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Three Penguins with something to prove

There is more than just Stanley Cup glory riding on these playoffs for a handful of Penguins.

NHL: MAR 07 Capitals at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the Stanley Cup playoffs roll around, every player dreams of lifting hockey’s holiest grail at the end. The playoffs are a proving ground for young guns and veterans alike and many players throughout history have made their careers out of how they performed in the playoffs.

For players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, winning another Stanley Cup serves to just further cement a legacy that is already set in stone. While those guys may have little to worry about outside of adding accolades to their Hall of Fame plaque, for others this serves as a proving ground that can lead to a long term future in the NHL along with a major pay day.

Here’s three guys from the Penguins who will enter this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs with more on the line than just having their named etched on the Stanley Cup.

Matt Murray

Yes, it’s a broken record at this point, but there is no denying the fact that this postseason is incredibly important for Matt Murray and his future in Pittsburgh. Every outlet, ourselves included, have written ad nauseum about Murray and the Penguins goaltending situation as a whole throughout this season and it won’t stop anytime soon. It’s clear a decision is coming for Jim Rutherford this offseason and how the chips fall this summer will be a major factor in what he chooses to do.

All signs point to Murray being the starter when the Penguins open the playoffs against the Canadiens and he has earned that right given his past playoff successes and overall experience with the moment. Should things go sideways for Murray, the Penguins can call upon Tristan Jarry to take over, but to start, it will be Murray in between the pipes.

Whenever this offseason begins for the Penguins, both Murray and Jarry will be restricted free agents in need of new contracts. In an ideal world Rutherford finds a way to keep both goalies for at least one more season, but with a flat cap going into effect that route seems unlikely.

If Murray returns to his 2016-2017 playoff form he could very well find himself back in Pittsburgh and much richer than his last deal. Should he struggle and force the Penguins to turn to Jarry, Murray could be wearing a different sweater next season.

Jared McCann

This summer presents a huge opportunity for Jared McCann to show just why the Penguins were so keen on trading for him in 2019. Through these first few days of training camp, McCann has been centering the third line and seeing some practice time on the Penguins top power play unit with Patric Hornqvist still absent from practice. This shows just how much the Penguins will be counting on McCann come August.

Like Murray, McCann is slated to be a restricted free agent come the offseason and will be in the market for a new contract. The difference between the two players however is that it looks like the Penguins have all intentions of brining McCann back next season one way or another. What McCann does this summer will go towards determining just how much that new contract is worth and how much term the Penguins are willing to give him.

Should he show out and help anchor down a great third line the Penguins will need to make a Cup run, McCann could be looking at a rather healthy payday with long term security in Pittsburgh. If he struggles to find his game, the Penguins may be more comfortable with a bridge deal to give McCann another shot at proving himself without the long term commitment.

Justin Schultz

Ever since Justin Schultz broke his leg early in the 2018-19 season his on-ice performance has taken a severe hit. Schultz played a key role in the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017, for which he was rewarded with a three year contract. Since then, Schultz has battled injuries, playing in only 138 games over the past three seasons.

Given the cap outlook not only this offseason but potentially in the coming offseasons as well, it’s very likely Schultz is taking his final shifts as a member of the Penguins. Just how many shifts he has left in Pittsburgh is directly tied to how well the Penguins perform in the playoffs where the Penguins will be counting on him to perform alongside Jack Johnson.

Short of Schultz putting together a borderline Conn Smythe type playoff run, it’s hard to see him returning to the Penguins next season. Schultz is only 30 and still more than serviceable in the right role meaning there will be more than one team bidding for his services when he hits the free agent market. How he performs once the playoffs arrive will go a long way in determining just how much teams are willing to pay up this offseason.