Penguins’ Rutherford would prefer to keep Fleury this season

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For the better part of the past year it has always been a matter of when, and not if, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to part ways with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Matt Murray has taken over as the starter, and given his age, salary, and the fact he has simply outplayed Fleury since the end of the 2015-16 season he is going to continue to be the starter for the long-term.

But through months of speculation and rumors Fleury has remained with the Penguins. With the NHL trade deadline less than a week away, general manager Jim Rutherford addressed the situation on Thursday and said that it continues to be his preference to keep Fleury with the team through the rest of the season.

“I’m going to say what I’ve said all along. I’d prefer to keep him,” Rutherford said, via NHL.com “We play a lot of games in March. You don’t know when players are going to get hurt. He’s handled the situation very well. I’m going to have some communication with him in between now and the [deadline] and see exactly where he sits and how he feels. That will play a part in the final decision. But I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself because he very well could be a part of our team going down the stretch.”

That all very well could be true.

Fleury is a great safety net to have on the roster in case something happens to Murray (Murray has been injured on more than one occasion in the early part of his career), but he still carries a significant salary cap hit and the Penguins, pressed right up against the cap, would probably still like to make another addition or two before the deadline.

Even though it is almost certainly not on the Penguins’ radar at the moment, there is also the expansion draft issue over the summer.

Trading him sooner, rather than later, would clear out a lot of potential headaches and give them some short-term flexibility when it comes to adding to a team that is already a Stanley Cup contender.

But even if the Penguins would want to go in that direction right now the biggest obstacle in actually completing a trade before the deadline is just how soft the market is for starting goaltenders. Looking at the teams that are in a position to be buyers there are really only one or two that would be in the market for a starting goalie — Calgary, and maybe St. Louis. Pretty much every other playoff team — or potential playoff team — is set in net.

It takes two teams to make a trade, and right now there might not be another out there that makes sense as a partner.