Once Matt Murray capped off an impressive postseason run by helping the Pittsburgh Penguins to the 2015-16 Stanley Cup championship, it appeared Marc-Andre Fleury’s days in Western Pennsylvania might be numbered. That belief was further cemented with Murray signing a three-year extension this week, tying him to the Penguins through the 2019-20 campaign. The Penguins will be able to protect only one goalie for the upcoming expansion draft and Fleury has a NMC, meaning unless he waives it at some point to facilitate a move, Pittsburgh could be forced to leave Murray exposed. While it seemed a forgone conclusion the team would at some point approach Fleury about waiving his NMC so they can trade him – and consequently protect Murray in the expansion draft – GM Jim Rutherford is focused on winning a second Stanley Cup and keeping his goaltending duo together “helps with that objective,” writes Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Fleury’s late-season concussion opened the door for Murray in the first place and keeping the pair together guards against an injury to one possibly derailing the Penguins Stanley Cup hopes. The fact Murray was forced to start the 2016-17 season on the shelf due to an injury he suffered playing in the World Cup, serves as a valuable reminder that having two quality options between the pipes is essential in today’s NHL.
Werner also points out that Rutherford believes he’ll be able to address the situation prior to the expansion draft and is therefore in no hurry to make a deal now: “Our focus this year is winning, and we’ll deal with the expansion draft at the appropriate time. This signing of Matt doesn’t go hand-in-hand with any of that.”
However, Pittsburgh will eventually have to convince Fleury to waive his NMC and commit to Murray for the long haul. Murray, 22, is nine years Fleury’s junior and has the potential to be a franchise goalie at least for the next decade. He’s also now slated to make $3.75MM per season from 2017-18 through 2019-20, while Fleury has two years remaining beyond 2016-17 on a contract with an AAV of $5.75MM. Not only can one make the argument Murray is better than Fleury right now, he will undoubtedly be substantially cheaper over the next three seasons and comes with more team control.
If Pittsburgh cannot move Fleury and leaves Murray exposed in the expansion draft, Las Vegas will jump at the chance to add a 23-year-old franchise goalie just coming into his prime. He would represent a strong foundation piece at a key position and at a price too good to pass up. It’s simply impossible to fathom the Penguins allowing that scenario to play out.
Ultimately, when push comes to shove, the Penguins will almost certainly find a way to keep Murray even if that means they have to trade Fleury during the season to do so. As Werner notes, Pittsburgh is usually right up against the cap ceiling and the $5.75MM the team would save against the cap by moving Fleury might well prove to be as valuable to the organization as any asset or assets they could acquire in return for their long-time goalie.