So let’s talk about the goalie situation here for a little bit.
On Monday The Athletic’s Josh Yohe spoke to Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford who made it seem pretty clear that either Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry could be playing for a different team next season.
Among Rutherford’s comments: there is a “very, very good chance” they will have to move one of the goalies, and that there is already interest in them “and it looks like we’re going to have to move one of them.”
That seems pretty clear and pretty straight forward.
With both goalies being restricted free agents and in line for a pay raise, neither one really grabbing a hold of the job, and with the salary cap situation being even tighter than planned due to the flat cap, there was always the possibility that a big decision would have to be made.
Now it is starting to look like a near certainty.
I have some concerns with this.
First and foremost is the fact that I think both goalies probably have more value to the Penguins as players than they do as trade chips.
Historically goalies do not tend to bring much back in return in trades unless they are truly elite at the position. Even then it can be a struggle. The only goalie trade of any significance this past year came at the trade deadline when Chicago sent pending UFA Robin Lehner (one of the most productive goalies in the league the past few years) to Vegas for a second-round draft pick, a prospect, and Malcolm Subban.
Hardly an earth-shattering return. And that was a top goalie with a ton of value.
The problem with Murray and Jarry is that neither one is at peak value right now.
Even though Murray is a two-time Stanley Cup winner, his play has been wildly inconsistent the past two years, he really struggled this past season, and was even benched for an elimination game in the playoffs. Not only is he not at peak value right now, his value is probably close to rock bottom at the moment, and that is even before you get into contract situation where any team trading for him has to figure out what to pay him.
In other words, do not expect a significant return.
Jarry had a fantastic start to the 2019-20 season, earning himself a trip to the All-Star game. Unfortunately his play slipped a bit in the second half and he still has the issue of being relatively unproven as an NHL starter.
The Penguins reportedly tried to trade him this past offseason and could not find a taker. Did a half of a season boost his value that much? Not sure.
Then there is the issue of finding a willing trade partner.
There are several teams that should be in the market for a goalie, from Minnesota, to Buffalo, to Carolina, to Edmonton, to Calgary, to potentially even Washington and Chicago. But there are also several free agent options that are going to be available with Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford, Lehner, Jacob Markstrom, Cam Talbot, and Anton Khudobin all set to hit the unrestricted free agent market they are all going to have options which will further shrink the trade market.
When you put all of that together my personal preference would be to keep both and hope they rebuild their value. If they do, it makes it easier to move one, or you just end up sticking with two really good goalies. But again, that does not seem likely.
So that leaves you with a decision. Which goalie do you look to move, and which goalie makes the most sense to move?
This would have seemed like an outrageous thought two years ago, but I think the answer here might be Murray. And I hate saying that, not necessarily because of everything he has done for the Penguins in his young career, but because I hate the idea of trading a significant player at their lowest possible value.
But you also have to face facts here. Even after a down year Murray is going to be the more expensive player, and I am guessing that contract negotiation could be a tough one. He is going to have a price in mind as a two-time Cup winner and four-year veteran, and he already made close to $4 million this season. Even if he only gets a modest raise that is still going to be a significant investment. There could potentially be a couple million in cap savings there for this upcoming season and future seasons if this is the move you make. That could be significant.
The problem though is that it leaves you with a huge question mark in goal.
Are you confident that Jarry is able to take over the starting job and adequately play it? Do you stick with Casey DeSmith as your backup (yeah, he is still around and signed for a couple of more years), or do you try to explore what else could be available on the open market?
In the end there is no easy answer here. Neither goalie made their case to be the must-keep player, and the number of variables that go into a trade involving a goalie (especially one of these two goalies) puts Rutherford in a position where he has to gamble on which move to make.
Hopefully he makes the right gamble.