With the NHL’s salary cap not expected to go up significantly next season (with rumors of it possibly staying flat, too), the Penguins may be in a position where they’ll have to make a trade in order to free up some payroll space to fill out the roster. As per General Fanager’s salary cap page for the Penguins, they have $72.5M committed to 20 players next year (although this includes Pascal Dupuis’s $3.75M salary that will be stashed on Long Term Injured Reserve).
But if the Penguins flame out early in the playoffs (or miss the playoffs entirely), there is no way that management can feel confident bringing this team back without some major structural changes. For me, Fleury and his contract are the most expendable on the squad. His $5.75M per year deal for 3 more years is not extravagant enough to scare off teams looking for a goalie upgrade, plus the term isn’t onerous enough to weigh a team down, either.
Hockey analytics are still in their nascent stages, but there are some promising metrics like Corsi and PDO. However, it is nearly universally acknowledged that goalie metrics are a complete black hole. Much like wins for pitchers in baseball, judging a goalie by his win total is outdated. Similarly, goals against average (GAA) is considered to be passe, as well, as both rely on team defense around them.
The only fairly promising goalie metric seems to be Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). The concept behind this is that the league average save percentage is subtracted from the goalie’s personal save percentage (SV%). The resulting difference is multiplied by the league average number of shots faced to develop GSAA. Naturally, the higher of a positive number is better. Below is Marc-Andre Fleury’s career stats with GSAA in the far right column, courtesy of Hockey Reference.
Last year was quietly Fleury’s best full-season year with a 10.28 GSAA. Sure, he had 42 wins in 2011-12, but his low save percentage of .913 resulted in him actually being below the break even line with a -0.13 GSAA. By contrast, his save percentage this season of .921 is his highest full season SV% of his career and he is tracking to eclipse last year’s GSAA.
The Penguins have a suitable replacement on hand in Matt Murray. In very limited duty, the 21-year old Murray has impressed with a .934 SV% and a 1.82 GAA (yes, even though this is an archaic stat, it is still impressive in any context). With his bargain basement salary of $620,000, the Penguins can sign a generic backup for $1.5M in case of any injury to Murray and still save $4.25M to re-allocate elsewhere for the team.
By bringing a generic backup in for the 2016-17 season, fellow goalie prospect Tristan Jarry can have the full season at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to further refine his impressive skills. That way when Murray needs a bump up in salary for the 2017-18 as a Restricted Free Agent, Jarry can be the low-cost backup to balance the salary scale out.
It’s not a secret that I am down on the overall state of the Penguins. If the Penguins fail to capture the Cup this year, it will have been seven years since Lord Stanley was paraded down Grant Avenue. My wife and I were just dating in 2009 and I was able to enjoy the pleasures of sleep without my two kids. What I’m saying is that a lot has transpired since 2009 — like a whole presidential run. This may be seen as an indictment on Fleury, but it is purely an exercise in asset management. Fleury is an asset that can be sold relatively high, while replacing him with an asset that has great potential himself.
The Penguins need to acknowledge reality and consider stripping this team down to the core. Something is just not meshing well between the various shiny parts of the team. Fleury is an excellent goalie, but he can be replaced. Much like Linus from the Peanuts comics, sometimes you have to let go of the security blanket.