They have Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry under contract. Jarry was a second-round pick in 2013. On Saturday, the Penguins selected Filip Gustavsson in the second round of this year’s NHL draft. Many experts considered the Swede to be the top netminder available.
The Penguins appear to be covered between the pipes for years to come.
But let’s not look too far ahead.
Fleury didn’t get traded at the draft, as was hotly predicted. His primary pursuer, Calgary, swapped for St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott instead.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has said he’d like to keep both Fleury and Murray, although doing that past the 2017 NHL expansion draft seems highly unlikely. But, if this past season’s Stanley Cup triumph taught us anything, it’s that you need two goaltenders who are capable of starting (and winning).
Nonetheless, something has to give with the Penguins’ goaltending situation within the next 51 weeks.
Only one thing is certain: If Fleury and Murray are both with the Penguins for the start of training camp, every day after that will be consumed by a non-stop, full-blown goalie controversy that will burn brightly to the point of unavoidable distraction. The strife will not abate until either Fleury or Murray is no longer a Penguin.
Coach Mike Sullivan likes to characterize such rumpus as “noise.” Sullivan won’t be able to find earplugs big enough.
“This guy should play!” “The other guy should play!” “That was a bad goal!” “The other guy would have made that save!” It will be incessant, and without end or pause.
I like it, and will exacerbate it. I will throw gasoline on the fire. Apply egg beater to troubled waters. I do sports talk radio, and that’s what’s best for business.
The goaltending situation could go either way. That’s what’s most intriguing. If management was certain that Murray, at 22, could perform to a level approximating his playoff best over the long haul of 82 games, Fleury would be long gone.
But young goaltenders can be mercurial.
In 1971, Ken Dryden won the Stanley Cup and was playoff MVP at 23, then went on to a Hall of Fame career. But for every Dryden, there are a bunch of goalies like Jim Carey. Carey won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder in 1996 at age 22, but was out of hockey by 1999.
Murray won the Stanley Cup at 22. But chronologically, he’s still very much in his developmental stage.
At 31, Fleury should be in his prime. Statistically, this past regular season was Fleury’s best.
Murray is younger and cheaper. But, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins’ window to win more Stanley Cups is the next 3-4 years. It is hardly outrageous to believe Fleury will be the better goalie during that time.
It’s not even outrageous to believe Fleury is the better goalie right now.
Murray got the job done during the playoffs. But Murray got leaky in the postseason’s latter stages, and certain weaknesses (most notably his glove) were evident. The Penguins won’t often block 33 shots in a game during the regular season.
The notion that Fleury and Murray can co-exist is silly. If one gets the bigger workload, the other will be upset. If they split, both will be unhappy.
Fleury is a more proven commodity, but Murray just won a championship. Each would be justified in believing he should be the No. 1 goaltender.
Hockey doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Human beings have feelings. It’s not always “team first.”
It’s impossible to leave the hoi polloi and media out of this.
Fleury was a top scapegoat of the less knowledgeable even before Murray won 15 games this past spring. If Fleury is reinstated as the starter and the Penguins flounder, the “noise” will be more cacophonous than the din after Nick Bonino’s overtime goal that eliminated Washington. If Murray got traded, it would be louder still.
But Murray won’t be traded. That’s the one impossibility in this situation. Sullivan flat-out sees Murray as the better goalie. Dropping Fleury’s $5-million salary-cap hit would benefit the Penguins, too.
The hesitance to part with Fleury is because Murray comes with so many disclaimers, but dealing Fleury nonetheless seems inevitable.
Maybe Fleury fetches decent return when he does depart. From almost every angle, choosing Murray over Fleury makes perfect sense.
Only one problem: It might not work.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).