheaper bridge deal. Once the Penguins see that Murray is consistent enough, than they can move Fleury and kee Murray at a discounted price.
The other thing to remember with Murray is that he started his career late in the season. Murray has played a total of 34 games including the playoffs. Could Matt Murray, being only 22 years old, handle the workload of an entire 82 game schedule plus playoffs? We saw this with Olli Maatta and his fatigue after coming out of the junior leagues. Keeping Fleury on the team could lessen the load from Murray and keep both goalies fresh.
So to sum this all up, I don’t see Marc-Andre Fleury ever being the clear-cut number one starter. Matt Murray has so much promise and has already won the Penguins a Stanley Cup. I do think it is very likely we see both Fleury and Murray splitting the games, giving the Penguins two extremely talented goaltenders.
The Penguins are in a great position coming into this season, and with the depth in net, the team is set up for another Stanley Cup Championship.