After an entire summer of speculation and questions about how they were going to handle their goaltending situation, the Pittsburgh Penguins are prepared to enter the 2016-17 season with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray on their roster.
Given the way Murray played in the postseason on the way to a Stanley Cup win, and the contract situations that are only going to become even more complicated next summer with an expansion draft, there was a belief that Fleury could be on the move this summer. For any number of reasons, including the lack of a trade market for goalies and the fact Penguins management seems happy to have both goalies in the mix at this point, a trade never happened.
On Thursday, Fleury spoke to some of the Pittsburgh media following an informal workout before the team returns to training camp and said, via Sam Werner of the Post-Gazette, that he never requested a trade from the team this summer and that his goal has always been to remain with the team.
“I’ve always said this is my home,” Fleury said, again via the Post-Gazette. “I wish I could play here all my career. I’ll try my best to do good for the team, for the organization and hopefully stick around a long time.”
In the short-term, the Penguins’ goaltending situation seems like it could be a good problem to have because both of them have shown they are capable of being the team’s No. 1 goaltender, and split of the playing time means neither one has to shoulder too much of the workload and shouldn’t be worn down by the time the playoffs come around. There is also a safety net in place in case of an injury to either one, or if Murray sees his play regress from where it was in the playoffs.
The problems are more long-term as they relate to the salary cap (Fleury’s contract runs for three more seasons and pays him more than $5 million per season) and the upcoming expansion draft. Given Fleury’s contract, which includes a no-trade clause, the Penguins would have to protect him in the expansion draft next June which means Murray would be exposed and create the possibility that the Penguins could lose him for nothing.
That situation helped ignite the trade speculation over the summer.
If all things related to their performance remained equal (Fleury still plays like a starting goalie; Murray doesn’t regress too much) you still have to think that the Penguins would probably prefer to keep Murray long-term, simply because he is still cheaper at the moment (an important thing for a team that always spends to the cap like Pittsburgh) and is nearly 10 years younger. For as good as Fleury has been over the past couple of years since having his career do a complete 180 after a disastrous 2012-13 playoff performance, he is still starting to get to an age where goalies typically start to slow down a little.
If nothing else, the Penguins have the 2016-17 season to evaluate the performance of both and make their long-term decision before having to worry about exposing Murray to the expansion draft.
The 2015-16 season was one of Fleury’s best in the NHL before two concussions sidelined him for extended periods of time. The latter happened late in the regular season and kept him sidelined through the start of the playoffs. By that point Murray had taken over the job. The Penguins briefly turned to Fleury for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, an overtime loss that saw Fleury struggle down the stretch. The Penguins went back to Murray in Games 6 and 7 — both wins — and continued to ride him through the Stanley Cup Final.
At the start of the season his play was probably the biggest reason the Penguins remained in the playoff hunt when the rest of the team around him was struggling prior to the coaching and roster changes that helped turn around the season.