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Expansion could force Penguins hand with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have 2 very good goalies, but a potential NHL expansion means they will probably have to lose one sooner or later.

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More details of the rumored NHL expansion is coming out. If the league elects to expand by a team, as is widely believed to be the case, we'll find out later this month. More pressing is what it will mean for the Penguins goaltender situation. Puck Daddy summed it up well:

According to Johnston, "Players holding no-movement clauses – including those modified by limited no-trades, such as Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury – count against the protection limit, provided that those contracts and clauses extend through the 2017-18 season."

Fleury’s deal is a bit of a hybrid, in the sense that his limited no-move clause prevents his being demoted or waived while his limited no-trade addresses the places where he could be traded. In the even there’s a player with that kind of deal, apparently they have to be protected.

(Keep in mind that if the Penguins have to protect Fleury, Matt Murray’s status will be determined by how the NHL defines "pros." Do they mean first or second-year NHL players, or will AHL experience count? If so, then Murray would potentially be exposed.)

In an expansion draft teams will be able to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goaltender. It's believed there will be several qualifiers - like having 25% of the team's salary available as well as players who've played significant NHL games in prior seasons. In other words, every team is going to lose a roster player.

Fleury almost certainly will have to be protected. The big key will be how the NHL defines young player eligibility, there's still a chance the rules might make Murray ineligible to be picked, in which case all would be well.

But, if Murray has to be protected, the Penguins will likely have to make a move this summer or be content to lose Murray in the expansion for nothing. That, of course, is probably not going to happen.

Marc-Andre Fleury has a 12 team no-trade clause, so his agent will probably block all the places that are goalie hungry (Calgary, Dallas, Winnipeg, Vancouver, etc). This will mean, if the Pens are shopping Fleury, it will be a sellers market akin to the Phil Kessel and Jarome Iginla deals that saw a relatively low return for a front-line player. Only this time Pittsburgh would be on the bad end of the trade.

Or, against convention, the Pens might look to trade Murray. But dealing a 22-year-old to keep a soon to be 32-year-old with a hefty contract doesn't make a lot of sense in the pure asset management way of looking at things.

Either way, in the midst of an attempt for a Stanley Cup run, this isn't on the front-burner right now. Especially since we don't know for sure that A) it's guaranteed the league will vote for expansion (though it seems likely) and B) the status of Murray's expansion eligibility. But it could turn into a major summer storyline.

Also, based on the NMC = automatic expansion protection, Pittsburgh will be forced to protect Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang. Though that really isn't painful, since the team would surely be protecting those players anyways.

Pittsburgh will have 4 forwards to protect (probably Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin are safe and 2 more) and 2 more defensemen (Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin look like locks).

If expansion happens, it will mean that the Penguins are going to lose a pretty good player for nothing, which is unfortunate. But that's pretty much the cost of doing business for the team to accept their share of the $500,000,000 expansion fee.

We'll see what more information comes out later on this summer, but for now it looks like Pittsburgh might have their hand forced to have to make a move to ship out a goaltender to avoid losing one for nothing.