Even since the spring, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford also addressed the state of his goaltending for 2020 and beyond. Both Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are restricted free agents that have arbitration rights.
The goalie salary landscape can be a wild and unpredictable one. 26-year old Elvis Merzlikins, he of 33 total NHL games, was re-signed by Columbus earlier in the spring for a two-year $4.0 million contract. 20 goalies had a cap hit of at least $4 million dollars this year, 17 had cap hits of $4.5m or more. Contracts like that will be music to the ear’s of Murray and Jarry’s agents.
With the Pens dealing with limited cap space, the likelihood would be they won’t be able to re-sign both Murray and Jarry. This was a realization not lost on Rutherford, even from this comment back in May:
“I’ll say this: If we are going to keep both of them, we’d have to move a few things around on our team,” Rutherford said. “There is a way to do things and to make that work, yes. There are some very, very tough decisions ahead.”
Many figure the most economically sensible decision would be to trade Murray. Go younger, and likely cheaper, with Jarry — who had a better season in 2019-20 to boot.
Goalie trade cost usually isn’t much, so a Pens’ fan shouldn’t get excited for a major return. Just clearing Murray along and starting anew would probably be the reward for the team. But Murray will be looking for a new contract no matter where he is, and it takes two to tango. So which teams around the league make sense to have interest in Murray and also be a place Pittsburgh would like to direct him towards? Let’s take a look.
No chance - These teams just don’t add up:
All seven Metropolitan Division foes
—The Penguins and their divisional opponents simply don’t work together in this day and age to make any kind of meaningful trades with one another. And even if they did, goaltending is such a volatile position. Yesterday’s G.O.A.T (Murray, Jordan Binnington) can be today’s just plain old scape-goat. And vice-versa. Performances ebb and flow for no discernible reason. But would it really be wise to hand Murray over to a team like Carolina or New Jersey and risk making them better? Of course not. So it’s not happening.
Really good starters in place
—Yeah, they have Carey Price in place on a mega-contract. We’ve seen too well they’re just fine in net.
—Lumping these teams together because they each have one of the best and brightest young goalies (Connor Hellebuyck and John Gibson, respectively) and both are signed for a long time.
—They still have tons of pain in the six years and $10.0 million per with Sergei Bobrovsky’s contract, which comes with a full no movement clause. Word on the street is Florida will be looking to cut expenses and salary for next season. Adding Murray makes the opposite of sense.
Marc-Andre Fleury, 36 before next season starts, still has two years left at $7.0 million and is the only goalie under contract next season. That contract and salary makes him a no-go for the Pens. But what a trade that would be to burn the hockey internet down, a Murray for Fleury swap. Sadly, that’s only going to exist in hopes and dreams.
Boston has both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak under contract for next season. That situation ain’t broke up there, so there’s no need to fix it.
Jonathan Quick is the franchise and still has three more years left.
Andrei Vasilevskiy and they couldn’t sign Murray even if they wanted to with their cap nightmare.
They’ve already re-signed Pavel Francouz and have Phillipp Grubbauer under contract next season. No real reason to expect them to have any interest in Matt Murray.
The “we already have an expensive, mediocre goalie” portion of the list. Dallas is paying Ben Bishop almost $5 million for the next three seasons, SJ has Jones for four more years at $5.75m so they’ll probably be looking for a cheaper backup options.
Lumping these two together because they each have 2 quality goalies under contract (Binnington and Jake Allen in STL, Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta in AZ). All four players make over $4 million, which means they’re not trade fits for Pittsburgh.
OK, so that’s 20 teams, and a good 2⁄3 of the league to simply immediately write off without thinking about it...Now for some real possibilities:
(This won’t be easy and require some thinking outside the box, but these teams might have reason to want shake things up...And this would require some extra moves)
Look, they’re not happy for losing. Pekka Rinne has one more year left on his contract but has lost his starting crease and is struggling. He should be bought out. Juuse Saros is the other option. A Murray/Saros crease sounds a lot better than a Saros/Rinne one. Would they be that bold? Probably not, but for a team fed up with losing, it would be a step to try and make a change.
This is a spicy one since Frederik Anderson is still under contract (one more year at $5.0m), but the Leafs need to shake things up. Could they see the playoff experience of Murray as beneficial to them? Feels tough to just completely dismiss even if it’s a long-shot.
Corey Crawford is a free agent and their net looks pretty empty right now without him. Wouldn’t be the first time Chicago takes a swing at a Pittsburgh player (as Olli Maatta and Chris Kunitz could tell you). Still, you’d kinda think the better chance is Crawford returning than them wanting to get Murray.
Jacob Markstrom is playing pretty well for them right now, but he’s an impending UFA. Makes a lot more sense for them to target him rather than Murray.
(While the fit looks good, other factors are in play)
They might be able to use Murray, but with only $16 million and six very important impending free agents to replace or re-sign the $$ doesn’t add up unless they’re willing to move some other pieces and open up room to spend more money in net to join David Rittich ($2.75m for next year).
The Oil already have Mikko Koskinen under a hefty contract ($4.5m for two more seasons) and only have $10m in cap space right now. They have bigger fish to fry than worry about adding an expensive second goalie in Murray.
The ageless Craig Anderson skates into free agency, so they could use another netminder. But will they want to pay an NHL caliber price for it? The Sens already have Anders Nilsson signed at $2.6 million next season, so that plus a cheap youngster might be the future for a team known to hug as few salary expenses as possible.
(The best options left!)
They need to improve, have another new GM who probably has a mandate to add new faces, and only have one goalie (Carter Hutton) under contract for next season. Why not consider bring in a player of Murray’s resume if you’re Buffalo?
They stink all over the ice and Jimmy Howard has his contract expiring. They’re not yet ready to compete so may not have much interest in Murray, but they assuredly want to start getting more talent in sooner than later.
Saving the best for last. Old friend Bill Guerin has already fired the goalie coach this offseason and was vocally displeased with his goaltenders:
“Al [Alex Stalock] had a tremendous year and Devan [Dubnyk] had an off year, and it needs to be better,” Guerin said. “That’s just the way it is. And if I told you anything different, I’d be lying to you. It was not a strong point for us.”
Dubnyk is under contract for one more season at $4.3 million. Stalock, a journeyman, could be buried in the minors for no fee. Minnesota will certainly be exploring an upgrade in net. Guerin obviously knows Matt Murray well and might think a change of scene could re-focus the talented netminder. Guerin traded Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh, so he’s worked with his old boss before.
With the way all the goalie and cap situations are lined up, don’t be surprised if Guerin and the Wild are a serious contender to attempt to add Matt Murray.