After winning only one game in the last two postseason series, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ offseason will be crucial. The Penguins were swept in the first round by the New York Islanders in the 2019 Stanely Cup Playoffs and then lost to the Montreal Canadians in the play-in round this season. Back-to-back, early exits in the postseason are usually a sign of upcoming changes in the NHL.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Penguins Goalies
General manager Jim Rutherford made a few things obvious on potential changes coming to the club this offseason. One of the big decisions for the general manager will be between the pipes. Both Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry will be restricted free agents. Rutherford suggested that keeping both goalies would be tough for the team.
Matt Murray’s Career as a Penguin
The Penguins selected Murray with the 83rd pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The goaltender made his NHL debut in the 2015-16 season and went on to be the starting goalie throughout the team’s Stanley Cup run. He played 11 playoff games the following postseason as the club became the first franchise to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Detroit Red Wings in the 1990s.
Murray’s numbers in those two Cup runs were impressive. He posted a .923 save percentage (SV%) and 2.08 goals against average (GAA) in 21 games in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He followed it up with even better numbers the following season after returning from a lower-body injury. He posted a playoff career-high .937 SV% and 1.70 GAA and replaced Marc-Andre Fleury.
Since the 2016-17 season, Murray has struggled to find the same success he had early in his career. Since being named the starter, his SV% has not reached .920, and his GAA has ranged from 2.69 to 2.92. He no longer seems like the Stanley Cup-winning goaltender who stole the starting job in Pittsburgh from Fleury.
How They Performed in 2019-20
Murray and Jarry split starts all season long. Murray played 34 games posting a career-low .899 SV%. His 2.87 GAA is the second-lowest in his career. The 25-year-old goalie posted a .914 SV% and a 2.50 GAA in three play-in round games, losing two of them.
Jarry was selected to play in the 2020 NHL All-Star Game as a replacement for Joonas Korpisalo. He posted a 2.43 GAA and a .921 SV% in 33 games, which is statistically a better season than his teammate. He played one game in the play-in round, stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced, giving him a .952 SV% and a 1.02 GAA.
Starting Murray in Games 1, 2 and 3 may not have been the right decision by head coach Mike Sullivan. Jarry reportedly played better throughout training camp but did not start until Game 4. (from ‘Murray vs. Jarry and the fascinating decision facing Mike Sullivan,’ The Athletic, 07/20/2020) Murray played pretty well in Games 1 and 2, but in Game 3, he struggled. After the Penguins took a 3-1 lead, he allowed three goals and posted a .871 SV%. In a five-game series, choosing the right goaltender is crucial because any game can swing the series, and that happened to be Game 3.
Murray’s playoff experience is the reason Sullivan chose him to start, but Jarry should’ve started for the team due to his strong season. After Murray struggled in Game 3, Jarry stepped up in Game 4 with impressive results. If the Penguins started the series with him in net, the outcome may have been different.
Penguins Have Been Here Before
With the salary cap likely decreasing following this season, trading Murray is the best option for the Penguins. Rutherford made it clear that if the team decided to keep both players, they would have to move other pieces around. The Penguins were in a similar situation following the 2016-17 season with Murray and Fleury. The team had the luxury of having two starting goaltenders, but they were in a cap crunch. This led to exposing Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.
Aside from the fact that Murray took over the starting position from Fleury in the playoffs, the salary cap played a part in the decision to expose the long-time Penguin in 2017. Fleury was heading into his final two seasons of his $5.750 million per season contract. Since Murray only played two seasons, the club was able to sign him to a cheaper, three-year extension at an average annual of $3.75 million.
Murray is the expensive goaltender in this situation between the two. Re-signing Jarry is the cheaper move for the Penguins this offseason, plus he statistically had the better season between the two goaltenders. If history repeats itself this offseason, Rutherford will move on from Murray and keep Jarry as his starter.
Trading Matt Murray
The best option for the Penguins will be to trade Murray. He has value as a two-time Stanley Cup champion. He is still 25 years old, which means he is young enough to get back to playing as he did early in his career. The Hockey Writers‘ own Tyler Bowen speculated who the team could trade the goalie to. The three teams mentioned include the San Jose Sharks, the New Jersey Devils and the Minnesota Wild. It will be tough for the Sharks to trade for the goalie due to their tight cap space, the Devils have a young goalie in Mackenzie Blackwood, who has some promise, but the Wild could use Murray.
Similar to the Penguins, the Wild had two goalies split starts in Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock throughout the season. The only difference between the two teams is Dubnyk and Stalock are in their 30s. Adding Murray would allow the Wild to get younger between the pipes and add a goaltender who has experienced what it takes to win a Stanley Cup. Murray would be traded for youth since Rutherford announced the club will attempt to get younger this offseason. A trade involving 23-year-old Joel Eriksson Ek is realistic and would help the Penguins reach their goal of becoming younger.
Murray’s Time as Penguin Has Come to an End
When Murray became the full-time starter for the Penguins, it meant the end of Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh. The end of Murray’s time with the Penguins is the beginning of Jarry’s career as the starter for the club. Jarry will look to accomplish what his predecessor has in winning a Stanley Cup.
This offseason will be important for Rutherford since he announced the team will be re-tooling. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin reaching their mid-30s, the window to win another Cup is slowly closing.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.