Jim Rutherford and the Pittsburgh Penguins officially locked up Matt Murray for three years, sending a message loud and clear that he’s the future of Pittsburgh’s goaltending. With an average annual value of $3.75 million, are they overpaying for a youngster with such limited experience in the NHL? Was the timing right for this deal?
At 22 years old, there’s no way of knowing how high Murray’s ceiling is. All signs indicate that he’ll be a fantastic goaltender but the thing is, Pittsburgh didn’t need to rush into this, especially after making the decision to hold onto Marc-Andre Fleury for the foreseeable future. There are a few concerns that come to mind when considering how quickly they inked Murray to this extension and they start with his experience.
There aren’t many goaltenders with a Stanely Cup ring at his age. However, he only has 13 regular season games under his belt. Again, the arrow is pointing way up for Murray but why not give him some time to simmer throughout the season before making the commitment? That isn’t a knock on Murray, but a question worth asking.
Also, tipping your hat this early in the game when it comes to your plans for Fleury is quite curious. There are a few possible scenarios, one of which is that Fleury has ensured the club he’ll waive his no-movement clause when it comes time for the expansion draft. In that case, the team can protect Murray and the Vegas organization would have the ability to draft Fleury. In that scenario, they could lose the veteran netminder for nothing, though. That’s hardly ideal.
If that isn’t the case, Rutherford will be looking to either move Fleury or ride it out and hope that Vegas doesn’t take Murray at the draft. At this point – with Murray’s new deal already in place – teams know that the Penguins need to unload Fleury if they want Murray around for the long haul. That means Pittsburgh has little bargaining power.
Rutherford has been stellar over the last calendar year in Pittsburgh so I trust that he has a plan in place. However, it’s still worth questioning this situation.
To determine whether or not Murray received a fair deal, it’s best to consider his goalie counterparts that are in the same price range. When you consider the small number of individuals that fall within a similar cap hit, the deal looks great. Below are all goaltenders that make within $700,000 of Murray’s new salary.
(Courtesy of CapFriendly.Com)
It’s safe to say Murray trumps everyone listed above, at least, based on what we’ve seen from him so far. He’s also six years younger than the youngest goalie listed. All too often in hockey, we see teams pay for past performance when they should be looking to pay younger players for what they’ll offer in future seasons. The Penguins did that with this deal, but there’s one problem with that…
Most of the goalies above were signed to their deals with the same mindset. And, in most cases, they haven’t worked out as planned.
Ondrej Pavelec, James Reimer, Steve Mason, and Cam Talbot were expected to be future starters when they signed their current deals but none of them had a huge sample size of games to draw from. Teams were too quick to commit, which is what could occur in Pittsburgh. Keyword there is ‘could‘. I’m leaning toward this deal working out for the Penguins, and I’ll continue to have faith in Murray until he gives me a reason not to, but waiting this out a bit may have been the better move. Essentially, the price tag on his new deal is fair, but the timing could hurt the team down the line.
The best comparison to Murray is Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay, another restricted free agent – meaning very little leverage in contract negotiations – and a rising star. Vasilevskiy’s cap hit will be $3.5 million when it kicks in next season. That’s the going rate for talented young goalies and Murray likely received a small bump in compensation for winning the Cup.
I like the price tag, but again, the timing? Not so much.
Sit Back and Enjoy the Show
If there’s one thing we know about Rutherford, especially during his tenure with the Penguins, it’s that he’s very candid and extremely honest with the media. You’d be hard pressed to dig up a statement of his that he didn’t deliver on in some fashion. Take his words to heart.
Rutherford: "Let's not presume that Marc is automatically out. He's been the franchise goaltender here. Let's let this play out."
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 20, 2016
There’s no indication of a looming trade when it comes to Fleury. With Murray returning to the lineup in the very near future, it seems as if Pittsburgh will stick with their original plan of carrying both. It’s a great short-term situation, look no further than Fleury’s performance thus far while Murray is sidelined with an injury. Two goalies capable of starting is never a bad thing.
For everyone waiting to see the eventual outcome and how things play out, you’ll need to exercise a great deal of patience. As of right now, Pittsburgh’s front office folks are the only ones with any sort of knowledge of what direction they’re heading. Until then, enjoy the fact that Pittsburgh has a great situation between the pipes once again.
Pittsburgh Penguins writer for TheHockeyWriters.Com and PittsburghHockeyNow.Com. Youth hockey coach, and student of the game.