We’re now more than a month into an NHL postponement and there is still no clear timeline on when professional hockey will return. While fans of the sport have received small tidbits of news over that time, including college signings and contract extensions, the thirst for discussion has rarely been quenched.
With that in mind, we’re happy to continue our new feature: The PHR Panel. Three times a week, our writing staff will give our individual takes on a question many hockey fans have been wondering about. If you’d ever like to submit a subject for us to discuss, be sure to put it in the comments. This series will run each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
To catch up on the previous edition, click here.
Today, we’ll each give our thoughts on the Pittsburgh goaltending situation.
Q: Which goalie should Pittsburgh commit to as their long-term starter?
Brian La Rose:
In the short term, I don’t think GM Jim Rutherford should necessarily be deciding on that just yet. While Seattle’s expansion draft is coming up, it’s still a year away. I’d be looking to do one-year deals with both Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry and let them battle out for who to keep and who goes to Seattle then.
While Jarry has played quite well this season, I don’t think he has accomplished enough to build back some of the value he lost over the last couple of years. Yes, he played like a capable ’goalie of the future’ this season but he still has all of 62 career NHL games. Teams aren’t going to part with a top asset with that little experience so they may as well hold onto him.
As for Murray, he hasn’t had a great year (an .899 SV% isn’t ideal) so his value isn’t at its peak either. I wouldn’t be shocked if they could get more for him than Jarry at this point but it’s still not enough to justify moving one. Going with an above-average tandem in 2020-21 is Plan A in my books.
Looking ahead, if Jarry performs at a similar level next season, I’d lean towards going with him as the one to keep. He’s a year younger and should be a little cheaper than Murray on his next couple of deals and with their salary cap situation, every dollar is going to count.
The Penguins are in a tough position with both their young goaltenders hitting restricted free agency. The biggest problem is which goalie they should commit to long-term. I’ve always considered Murray to be the starter since he supplanted Marc-Andre Fleury and they allowed him to go to Vegas. Murray has been highly inconsistent over the years, but at age 25, I’m not sure if he will ever develop into the star goaltender that the team envisioned years ago.
Murray nosedived last year with a 2.87 GAA and a .899 save percentage in 38 games and basically, lost his job to Jarry, suggesting the team might want to move on. You can’t really even blame the Pittsburgh defense for his struggles this season despite the number of injuries their blueline sustained, because Jarry was so much better. He had a 2.43 GAA and a .921 save percentage in 33 appearances.
Personally, I have to wonder if Murray is capable of getting past his inconsistency. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that Jarry is the answer. One good year doesn’t mean he’s their goaltender of the future. However, I think it might be better to give Jarry every opportunity to win the job and maybe even trade Murray to a team that is in need of a young goaltender, who might be able to turn his career around.
Few goalies in NHL history have gotten off to a better start in their careers than Murray, who posted stellar numbers in his first two years, particularly in the postseason, and took home back-to-back Stanley Cups. Many Penguins fans felt that he was the heir apparent and the team seemingly agreed, giving up assets to the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft to ensure that Fleury was selected instead of Murray.
How quickly things change though. Over the past three years, Murray’s numbers have been inconsistent, his playoff performance has been poor, and his health continues to be an issue. Heading into a potential arbitration hearing this summer, Murray lacks the most important piece of leverage in the negotiation: recent results. Jarry unquestionably outplayed Murray this season, who was a replacement-level goalie at best. By all accounts, Murray still feels he is worth a major raise and extensive term on his next contract, but does not have the numbers in recent years to back up that claim. Jarry, who lacks the same experience but is younger, healthier, and honestly better right now, will likely be the superior performer and the cheaper option over the next few years.
If I were the Penguins, I would give Jarry a contract similar to Murray’s expiring pact and see if he can succeed in maintaining a high level of play unlike his predecessor. I would trade Murray, who still has name value but is not worth the money nor the injury trouble. And I would take advantage of a free agent market that is rife with talented veterans to add an established older name to play second fiddle to the young Jarry.
It’s hard to get all four of us to agree on something, but Murray’s recent struggles have obviously dulled his shine a bit. My choice is simple and it’s not because of anything particular I see when I watch them.
I’ve been advocating for quite some time that NHL organizations need to start thinking more about the excess value a contract can provide, and with that in mind Jarry is the easy answer. Murray’s next contract, if the Penguins were to commit to him as their full-time starter, would leave little room for him to outperform it. Sure, he could become the best goaltender in the league and give you a little excess value, but it’s far more likely that he gives you a performance you could buy on the free agent or trade market for the same kind of money (or, alternatively he continues to struggle and becomes a financial anchor).
Take Jake Allen’s contract for instance. At the time he signed his current four-year, $17.4MM deal he was a young promising goaltender that looked to be the Blues long-term starter. They let Brian Elliott leave and handed Allen the reins, but how much could he have really been expected to outperform that deal? As it turned out he had a few off years—but none as bad as the one Murray just experienced—and likely could have been acquired at any point by a team looking for goaltending.
Jarry on the other hand has a ton of room for excess value still, given he’s coming off a league-minimum deal and doesn’t have the track record to demand a huge raise in arbitration. If he can even perform at a league-average rate the Penguins would be getting back more than they’re putting in. Those little bits of excess value are exactly how you win in this league.