We’re still three weeks away from the March 1st NHL Trade Deadline, but it appears as if one team could be coming into sharper focus as a potential trade destination for Marc-Andre Fleury. The Winnipeg Jets have many of the criteria that the Penguins are looking for in a possible trade partner.
A Goalie Exposable For The NHL Expansion Draft
Whether it’s at the heart of the matter or a strong co-contender, the Penguins are looking to trade Fleury so that they don’t have to expose Matt Murray in the June expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights. Each NHL team must submit at least one goalie that is not an unrestricted free agent and not on a no-movement trade clause, which Fleury currently has, unless the player agrees to waive it.
The Jets have a perfect goalie candidate in the form of Michael Hutchinson. The 26-year old fits the role of a backup, plus he’s under control next season for the relative bargain price of $1.15M. The Penguins can trade for Hutchinson, protect Matt Murray, and expose Hutchinson. Hutchinson is a patsy, if you will. He’s designed to take the brunt of the draft requirement so that Murray does not have to.
A Goalie That Is Expendable To His Current Team
Sure, the Jets would probably prefer to move Ondrej Pavelec, but he’s an unrestricted free agent and has a cap hit of $3.9M. Neither item is appealing to the Penguins. The Jets have one goalie of the future in Connor Hellebuyck, with a second potential stud goalie named Eric Comrie percolating on the farm. Hutchinson is a placeholder for the Jets now and can serve that same function for the Penguins.
A Goalie That Is Cheaper Than Fleury, In Dollars And Term
If Hutchinson is not selected, the Penguins now are in possession of a backup to Matt Murray for just $1.15M. Considering that Fleury’s cap hit is $5.75M, the Penguins have saved $4.6M that can be re-allocated to signing some of their next young wave of talent to affordable bridge deals. Hutchinson is also under contract for only the 2017-18 season, while Fleury’s deal runs through 2018-19. So not only would the Penguins aid the 2017-18 cap situation, they would also clear out commitment to Fleury’s 2018-19 (also, of course, at a $5.75M hit).
Hutchinson is not great and has actually been backsliding for the past three seasons, to the point that his stats this year are sub-par (4-10-3, 3.23 GAA, 0.894 save percentage). But he wouldn’t kill you for 20 games next year, while allowing Tristan Jarry a little bit more time to refine his game. If Jarry comes out in 2017-18’s season like a house on fire, Hutchinson himself is either tradeable or expendable enough to cut without much repercussion.
A Team That Could Legitimately Use Fleury
Since their return to the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets have been pretty mediocre. In the six seasons that the Jets have been back, they’ve made the playoffs one time. That was two years ago and they lost in the first round. As it stands today, they’re three points out of a wildcard spot with one team ahead of them, too.
The Jets are atrocious defensively and between the pipes, as their 172 goals allowed are the worst in all of the NHL, not just the Western Conference. The 23-year old Hellebuyck might be the goalie of the future, but in the present he’s not carrying the Jets to the playoffs with his 0.908 save percentage and 2.82 GAA. Fleury could come in as the 2-time Cup-winning veteran to stabilize the team and give them a playoff push, if he’s properly re-invigorated by the chance to be the #1 again.
Fleury would give the Jets some much-needed cachet that they sorely lack in their current state that is relatively devoid of star power. Rookie Patrik Laine will be a star one day and Dustin Byfuglien has his fans, but Fleury brings a swagger and style right now. Next season, Fleury could be the savvy veteran that either job shares with Hellebuyck or mentors him (and possibly Comrie) in their development. Neither of them has accomplished anything like Matt Murray has, so there would be less pressure to award the job to Hellebuyck/Comrie.
A Team That Can Absorb Fleury’s Salary
As of right now, the Jets have $5.65M of cap space available. That’s a full-season, of course, so the prorated amount of Fleury’s remaining cap hit is actually $1.98M (as of February 7th). Going forward, the Jets have ample cap space to absorb his $5.75M hit in his two remaining years. The Jets are not a team that spends to the cap, but even so they should still have no problem working him in to the mix, especially when you consider they’re spending $5M on the tandem of Pavelec/Hutchinson this year.
I’ve been reading in a few places that the Penguins don’t need to trade Fleury. That they would be able to trade Vegas a draft pick in exchange for them not taking the exposed Murray, so that they would select someone else. Or that Fleury, out of the goodness of his heart, would waive his no-movement clause and allow himself to be exposed for the expansion draft. While both of those ideas are quaint on the surface, neither thought addresses the fact that Fleury is sucking up too much cap space for the production he provides.
It’s clear that Murray is the #1 now, as evidenced by his 8 starts in a row after Fleury’s debacle in Detroit. It’s also becoming clear to many that Tristan Jarry is rapidly rising up to the top, himself. Fleury is sitting on the books for $5.75M for the two seasons after this one. With a salary cap that is projected to only grow incrementally, there are serious financial pressures for the Penguins to re-allocate Fleury’s cap hit.
Jim Rutherford can control his narrative if he trades Fleury now, rather than be at the mercy of some team in the summer time leading up to the expansion draft. Fleury is a phenomenal teammate, as evidenced by his latest mask design, and is the greatest goalie in Penguin history (yes, better than Tom Barrasso). But his best days with the Penguins are behind him and his legacy can be cemented as an overall positive one, rather than get dragged out for potentially two more seasons.