All season long Calgary Flames fans seemed unsure of whether or not they had a true number one goalie on their team. While David Rittich started the year hot and played in the All-Star Game, he cooled off considerably afterward and ended up backing up Cam Talbot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Talbot was the opposite, starting off poorly and then playing very solid in the second half as well as the playoffs.
While they both had their stretches of solid play, both lacked consistency, which a team relies on from their number one goaltender. Talbot for the second half of the season was able to provide that, especially in the playoffs, but he was in a backup role for a long portion of the season. He is also set to become a free agent and is 33 years old, making him a risky bet for the Flames to re-sign.
As it turns out, the Pittsburgh Penguins are needing to trade one of their two goalies as they will not be able to afford both for the 2020-21 season. While it isn’t a for sure, it sounds like they would prefer to trade Matt Murray and keep Tristan Jarry. If that is indeed the case, the Flames need to do their best to make a move.
As for what would be going back the other way, it sounds like the Penguins have been asking teams for a first-round pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, which is being hyped up as one of the deepest drafts in years. The Flames have just that, as they currently possess the 19th-overall selection. While it is tough to give up your first-round pick, it is necessary here as the Flames are in a win-now mode. If the Penguins would accept that deal, then general manager Brad Treliving needs to pull the trigger. Here is why.
The biggest critique with this Flames team over the years has been their inability to advance in the playoffs, as they have made it past the first round just one time in the last decade. While they have had pretty talented teams, especially in the past handful of seasons, they seem to lack what it takes to win in the postseason. Often times, having players who have won before can help, as they know how much effort and sacrifice it takes and can instill that on their teammates.
The Flames attempted to do this as they brought in Milan Lucic who won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins back in 2011. While that wasn’t enough to make the team advance this year, bringing in Murray would certainly help. He helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 2016 and 2017. During that time, he was able to watch some of the game’s all-time greats in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and could pass on knowledge from them to some of the Flames’ top players.
Even more importantly, those Stanley Cup wins proved that Murray does not shy away from the big stage. Despite being called up late during the 2015-16 season and appearing in just 13 regular season games, he went on to play 21 games in the playoffs posting a 2.08 goals against average (GAA) and a .923 save percentage (SV%).
The following Cup win was more of the same. Despite missing the beginning of the playoffs due to injury, he returned in the Eastern Conference Final and posted a 1.70 GAA along with a .937 SV%. Simply put, he knows how to handle pressure situations.
Prime Years Ahead
Considering he already has two Stanley Cups to his name, it is very easy to forget that Murray is still just 26 years old. For his age, he has an incredible resume, especially given how long it generally takes goalies to develop. For example, last year’s goaltending sensation Jordan Binnington came in and took the league by storm as a rookie, capping it off by winning the Stanley Cup. While his run was incredible, he was the same age as Murray is now.
It is not often that a goaltender of Murray’s caliber becomes available at any time throughout his career, let alone at age 26. Given that the majority of pending free agent goalies, along with goaltenders rumoured to be on the move, are 30 or older, it makes it clear that trading for him is the right move.
The final reason this deal would make so much sense for the Flames is Murray’s upcoming contract situation. While he is a pending restricted free agent, he won’t command the money you would expect from a goaltender of his age with his success. This is due to his struggles as of late, particularly this past season, which is the main reason why the Penguins appear to be set on trading him instead of Jarry.
While it hasn’t all been bad, Murray’s play has fallen off somewhat since his second Stanley Cup win. This past season was by far the worst of his NHL career, as he posted a 2.87 GAA and a .899 SV%. Despite the poor numbers, the Penguins elected to go with him in the play-in series versus the Montreal Canadiens. While his numbers were much better than the regular season, he wasn’t great and they ended up being eliminated in five games.
While the recent struggles may have some worried, it isn’t much to be concerned about. Every goaltender goes through some rough stretches and as mentioned, he is very young. The one positive about it from the Flames’ perspective is his cap hit likely won’t be very high, likely in the $5 million range.
Given what he has proved he is capable of early in his career, this would give the Flames their first franchise goaltender since Mikka Kiprusoff. Even though this draft is very deep, trading the 19th pick doesn’t sound like too bad of a price for what they would be receiving in return. A move like this could very well be what allows them to make a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Former Jr. A player turned writer. Cover both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, and am part of both the Flames Faceoff and Oilers Overtime podcasts.