The Pittsburgh Penguins had a relatively quiet offseason.
They were able to bring back both Justin Schultz and Matt Cullen, who were UFA’s going into July 1st, they lost Ben Lovejoy via free agency, as the New Jersey Devils signed him to a 3-year well-deserved contract, and they traded Beau Bennett also to New Jersey for a 3rd round pick in the 2016 NHL draft.
Although nothing that the Penguins did this offseason turned many heads, there was one topic that was the buzz of the summer for the Pens, and one that will continue to stick out until it is resolved: the Penguins goaltending situation. For the time being, due to the broken finger Matt Murray sustained in the World Cup of Hockey, Marc-Andre Fleury will be the Penguins starting goaltender to start the season, with Tristan Jarry most likely to be backing him up. That being said, Matt Murray will absolutely have his chance when he returns healthy, and rightfully so. When Murray does get healthy, which goalie will take the reigns as the starter for the Penguins?
Will it be Matt Murray?
Murray posted a 2.00 goals against average and a .930 save percentage in 13 regular season games. Although this is a small sample size, Matt Murray’s .930 save percentage tied Elliot for best in the league for goalies who played as many or more games than Murray. Additionally, Murray led all goaltenders in goals against average of goaltenders who played at least 13 games.
Could Murray keep up stats like those as a starting goaltender throughout an entire regular season? Who knows, but in a small sample size, Murray clearly showed he has the potential to do so.
Murray continued his strong play in the playoffs, posting a .923 save percentage and a 2.06 goals against average. Of goalies to play at least 7 games in the playoffs, only Holtby (.942) and both Lightning goaltenders, Bishop and Vasilevskiy (.939 and .925 respectively) had greater save percentages than Murray, and only Holtby (1.72) and Bishop (1.85) had better GAA than Murray.
Oh yeah, and Matt Murray is the only one of the aforementioned goaltenders to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
Or will it be Marc-Andre Fleury?
Fleury had his best regular season’s last year, posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.29 goals against average, which ranked him 8th and 7th respectively among goaltenders to play in at least half (41) of their teams’ 82 regular season games. His 2.29 GAA and .921 save percentage were personal bests, with his .921 save percentage tying his personal best which he set in 2007-2008.
Although Matt Murray carried the load for the Penguins late in the season and into the Stanley Cup playoffs, many people forget that Fleury was the reason that they were even able to get there. Early on in the season, the Penguins were struggling mightily to score goals and get their offense going. Fleury bailed out the Penguins multiple times early in the season, and kept their season alive early by posting spectacular numbers.
Fleury, who is now a 2-time Stanley Cup champion, is 31 years young and wants his starting job back after surrendering it to Murray due to injury.
The coaching staff in Pittsburgh will have a tough decision to make when Murray comes back in regards to how the workload is split, and how and when they will determine who they want to be “the guy” for the rest of the season.
Goalie of the future?
The Penguins decision on their starting goaltender goes much further than this season. During the 2017 NHL offseason, the new Las Vegas franchise will have a chance to select 1 unprotected player from each NHL team in the expansion draft. Each team can only protect 8 skaters and a goalie or 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a goalie. Also, each team must protect players that have no trade clauses in their contract.
Being that both Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury are eligible to be picked by the Las Vegas franchise. As of right now, Fleury is one of those players with a no trade clause, and thus, if the Penguins were to not trade Murray or Fleury, the Pens would have to protect Fleury, making Murray eligible to be taken by the Las Vegas franchise.
The only other team that has a somewhat comparable situation to the Penguins is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have 30-year-old veteran Ben Bishop, who has been terrific for the Lightning, and 22-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy. Although Vasilevskiy has not quite showed the same promise as Matt Murray, the Lightning will still have to decide between the veteran who has proven himself and the young guy that could be the future.
Although some other teams will need to make a decision on which goaltender to protect, such as the Stars (Lehtonen, Niemi), Panthers (Luongo, Reimer), Senators (Anderson, Hammond), Flyers (Mason, Neuvirth), and Jets (Pavelec, Hellebuyck), none of these goalies have the value that Matt Murray could add to a new Las Vegas franchise.
In addition, the Penguins will not have a ton of enticing players to be chosen in the expansion draft. Players such as Daley, Kunitz, or Sheary could be available, but Matt Murray’s value far exceeds that of these guys to a new franchise.
The Penguins need to face the hard truth: unless GMJR can pull a rabbit out of his hat, the Penguins are going to lose a goaltender one way or another. As opposed to losing Murray via the expansion draft, the Penguins may as well trade one of their goaltenders and get some value in return. Although some teams made some moves this offseason to lock up a starting goaltender, there are still teams that could use a legitimate starting goaltender.
Would the Penguins trade the 31-year-old veteran, very likeable goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who has spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, or would they trade the potential future of the franchise 22-year-old 2016 Stanley Cup winning goaltender Matt Murray?
Regardless of who the Penguins decide to trade, here are 2 teams that the Penguins could potentially trade with before the trade deadline or in the offseason before the expansion draft:
Ottawa Senators – The Senators currently have Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond. Although Hammond had that incredible run just a few seasons ago, he came back down to earth last season. Anderson is alright, but he is aging and isn’t anything fantastic or special. The Senators were 9th in the NHL in goals for per game, but finished 26th in goals against per game. If they had a legitimate starter, they could easily be a playoff team. In return, the Penguins could attempt to acquire a guy like Mike Hoffman, a top 6 left winger, which is an area the Penguins are lacking.
Dallas Stars – The Stars goalie situation is a mess. They are currently paying Lehtonen and Niemi an approximately combined $10 million, and neither goaltender is playing even close to what their salary dictates. The Stars ranked 19th in goals against per game while still managing to possess the 2nd best record in the NHL with 109 points. If the Stars had a legitimate starting goaltender, they could be a force to be reckoned with. In order for a trade to happen, the Stars would likely have to trade Niemi or Lehtonen first to clear up cap space. I truly believe acquiring a Murray or Fleury makes the Stars a Stanley Cup contender.