The Pittsburgh Penguins will need to make a decision on Marc-Andre Fleury at some point before the summer because of the June expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights, which has been well-documented.
So will Jim Rutherford deal Fleury before the March 1 trade deadline?
NHL Insider Bob McKenzie shared his thoughts on the situation with Montreal radio listeners on TSN 690 Wednesday morning.
“It’s possible,” allowed McKenzie. “More so now than I would have said at the beginning of the season. I think at the beginning of the season Jim Rutherford’s attitude was ‘Let’s be very patient here. Let’s see how this plays out. Let’s see if the health of both goalies is maintained.’
“And obviously Murray was injured, and for awhile Fleury was the go-to guy and was actually playing pretty well. So they were thankful that they didn’t make a move too soon with him. But obviously now that Murray is back and playing well, and Fleury is not playing particularly well, I think Jim Rutherford can see that this is maybe not a situation that’s going to be a positive.”
Pittsburgh’s general manager made the point Monday, as relayed by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari.
“Despite the fact I like having the two top goalies, it’s difficult when both goalies are used to playing the majority of the games,” Rutherford said. “You get into weeks where they’re splitting and going every other game. That hasn’t worked, at this point, as well as I thought it would.”
The Penguins are second in the Metropolitan Division with a 13-6-3 mark, four points back of the New York Rangers – but with two games in hand.
With Murray sidelined all of October because of a broken hand sustained in the World Cup of Hockey, Fleury posted a 6-2-1 mark with a 3.09 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
Murray made his season debut Nov. 2 and is 7-1-0 with a sparkling 1.75 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage.
Fleury’s stats have receded even further since Murray’s return. The veteran has gone 0-3-2 in November with a 3.82 goals-against average and an .889 save percentage, bringing him to 6-5-3 overall with a 3.38 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.
Which brings us back to McKenzie’s thoughts on where things stand today with the Penguins.
“Marc-Andre Fleury is a very popular guy in the room,” noted the Insider. “Very popular with his teammates. And it might affect a lot of them that he’s not playing or not playing well when he does play.
“And in the nuts and bolts of it, it’s a salary cap team that wants to try to address some needs. Paying as much as they are to Marc-Andre Fleury – if they could re-allocate some of those dollars and in the process get something in return for Marc-Andre Fleury, would they possibly be a better team now that they have the confidence in Matt Murray? The answer, of course, would be yes.
“The flip side of that is that if Fleury is not playing particularly well right now, maybe that affects the market. And the market right now for goaltenders is in a state of flux. I’m not sure what the goaltending market is like because I’m not sure how many goalies may or may not become available before the deadline with the expansion draft looming. And other teams are in similar situations. What’s Tampa ultimately going to do with Ben Bishop. What’s Detroit going to do with the Jimmy Howard-Petr Mrazek situation.
“So there’s a whole bunch of these across the National Hockey League, and the goaltending market could get flooded here between now and the trade deadline. But then how many people are looking for goaltenders. How many people can take on a goaltender making the money that Fleury is making. And how eager are teams to give up a significant asset for a goalie who is under contract for a significant amount of money, at a time when a lot of these guys are going to become available in an expansion draft anyway.”
Rutherford, incidentally, indicated Monday he doesn’t feel any urgency to make a decision on the goaltending situation.
It’s also worth noting that in mid-September, McKenzie felt that the Penguins’ goaltending situation would need some time to unfold.
“I don’t think that’ll happen before the season. I could be wrong,” said McKenzie on Sept. 14, also on TSN 690. “I don’t think the Pittsburgh Penguins will be really proactive in going to the market and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a goaltender here if you want.’
“I think they want to let this thing play out for the first couple of months of the season. See how Murray plays. See how Fleury plays. See what the health situation is of both guys. And as it unfolds, it’ll become apparent what’s obvious. That is if Murray continues to take more and more of the net, then Fleury won’t be happy about that. He’ll be much more inclined to make a move.”
For reference: Covering the Insiders