Last week, Jim Rutherford came out and said he’s keeping both of his goalies for the upcoming season. OK, thanks for reading, ladies and gentlemen!
Unfortunately, I don’t see that as a realistic scenario for a wide variety of reasons. First is financial — the preliminary salary cap for the 2016-17 season is around $73M. As we sit here on June 29th, the Penguins are roughly $1.5M over the cap with a salary cap total of $74.5M. Now, this doesn’t factor in Pascal Dupuis’s $3.75M that will go right back on Long Term Injured Reserve and take them to $70.75M, but that still leaves the Pens hovering right around the cap and still in need of signing at least one more defenseman and maybe one more forward.
The second reason is simply a human one. Will Marc-Andre Fleury accept being in a job share (at best) or a backup (at worst) with Matt Murray? It’s hard to ask the young goalie that backstopped you to a Stanley Cup to only play 25 games next year and be an understudy to Fleury. Would Fleury’s presence as a backup cause tension in the locker room. Fleury doesn’t strike me as the kind that would rabble rouse, but there could be a schism in the room among players that are loyal to him.
The third reason is one of practicality. Thanks to the Las Vegas expansion franchise (their name has to be Aces, right?), there will be an expansion draft next summer. The Penguins will be forced to expose either Fleury (if he gives permission to be entered, as his NMC gives him that right) or Murray in the draft and it would be a near lock to be Fleury, based on his age and salary. Fleury would almost assuredly be snatched up and the Pens would lose him for nothing. It’s better to get something of use for him now.
The problem with trading Fleury is that two prime destinations got filled last week when Toronto traded for Frederick Anderson and Calgary got Brian Elliot on draft day. However, there are still three landing spots that are feasible.
Buffalo is done being awful. They’ve stockpiled draft picks, made some good trades and choices with those picks, but are ready to be competitive again. But they really don’t have a great goalie or one that is under long-term control. The Sabres have Robin Lehner under control for only this upcoming season at $2.25M as their nominal starter.
A trade of Fleury for Lehner works out well for both team. The Sabres get a legitimate #1 goalie in Fleury and he gets to reunite with head coach Dan Bylsma. The Penguins get to shed some cap space in the transaction ($3.5M net positive) and get a reliable backup in Lehner to spell Murray for 30 games next season.
The only fly in the ointment would be if Bylsma is too familiar with Fleury and feels he was a big reason for the team’s demise in some of their recent playoff failures.
The Jets have a rabid fanbase, but they haven’t really rewarded them with much to cheer about since moving back to the tundra from Atlanta in 2011. Part of the reason is that Winnipeg has not had a true #1 goalie during that timeframe. Fleury can change that.
Ondrej Pavelec has one year at $3.9M remaining on his deal. That’s a touch expensive for my liking in a pure 1-for-1 swap, as the Pens would only save $1.8M, but it’s something at least. It would be hard to see the Jets not wanting to move Pavelec back in the deal, especially since they have many other RFA’s to tend to with escalating salaries. Maybe if the Penguins sweeten the deal with a 3rd or 4th round pick, the Jets may retain a million or so of Pavelec’s salary.
This one is a little trickier, but hang in there until the end. The Oilers are terrible and don’t want to be terrible anymore. They currently have Cam Talbot as their #1 goalie for $4.1M over the next three years. I wouldn’t want Talbot back for Fleury without the Oilers retaining at least half of that money. Talbot at $2M would be intriguing, especially because having him under team control for multiple years would allow the Penguins to use him as the sacrificial lamb in the expansion draft next summer.
I wrote the first cut of this article at lunchtime on Wednesday. My original paragraph had a proposed Taylor Hall for Fleury exchange. But then Oilers’ GM Peter Chiarelli totally outdid himself and traded Taylor Hall for just defenseman Adam Larrson. Perhaps he’s clearing some salary to make a run at Milan Lucic in free agency, but yikes this trade looks bad on the surface.
Would the Oilers still be interested in Fleury? At this point, I would be calling about Nail Yakupov for Fleury or a package of picks/prospects.
Yes, it does leave the Pens without a backup goalie and very little cap space to procure one, but it’s not impossible. Someone like a Chad Johnson or Jonas Enroth could come for $1.5M in free agency, but the Pens would not have freed up much cap room in the process.
There were some other teams that were potential matches, but for various reasons I couldn’t reasonably put them in. Philadelphia could desperately use a goalie as Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth are not cutting it, but there’s no way the Pens would trade with the Flyers to help them get better. Somewhat the same concept with the Islanders, as I’m sure they would be interested in upgrading from Jaroslav Halak, but it’s hard for me to see the Penguins helping a playoff contending Islanders team get better. And finally, the Dallas Stars almost assuredly want to move on from either Kari Lehtonen ($5.9M) and/or Antti Niemi ($4.5M) after their playoff performances, but the price of contract coming back could be too prohibitive for the Penguins.