By Bobby Bauders
With the emergence of Matt Murray for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the expected expansion draft, Marc-Andre Fleury’s days in Pittsburgh seem numbered.
Matt Murray becomes a RFA at the end of next season, and he’s expected to sign a bridge contract that could be worth up to $2.5 million, and with Fleury’s current cap hit and the expected flat salary cap for next season, there are some problems for the 2016 Stanley Cup Champions. There’s no way they’re going to pay for both salaries.
While having a strong goaltending tandem can be strong in the National Hockey League, it’s difficult in the salary cap era. With the Pens’ current cap situation, it’s all but impossible.
Marc-Andre Fleury is a fantastic goaltender, truly elite, don’t get me wrong. But if he isn’t traded, either Murray or Fleury will be taken at next year’s expansion draft. Which goaltender would you rather have for your future: the 22-year-old Matt Murray with tons of elite potential, or the 31-year-old aging and already elite Marc-Andre Fleury? Are the Penguins a strong team now? Obviously. But they need to think about their future as well.
I understand the reservations some may have about making Matt Murray the new starter for the Pens. But Matt Murray just brought the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh. That’s absolutely insane for a 22-year-old rookie. Even when things became rough in the playoffs, including giving up 3 sloppy goals in the Stanley Cup Final to San Jose, he kept his cool. He’s incredibly mature for his age.
One problem I noticed was that he became fatigued in the final. But anyone’s going to be fatigued playing all the way into June, it’s a long playoff run. Still, that raises questions about his durability during the 82 game regular season. The answer? A backup goaltender. All 29 other clubs seemed to have figured that out. Everyone has their backup for when their starter needs a break. The Penguins problem is their backup is Jeff Zatkoff. Although he did show promise in his 2 games against the New York Rangers. I still don’t trust Zatkoff. He failed the Penguins regularly during the regular season, having very few good games when he rarely played. If a Fleury trade should happen, the Pens will need a better backup who can be called on when Murray needs him.
Some options for the Penguins in free agency include Anders Lindback, Ben Scrivens, Chad Johnson, and even Alex Stalock. This is actually a great free agent crop for backup goaltenders.
I believe Pittsburgh’s asking price will be a mid 1st round draft pick and a prospect since the Pens don’t own a first round pick in this year’s draft (Their pick belongs to Toronto as part of the Kessel trade). Calgary doesn’t own a mid 1st round pick, they own the 6th overall. Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford has proved to be a genius with his previous trades, so maybe he can make a move for the 6th overall? Crazier things have happened.
Calgary’s goalie problems are fairly desperate. Calgary’s top 3 goalies are Karri Ramo (UFA on July 1st), Joni Ortio, and Niklas Backstrom. Not exactly the best goaltending situation giving that Ramo is expected to walk. Ramo, 29, played 37 games last season, and let in 94 goals with a 2.63 Goals Against Average. Backstrom, 38, played 4 games and let in 13 goals with a 3.35 GAA. Ortio, 25, played 22 games letting in 55 goals with a 2.76 GAA. Ortio definitely shows promise for the future in Alberta, but Fleury could be a transitional piece.
The Flames have the ability to be competitive, but they need a more stable goaltending situation. Fleury can provide that stability as he played 35 games and let in 132 goals with a 2.29 GAA.
The only way I see a Fleury trade to Calgary going through is if Rutherford can work his magic and go after their 6th overall. Although, given the expansion and cap situation, Pittsburgh may have to settle for 2 of Calgary’s 2nd rounders and a prospect. Maybe someone like Emile Porter or Tyler Wotherspoon? Either way, after winning his 2nd Stanley Cup, Rutherford has some difficult decisions to make.