General manager Jim Rutherford announced early Thursday morning that the Pittsburgh Penguins had reached a three-year extension with goaltender Matt Murray, allowing the 22-year-old netminder to man the crease up until the 2019-20 campaign.
“We knew we would have to go through the process,” Rutherford said. “I think it’s good for Matt and good for the Penguins to get it done. It’s not something now that’s on his mind, being in a contract year. We’re very happy to have him in the fold for three years.”
Murray helped guide the Penguins to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup last season and bursted onto the NHL landscape with solid performances in the playoffs against top-tier clubs like the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks, to name a few.
With the commencement to the 2016-17 season and Murray currently sitting on the shelf with a hand injury, very few anticipated this sort of news surfacing considering how well Pittsburgh kept their negotiations under wraps, which speaks volumes to the front office’s non-disclosure. Rutherford alluded to that.
“I think the way it worked out, it worked well for both sides,” he said. “It’s good that it didn’t drag out too long. We kept it pretty quiet for the most part and I think both sides are happy.”
While the organization certainly exercised their due diligence and remained mum throughout the process, the revealing of Murray’s new deal has now sparked inevitable speculation as to the fate of Marc-Andre Fleury, whose served as the Penguins’ No. 1 goalie for 12 straight seasons.
Fleury, who by default relinquished his starting gig to Murray towards the end of last season at the hands of a nagging concussion, has resumed No. 1 duties at the beginning of this campaign, but the nod only foreshadows goalie controversy when Murray is finally able to dress.
Rutherford declined the theory that Fleury’s exit is pre-booked and that assumption shouldn’t simmer in the outsiders looking in.
“The focus seems to be on what happens with Marc-Andre,” he said. “But let’s let this play itself out first. Let’s not just presume that Marc is automatically out.”
The return of Murray’s availability isn’t the prime reason for speculation, but rather the looming decision the organization will have to jostle.
For the 2017-18 season, a franchise in Las Vegas will be birthed into the NHL, and therefore, as a result, an expansion draft has been established next year. The Penguins, at that time, will have the option of protecting just one of their goaltenders. Due to this strenuous forecast, many have perceived that because Murray is younger and has a Cup the team will retain him opposed to Fleury.
Fleury is also earning an average annual salary of $5.75 million to Murray’s $3.75 million, which would put air into that tight cap space.
Rutherford urged the public to prevent “getting ahead of ourselves,” and that while the Penguins will ultimately have to choose one or the other, the new extension delivered to Murray does not spell out their impending resolution.
“Our focus this year is winning,” he said. We’ll deal with the expansion draft at the appropriate time. This signing of Matt doesn’t go hand-in-hand with any of that.”
It’s apparent why people have cited Murray as the primary netminder for Pittsburgh’s cage moving forward, however, there’s plenty of scenarios and questions that could factor into Rutherford’s blueprint.
For one, the Penguins have yet to see how Murray handles a full season. The idea is he’s fully capable of backstopping Pittsburgh for years to come, but nothing is preeminent; especially in the altering NHL world. And two, their other young goaltender, Tristan Jarry, looked pretty good this past preseason.
Jarry isn’t nearly as accomplished as Fleury or Murray by any stretch, but the potential he possesses could be in play. Murray, more so than Fleury, could fetch a juicy package should he be dangled on the trade market. A return for one or the other will happen regardless, though.
These are just a sample size of what’s the come for the Penguins.
Nonetheless, Rutherford’s ability to lock up Murray now paints a better plot for his eventual decision. The verdict won’t be rash, and that’s what we know. It’s why all possibilities have to be considered.
It’s why this collective settlement for Pittsburgh’s future is pivotal, too.