Should the Penguins trade Marc-Andre Fleury?
It’s the hottest debate in Pittsburgh sports. It’s pitting sibling against sibling, parents against children. It’s tearing workplaces apart. Civil unrest is broiling on the streets.
It all boils down to good asset management. Marc-Andre Fleury is 32 and has a cap hit of $5.75M for the next three years. His cap hit is the 14th highest in the NHL, which is probably commensurate with where I would rank him among NHL goaltenders. He has value, just not as much as some people would lead you believe. Fleury will help improve some team’s goalie situation. It’s just that the Penguins don’t need to be that team.
Matt Murray just turned 22 and is making $620,000 next year. He just helped backstop the Penguins to a Stanley Cup. Although he didn’t have that set of standout games that carried the team, as evidenced by his 4th place finish (tied with San Jose’s Martin Jones and Logan Couture) in the Conn Smythe Trophy voting, he was consistent and steady virtually the whole run. There is nothing for him to gain by being an understudy to Fleury next year. Especially with Tristan Jarry coming into his own at Wilkes-Barre Scranton and looking like he’ll be ready for the NHL shortly, too.
This is no slight against Fleury’s abilities in the present state or downgrading what he has done for this place for over 12 seasons. He’s the greatest goalie in Penguins history. Rather, it’s about clearing out valuable cap space for not only the 2016-17 season (which the Penguins need to do to re-sign/sign some players), but also how clearing that cap hit can lock down some key pending Restricted Free Agents up after next season.
After next season, the Penguins have five RFA’s — Oscar Sundqvist, Conor Sheary, Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin, and Matt Murray. I’m going to set Sundqvist aside for this article, as I can’t see him commanding too much more than the $700,000 he currently makes, based on his role on the team and production to-date. If he’s making less than $1M, that’s budget dust. But let’s look at the others to attempt to box in what they can expect to command as RFA’s.
Conor Sheary is a 24-year old with a ton of speed to burn and good-not-great finishing skills that just got his first taste of the NHL this year. Carl Hagelin has a ton of speed to burn and has a career high of 17 goals in a season, indicating that his finishing skills are not his chief calling card. When Hagelin was 24, he received a 2 yr/$4.5M contract from the New York Rangers. That projected cap hit of $2.25M sounds about right for Sheary, as well.
Pouliot is a tricky one to evaluate. He has oodles of natural talent and appears to have the makings of an excellent offensive defenseman. But his defensive zone game is lackluster and there are rumors about his drive and ability to be coached. The 22-year old has received limited playing time over the last two seasons and wasn’t really a factor at all in the recent Stanley Cup run, with only two games played.
But it all comes back to that potential. Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey, both now on the Islanders, took a while to display their wares at NHL level. Hickey is earning $2.2M and de Haan $1.9M, so let’s just put Pouliot around a projected cap hit of $2.0M for a short-term extension.
Brian Dumoulin doesn’t score a lot of goals. He doesn’t get a ton of assists. Not an overwhelming number of hits. Nor an huge amount of blocked shots. But he does enough of everything (OK, not the goals, but stick with me here) and couples it with solid, positional play and good puck moving skills. NHL defensemen get paid a lot of money if they’re really good at one thing. Dumoulin is basically Paul Martin 2.0, so he’ll get paid for being good all-around.
Olli Mattaa got paid for his youth and potential, even moreso than his current two-way game. He’s earning $4.08M for the next 6 years as a 21-year old with three NHL seasons under his belt (one shortened by injuries). Dumoulin won’t command that much as a 25-year old with no standout skills, but I’m still projecting a $3.25M cap hit on his next contract.
Murray is a fascinating case, because he currently has more games played in the NHL playoffs than the NHL regular season. He’s been dominant at Wilkes-Barre Scranton and exceptionally strong at the NHL level. If the Penguins are able to secure his services on an extension midseason next year, there aren’t a lot of great salary comps because he’ll still have played probably fewer regular season games in his career than a typical goalie gets in one season.
John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks is a decent’ish comp for Murray. Gibson got a taste of the NHL at age 20, played 23 games as a 21 year old (Murray had 13 as a 21-year old this year), and then signed an extension midway through this season as a 22-year old that will have a cap hit of $2.3M over the next three seasons.
If you add a few dollars on for the Stanley Cup winning experience, a projected cap hit of $2.5M seems about right, based on his limited regular season experience.
By trading Fleury and his $5.75M cap hit, the Penguins could potentially lock down Brian Dumoulin and Matt Murray for the same total amount. Derrick Pouliot, Conor Sheary, and Oscar Sundqvist could all be had for another combined $5.0M, or just a shade over the soon-to-expire contract of Chris Kunitz at the end of 2016-17 (or sooner if he is traded to a team looking to reach the salary cap floor). Those two players that have served the Penguins faithfully for many years and multiple Cups can help procure the services of five players, as the Penguins hopefully compete for future Cups.
The asset management has to outweigh the emotions.