Do not envy Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford. Every day that passes brings him closer to an inevitable decision that could potentially be disastrous.
The NHL is putting the Penguins in what amounts to a no-win situation with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray. With the upcoming expansion draft, Pittsburgh would be forced to protect Fleury due to his no-movement clause, which would leave Murray unprotected. It’s a story that would have played out on it’s own, but it should have been on the Penguins’ terms based on what was best for the franchise.
‘Be a GM’ Mode
Many people made up their minds long ago that the Penguins should, and will trade Fleury. On many levels it does make sense, but most don’t look at the big picture when considering this. Yes, Pittsburgh does have a shiny new toy in Murray, and Fleury does have a rather large salary. So it’s pretty cut and dried, right?
Nope. Sorry folks, it’s not that easy.
In this era of Fantasy Sports, and video game trades, every armchair GM is ready to trade Fleury for Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and a bunch of draft picks. Note: If you have ever rooted against your favorite team, even just a little, because you needed a point or two from an opposing player, I’m likely referring to you.
Fleury save on Oshie in OT pic.twitter.com/UwVpATih3r
— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 14, 2016
Remember that Stanley Cup the Penguins won a few months ago? Yes, Murray was the man during the playoffs, but if Fleury had not been the team’s best player for the first two-thirds of the season, they likely wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity.
I know that sports fans can be fickle, but we are talking about a Stanley Cup winning goalie in the prime of his career. This isn’t Rob Scuderi or Craig Adams. This is the winningest netminder in team history that still has years of elite value ahead of him. Not to mention the fact that he has once again been arguably the team’s best player thus far in 2016.
I am not saying that keeping Fleury over Murray is the right move, but don’t plan the going away party just yet.
What Could Go Wrong? No, Really…
When I said that Rutherford is in a potentially no-win situation, I wasn’t kidding.
Jim Rutherford is adamant that Fleury and Murray could very well be the Pens goaltending tandem even beyond the expansion draft.
— Jonathan Bombulie (@BombulieTrib) October 20, 2016
If the Penguins keep Fleury, they will have to gamble that Las Vegas won’t take Murray, and that isn’t likely. The alternative is to trade the rookie, which is interesting as he would likely bring a king’s ransom in return.
In such a scenario, Pittsburgh would be keeping Fleury’s higher salary, and placing their future hopes on Tristan Jarry. To make both of those things sound a bit more positive, we know what to expect from Fleury. When he is on, there are few better. Also, Jarry may be a bit more raw than Murray, but he could turn out to be every bit as good.
Jim Rutherford says Murray’s extension doesn’t affect Fleury’s status, pushes back on the idea MAF is “automatically out” w/ MM’s new deal.
— Sam Werner (@SWernerPG) October 20, 2016
Holding on to a goalie that has long been considered to be a part of the Penguins’ core would not be so bad, and may be the safer bet in the short, and long term.
If the Penguins trade Fleury, then they keep Murray who is younger, cheaper, and just won a championship. Many consider him to be the best young goalie in the world, and prior to joining the Penguins, he was thought to be the best player outside the NHL. Logically, this move makes the most sense, but remains risky. What happens if Murray starts to play like a 22-year-old goaltender? It would also likely mean that Jarry won’t have a long-term place in the system. He is relatively close to Murray in age, and will eventually outgrow Wilkes-Barre.
There are nothing but poor options here. Age, experience, salary, and potential are just a few things that need to be taken into consideration. In any scenario you risk losing a valuable asset that has to be figured into the current team’s championship window and beyond.
I hate to see a kid with such promise, and early experience as Murray leave with so much ahead of him, and going with him is likely the right thing to do. But Fleury is showing with his early performance that he is not going to go quietly, nor should he. It is his team until further notice.
Fleury and Murray pic.twitter.com/fjzc6NEMO1
— Stephanie (@myregularface) May 3, 2016
Another wrinkle is the possibility that Las Vegas could take Jarry. It is not nearly as likely as Murray, but yet another thing to consider. Then there is Mike Condon. If Pittsburgh stays with Fleury and Murray, then they don’t need Condon. But if Fleury moves, then the former Wheeling Nailer would certainly have value as Murray’s backup.
Oh my, what a mess! Fleury, Murray, Jarry, such important, valuable assets to this team, and city. It’s a shame that the NHL has created this situation, all to build an unnecessary expansion team. Don’t get me started there, I’ll save that gripe for another day.
As I write this, I envision many of you firing up Monty Python style “Dear Sir, I wish to complain…” style letters to tell me why I am crazy one way or another. I’m neither on “Team Fleury” or “Team Murray”. I am truly flummoxed by this situation. There is no right or wrong, simply circumstances, and an eventual outcome, that we will have to live with. Fleury is expensive. Murray just signed a new contract. Rutherford insists that both are still viable long-term assets. I would like to belive that, but given what has to take place for that to happen, I just don’t see it.
All of this being said, Jim Rutherford is the man who turned a mess of a team into champions. I don’t envy him carrying the weight of this decision, but I do trust him with it. After all, he has earned it.
Greg is a Pittsburgh Penguins writer for ‘The Hockey Writers’.
He is a Pittsburgh area native who has written for multiple Penguins news and opinion sites. In addition to hockey writing, he is also an experienced YouTube creator.
Greg started with THW in 2015 as a Blue Jackets writer, and spent time as a Fantasy Hockey analyst.