This weekend is the calm before the storm for the NHL. With the draft next Tuesday and Wednesday and then the start of free agency on Friday, there’s bound to be a ton of transactions and movement of players.
The most interesting position this off-season is in net. The sheer numbers of goaltenders that will be getting on the carousel and likely to switch teams is staggering. For free agents you’ve got: Braden Holtby, Anton Khudobin, Jakob Markstrom, Corey Crawford, Henrik Lundqvist, Petr Mrazek, Cam Talbot, Craig Anderson, Mike Smith and Jimmy Howard all looking for contracts. As is Matt Murray, though a restricted free agent for the Penguins. One free agent, Robin Lehner, is staying in Vegas having signed a five year contract extension, which puts Marc-Andre Fleury’s status there in question.
The market is flooded with options, but that means there are also an unprecedented amount of teams looking to potentially make changes. And beyond just free agents, trade rumors of various levels of accuracy and intensity are swirling around Tuukka Rask, Darcy Kuemper and Devan Dubnyk.
The Dubnyk situation appears to be the most likely to come to a conclusion the quickest, as the Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks are reportedly drawing close to a deal to send the veteran netminder to SJ.
If Dubnyk departs Minnesota, the Wild will be left with just veteran backup Alex Stalock, plus promising prospect Kaapo Kahkonen as goalie options there. That looks very thin. GM Bill Guerin has made two trades with his most recent team in Pittsburgh, could a third be possible for Murray? Given the names above, there’s certainly no shortage of alternatives for Guerin to target, but Minnesota as a potential Murray destination makes a lot more sense if the Wild clear Dubnyk and his $4.3 million cap hit off their team.
Another Murray potential destination that hasn’t been considered much is Chicago.
One possible destination for Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray could be Chicago. Led to believe they’ve expressed some interest. #NHL
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) October 3, 2020
Longtime Blackhawk goalie Corey Crawford’s name was among the list above, he is a free agent and though it seems tough to imagine, Chicago is likely to have a non-Crawford starter for the first time in over a decade. Chicago is only shown as having $7.8 million in cap space right now, but who knows if they can find a loophole to lose Brent Seabrook and his gargantuan hit — history tells us they probably will.
While the market is flooded with a quantity of goalies, Pens’ GM Jim Rutherford gave a quote to The Athletic recently detailing his mindset of where Murray’s place was in the whole big mix.
“There are a lot of goalies out there. But let me ask this question: How many 26-year-old goalies who have won two Stanley Cups are available right now? There are a lot of goalies out there, and a lot of good ones. There’s no question about that. But those guys out there on the market haven’t done what Matt has done. To me, that’s the difference, and that’s why teams want him. That’s the way I’m looking at it moving forward.”
Rutherford has a point there, Murray is among the youngest goalies that will be on the move, if not the youngest starting-caliber netminder in the goalie carousel. That’s a plus.
Murray also has those two Stanley Cup championships on his resume, and while Holtby and Crawford can say the same, those two are older and not coming off great seasons themselves. Murray is a strong candidate for a “buy low” type of situation, since his 2019-20 was down year, but he was very among the best goalies in the NHL at 5v5 in the 2018-19 season.
In addition to previously mentioned Minnesota and Chicago, other teams with projected goalie openings and at least potential landing spots for Murray include: Buffalo, Ottawa, Detroit, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. That makes for truly a wide variation of possibilities for the Pens to sort through.
Unlike many in the goalie carousel, Murray has the resume, youth and still the upside to be a capable starting goalie for the next 5+ years. In the next week, we probably will find out what team steps up and wants to bring him in to do just that.