The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot of questions to answer this summer.
Where did the 2018-19 season go wrong, and why? How do we fix it? Who stays and who goes in an effort to fix it? The big questions are the ones surrounding the core players and their long-term future with the team, the style of play, and just exactly what type of team they want to be.
One of the lesser issues that will still be something that is almost certainly discussed is the one involving starting goalie Matt Murray and his contract.
It is not a major question yet simply because he still has one more year remaining on his current contract, and even when it expires, he will still only be a restricted free agent. He is still under team control for a couple of years.
Still, starting on July 1 the Penguins will be eligible to sign him to a new contract extension and it is something you have to imagine they will be interested in doing for a number of reasons.
For one, he IS the goaltending depth in the organization. There is no other starting walking through that door unless it comes from somewhere else. Casey DeSmith emerged as a fine backup last season, but he’s hardly a long-term starter. Tristan Jarry doesn’t seem to be the answer to the question anyone is asking and Filip Gustavsson is now a member of the Ottawa Senators’ organization.
It might also be worthwhile to at least establish some sort of cost certainty under the cap when trying to build the team for future seasons.
The question then becomes, how much money and for how many years?
The Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey crunched some numbers this week and, in looking at some comparable goalies in recent years, figures the salary cap hit is going to be at least in the $5-6 million range given what players like Braden Holtby, John Gibson, and Connor Hellebuyck received. Those are pretty good comparisons, not only because they all signed their current contracts at around the same age Murray is now, but also because their level of production (at the time of signing their contracts) is right in line with what Murray has done. Mackey points out that Murray has two Stanley Cup winning performances on his resume, something none of those goalies has, but I really don’t think that is going to play a significant role in what his number ends up being. Not only are you paying players for what they will do as opposed to what they have done, but Stanley Cup rings have more clout when it comes to reputation than dollars and cents.
So let’s assume Murray gets the high end of that figure and is able to get $6 million per year out of the Penguins, which he probably should. He had a down year in 2017-18, but he bounced back strong this past season and played like one of the league’s best goalies when he was healthy. His overall track record is probably as good as a goalie can be at this stage of his career. A $6 million per season cap hit puts him right around the top-10 or 12 goalies in the league. Which, again, probably seems fair.
But for how long?
Speaking personally, I would not be willing to do that with Murray. Not because I do not trust Murray to continue to play at his current level, and not because I have a fear that he is going to physically break down due to injuries. It is more of a philosophical idea in that I think super long-term deals for goalies are the riskiest deal a team can sign.
A great goalie changes a mediocre team into a good one. A bad goalie changes a good team into a mediocre one (or even a bad one). It is the most consistently impactful position on the ice.
The problem is projecting goalie performance is one of the most difficult things to do in hockey. If you gamble big and miss, you are stuck with an albatross contract at the most important position and there is not much you can do to get out of it. Now, again, I’m not saying I believe Murray’s career is going to go in that direction, but with goalies you just never know.
So for me? I’m hoping to get a four or five year deal in the $5-6 million range. If you have up the cap hit a little to shorten the deal, I almost think that is a better way to go then tying yourself into more years at a reduced cap hit.
You know my thoughts.
What do you think the Penguins should do?
What should Matt Murray’s new contract look like?
This poll is closed
Five years, $25-30 million
Six years, $30-36 million
Four years, $20-25 million
Eight years, $48-54 million