The Pittsburgh Penguins participated in a rookie tournament this past weekend. Discounting the big name prospects like Tristan Jarry, Derrick Pouliot, Daniel Sprong and Matt Murray, there was not many notable players in attendance.
However, the spotlight was fixed on Murray and he delivered once again. He’s coming off of a phenomenal season in which he set numerous AHL goaltending records and guided the depleted Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to the playoffs. Pittsburgh’s management has taken notice and Murray’s historic 2014-15 season has led them to believe he could be a very special goalie.
The Penguins’ Current Plan
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford spoke on Murray’s growth and development towards the beginning of the season and there has not been any indication his belief has changed. It’s best for a developing goalie to get as many repetitions as possible and Murray will not get that at the NHL level, at least while starter Marc-Andre Fleury is around.
Fleury, 30, is entering the first year of a four-year/$23 million dollar extension he signed during the 2014-15 season. Some goaltenders like to have their backup share the load of an 82 game season, but not Fleury. Throughout his last six seasons (excluding the lockout shortened season) he has played in an average of 65 games per season. That leaves just 17 games for whoever backs him up and at this stage in Murray’s career, he needs to play more.
But that does not mean that Murray doesn’t have his own ideas about his future.
All I know is that my goal is to be in Pittsburgh, it’s as simple as that. You don’t dream of playing in the AHL when you’re a kid. You dream of playing in the NHL. That’s where I want to be.
He’s a confident young player, but at the same time, the Penguins need to continue down the path they decided on. That is, unless Fleury suffers a long-term injury. The AHL is the best place for the young and promising goaltender, but it might not be where he wants to be. Murray will see some NHL action this year, but that will be during the Penguins pre-season contests.
While Murray’s desire to play for the Penguins at the NHL level is admirable, management must consider the future of the franchise. Pittsburgh is not in a great position in terms of draft picks or prospects, they have some great young talent on the blue line and two solid prospect goalies, in Murray and Jarry, but that’s about it. By the time Fleury’s new contract expires he will be 34-years old and Murray will be 25-years old. From looking at all factors, it seems like Murray will be stuck in the AHL or playing as Fleury’s backup until then.
Even at the tail end of Fleury’s career, does anyone realistically see him playing anywhere outside of Pittsburgh? He’s been an icon in Pittsburgh, the fans have a strong affinity for their wacky goaltender and there is very little chance that he actually would be traded. The Penguins love Fleury and he loves them back, but is keeping him around the best move for the franchise’s future?
It still is unclear what the Penguins will plan on doing as Fleury heads toward the end of his career, but one thing is clear. The Penguins must keep Murray in the AHL this season and continue to allow him to develop as a player. However, do not be surprised within the next few years if either Jarry or Murray is traded. There will not be room at the NHL for both of them and the Penguins could potentially attempt to trade one to improve their forward prospect pool.
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers