Pittsburgh Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury might have just had the best season of his career thus far. If it had not been for Carey Price’s otherworldly season, Fleury could seriously have been consider for the Vezina trophy.
The Penguins struggled as a whole closing out the season, but Fleury had been stellar all season. Due to the late-season struggles, Fleury’s numbers statistically declined, but were still among the best in the league.
Anyone who argues that he is not a top five goaltender in the league is letting past biases influence their opinion.
There is no debate that Fleury will enter the 2015-2016 as the Penguins’ starting goaltender, but who will back him up?
What about Thomas Greiss?
The 29 year-old journeyman goaltender was signed as a free agent last offseason and was supposed to solidify the Penguins’ goaltending situation. However, after just a few short games, Pittsburgh’s management realized they could not rely upon Greiss to deliver consistently.
There were rumors coming out of Pittsburgh that Greiss did not practice his hardest and was undisciplined in other training habits.
2014-2015 statistics (NHL Penguins): 20 games played in, 9 wins, 6 losses, 3 overtime losses, .908 save percentage, 2.59 goals against average, 0 shutouts
But the numbers do not tell the entire story of Greiss’ play. He consistently failed to close out games and often would let in one or two late goals that sometimes lost the Penguins the game.
Greiss was signed on a one-year/$1 million dollar contract and I expect his tenure with the Penguins to be over.
Should the Penguins give Jeff Zatkoff a chance?
It was presumed last offseason that the Penguins would rely upon Jeff Zatkoff again to backup Fleury, but new general manager Jim Rutherford had other plans and signed Greiss.
Zatkoff has played in just 21 games at the NHL level and should be given the first chance at the backup job.
2013-2014 statistics (NHL Penguins): 20 games played in, 12 wins, 6 losses, 2 overtime losses, .912 save percentage, 2.61 goals against average, 1 shutout
For a goaltenders’ first season, I believed that Zatkoff performed admirably and had the potential to play even better during the next season.
Additionally, if the Penguins had decided to use him as their backup goaltender, there would have been no salary cap crunch and they could have played 6 defenders to finish the season.
Will the Penguins rely on prospect Matt Murray?
Matt Murray played this last season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and had one of the best seasons in AHL history.
During his historic run Matt Murray won the Baz Bastien award for the AHL’s most outstanding goaltender, won the Hap Holmes award with Zatkoff, was named the AHL’s most outstanding rookie, was selected to the All-Rookie and first All-Star teams.
2014-2015 statistics (WBS Penguins): 40 games played in, 25 wins, 10 losses, 1 shutout loss, .941 save percentage, 1.58 goals against average, 12 shutouts
He had a great season, but was just a rookie in the AHL. He will be given a chance to compete for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ backup goaltender position, but it seems to be Zatkoff’s job to lose.
Rutherford has voiced concern about monitoring the development of Murray and has shown his faith in Zatkoff.
Thomas Greiss almost certainly will leave the Pittsburgh Penguins this offseason and that’s a great thing. He was an overpaid and unreliable backup goaltender.
Moving forward it should be Jeff Zatkoff between the pipes during the 2015-2016 season and Murray most likely will land in the AHL again. He had a great season, but is still a work in progress.
In a single season Murray went from being a prospect the Penguins expected very little from, to having one of the best seasons in AHL history. It has given Pittsburgh’s ownership great faith moving forward as the only other future NHL goaltender in the system seemed to be Tristan Jarry.
Of course, Rutherford could always throw a curve ball and sign another overrated veteran free agent this offseason.