Pens opt against making AHL record-breaker Murray a backup for Fleury

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The departure of Thomas Greiss and a record-breaking AHL season apparently aren’t enough to inspire the Pittsburgh Penguins to tab Matt Murray as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup, as the team website reports.

Management’s explanation is simple enough: Fleury is the No. 1 guy, so why not allow Murray to get more reps as the top dog in the AHL instead of being glued to the bench?

“He’s not coming in here and beating out Marc-Andre Fleury and taking over this team,” Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald said. “We love what we have down the line here, and it is down the line. He just turned 21. He needs to play hockey games. You can’t develop if he’s sitting on the bench. That’s just a fact.”

Although he said the Penguins knew he was good, Fitzgerald admitted that they didn’t expect him to generate the kind of 2014-15 campaign he did, winning the AHL’s goalie of the year award while putting up big numbers.

A devil’s advocate take might be that it’s sometimes wise to ride out surprise hot streaks with goalies. The Ottawa Senators rode Andrew Hammond’s out-of-left-field surge to a playoff berth while Devan Dubnyk went from the scrap heap to saving the Minnesota Wild’s season, and neither team anticipated either scenario, right?

Regardless, the good news for the Penguins is that Murray seems fine with both scenarios.

“I think either way could be good for me,” Murray said. “I think playing in the AHL wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but also practicing with the best players in the world wouldn’t be a bad thing either, so the way I look at it, either way I can take the positives out of it. Wherever I end up, I’m still going to have the same determinations and play the same way each and every day and let things take care of itself.”

Matching a record-breaking season might be asking for too much, but if Murray’s for real, he’ll get his big chance sooner or later.

Wild remain optimistic about Kuemper despite ‘erratic’ season

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Now that goaltender Devan Dubnyk has inked a six-year, $26 million contract with the Minnesota Wild, where does that leave Darcy Kuemper?

Kuemper had an opportunity to establish himself as Minnesota’s starter last season, but he barely played at all after the Wild acquired Dubnyk last season. Still, it sounds like there’s an opening for the workload to be far less one-sided in 2015-16.

“Well we’re still very excited about Darcy Kuemper,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said, per the Star Tribune. “He’s a young man, and two seasons ago he had a tremendous year. Last year he was certainly more erratic. He started well and had a tough stretch in the middle of the year.”

Kuemper is just 25 years old and has enjoyed some good stretches. Overall he has a 2.48 GAA and .910 save percentage in 63 career starts.

Meanwhile, Niklas Backstrom is set to begin the season as the team’s third-string goaltender as the 37-year-old plays out the final campaign of his three-year, $10.25 million deal. He played in just 40 games over the first two seasons of that contract.

Keeping three goalies on a team’s roster is typically not seen as ideal, but in Minnesota it’s fast becoming the norm.

“For a lot of the last two years, we’ve had to carry three goalies, and it looks like that’s how we’re going to have it to start this season as well,” Fletcher said.

Report: Wild’s Backstrom suffered serious nerve damage in elbow

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More is coming to light about the injury that hampered Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom through most of last season.

Per the Star-Tribune — working off an interview Backstrom did with Finnish TV station MTV 3 — Backstrom apparently aggravated an early-season elbow injury this past spring, to the point where he couldn’t perform standard activities with his right hand.

More, from the Trib:

“It was a bit scary situation,” Backstrom told MTV 3’s Timo Kunnari during an interview that was translated for the Star Tribune by Usanomat hockey writer Juha Hiitela. “It happened pretty fast. All of a sudden two fingers are not working. Even in rest, two fingers were motionless. I couldn’t use my right hand to drive a car or to hold a phone.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened during my career, but this really made me stop and think. You need your hand for the rest of your career. I’m righthanded.”

Backstrom, 37, underwent surgery to repair the injury in May and didn’t dress in the playoffs. It’s believed the Wild wanted to buy him out of the last year of his contract (he’s carrying a $3.417M cap hit), but was unable to given the Finnish netminder was injured during the buyout window.

As a result, Minnesota could head into next season with nearly $9 million tied up in three goalies — Backstrom, Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper.

Further compounding the issue? Player agent Jay Grossman claims Backstrom should be cleared to play for the start of the regular season, which could rule out putting Backstrom on long-term injured reserve, and getting the cap relief that comes with it.

Per the Tribune, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher declined to comment on the Backstrom situation.

Bishop Effect: 6-foot-9 goalie ‘trying to make a name for myself’ at Vancouver’s prospect camp

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John McLean, the towering NCAA Division III goalie currently participating at Canucks prospect camp, is trending.

For starters, he’s trending on social media. After this picture surfaced on Twitter last week, websites like TSN’s Bar Down and Yahoo’s Puck Daddy took notice of what could be the tallest individual to ever tend goal professionally — after wrapping a four-year collegiate career at tiny Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, the 6-foot-9 McLean played a few games for Pensacola of the Southern Professional Hockey League this spring, which paved the way for his Canucks camp invite.

And with that invite, McLean became part of another trend.

The Canucks are no doubt intrigued by McLean’s size, especially given the recent movement towards bigger goalies in the NHL — like 6-foot-7 Lightning netminder Ben Bishop, who McLean sees as something of a role model.

“I’ve never really been able to play like an NHL goalie until Ben Bishop came along,” he explained, per TSN 1040. “I’ve just kinda played my own way and used my body to my advantage.

“Just in the last couple of years with Ben Bishop and Scott Darling coming into the picture, I was able to relate to some of the goalies.”

According to the NHL.com database, four current goalies stand 6-foot-6 or taller: Bishop, Darling, Anders Lindback and Devan Dubnyk, the latter being one of three finalists for this year’s Vezina trophy.

A handful of others, like Pekka Rinne and Darcy Kuemper, are listed at 6-foot-5 — and there could be plenty more skyscrapers on the horizon, according to Bishop, the tallest goalie in NHL history.

“I don’t know if it’ll be the end of the era [of small goalies], but I think you see taller guys that can be just as athletic as the smaller guys,” Bishop said during the Stanley Cup Final. “It seems to be the way it’s trending here.

“You look at Darling, he’s 6-6, and that guy can move pretty well. You see bigger guys that can move just as well as the smaller guys, and that’s probably why teams have started going in that direction.”

McLean has a long way to go to match the likes of Bishop and Darling, but the fact he’s at an NHL prospects camp at all is telling. Most goalies with resumes boasting Div. 3 hockey and low-tier professional experience aren’t going to get this kind of chance — but then again, most goalies’ waists aren’t at the crossbar while standing, like McLean’s is.

The 25-year-old knows his time in Vancouver is a huge break for his career, and wants to make the most of it.

“I just use my size to my advantage, and try to play big,” he explained. “I’m just trying to make a name for myself right now, and play where someone wants me.”

Related: Does Bishop, the tallest goalie in NHL history, mark ‘wave of the future’ in net?

Putting pen to paper: Wild re-sign Dubnyk

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Last weekend, the Minnesota Wild announced that the organization and goalie Devan Dubnyk had agreed to terms on a six-year contract.

On Saturday, the Wild made everything all official, announcing the re-signing of Dubnyk to that six-year deal, which was reported last weekend to be worth $26 million.

After getting traded from Arizona to Minnesota in January, Dubnyk helped turn the Wild’s season around with superb goaltending in the second half and rejuvenated his own career in the process.

Last month, Dubnyk earned the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy — he was also nominated for the Vezina Trophy — after finishing his regular season with the Wild with a .936 save percentage and 1.78 goals-against average.