One of the main tasks of NHL general managers is acquiring as many assets as possible, whether they are top-line free agents, draft picks or 17-year-old prospects.
The Pittsburgh Penguins locked up one of their most important young assets last week, signing 22-year-old goaltender Matt Murray to a three-year, $11.25 million extension. The deal kicks at the start of next season and will expire at the end of the 2019-20 campaign. Murray will carry an average annual salary during that three-year span of $3.75 million.
After this extension with Murray, it’d be easy to jump to the conclusion that Pittsburgh is ready to part ways with veteran netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. With Murray now under contract, either Fleury or Murray will presumably be picked in the upcoming expansion draft.
However, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has made it clear he will not trade Fleury just for the sake of making a deal, and this contract extension for Murray really means nothing in the grand scheme of who will be the franchise’s long-term goaltender.
That will be decided at a later date, which should be perfectly fine with the Penguins fanbase because that would mean the team is competing for the Stanley Cup again this season. Murray went on an incredible run during the 2016 postseason, but he is still untested in terms of performing night-in and night-out over the course of a six-month regular season.
Murray is also coming back from a broken hand that he sustained in the World Cup of Hockey. Fleury has played well in his absence and could retain the starting job. If Fleury stumbles, Murray will likely receive a chance to play, but otherwise, look for coach Mike Sullivan to slowly introduce the rookie goaltender back into the lineup over the next several weeks.
Even if Murray isn’t playing regularly, depth is never a bad thing. Fleury did suffer two concussions last season, which was when Murray received his first full-time opportunity to play.
If Pittsburgh feels so inclined to make a preemptive trade, Rutherford could deal Fleury at the deadline to a contending team. Then, the Penguins could protect Murray, otherwise, the team can only protect one goaltender, and it must be Fleury because of his no-movement clause.
Let us remind readers, though, that Fleury’s no-movement clause could also prevent him from being traded anyway. His no-movement clause allows him to submit 12 teams he doesn’t want to be traded to every season, so that really cuts down the number of suitors.
And another important factor that everyone seems to be forgetting: even if the Penguins traded Fleury before the expansion draft, the Las Vegas team is still going to select a member of the Penguins because every team is going to lose a player.
Trading Fleury for another player to help them win this year is just another player the team could potentially lose in the expansion draft. That doesn’t help the team retain more assets. The other alternative is to trade the veteran goaltender for prospects or draft picks, but that doesn’t help the Penguins win this season.
Rutherford is going to let this play out, and hopefully, for the franchise, the problem solves itself.
The Murray deal is still worth completing, though, because if he does indeed become Pittsburgh’s No. 1 goaltender by next season, he is on a very affordable “bridge” contract. Despite winning the Stanley Cup, Rutherford didn’t have to break the bank to keep his top goaltender prospect, so that’s a big victory. If Murray becomes the starter again and has a strong 2016-17, he could have demanded more money in arbitration next summer.
Not to mention, getting the contract signed now should take the pressure away from the 22-year-old. Every player reacts differently to a pay raise, but he should be even more comfortable in black and gold since Pittsburgh had the confidence to sign him to a long-term deal.
Murray’s extension is a victory for both sides, and the deal should definitely be celebrated, but it doesn’t indicate anything about the future of Pittsburgh’s net.