When I wrote “The Elephant in the Room” last month, it was at the forefront of my mind that it was not a matter of if, but when the Penguins would have to say goodbye to either Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray. Of course, this wouldn’t be the case if the NHL weren’t expanding to Las Vegas, but that’s where we are. (Let’s not forget that another expansion is likely coming down the road in the next few years.) The new franchise will be snagging three goaltenders from the list of unprotected goaltenders the other thirty teams will send to the NHL on June 17, 2017. For the most part, this means that each team will have at least two goalies unprotected, some upwards of four or five, but a few teams will only have one goalie left unprotected. The Penguins are one of those teams. Fleury’s limited no-movement clause means the team has to protect him if they keep him through the deadline next June. Matt Murray would be a prime candidate for selection if the Penguins can’t make a move beforehand.
If the Penguins do decide to deal either Murray or Fleury, it will likely be to a team that is looking for a better option in goal than what they have, and willing and able to protect that goalie for the expansion draft. That being said, there are many teams that are in a similar situation to the Penguins, e.g. a veteran goaltender and a promising young backup. This means the Penguins aren’t the only team that is potentially shopping for a team that could give them value for their “spare” goalie. For now, however, there are simply whispers and rumors, and teams are likely to seek more balance in their goalie tandems as a means of showing scouts what they have to offer. This also means that this is as good a time as any to speculate on who may (or may not) be a good trade partner for the Penguins.
This is going to take a few articles, so I’m going to divide up the NHL into divisions, starting with…
The Not-A-Chance-In-Hell Division
- NY Islanders
- NY Rangers
Let’s get this out of the way, the age-old unwritten rule in all of North American sports:
Thou shalt not trade a franchise player, actual or potential, to your fiercest rival unless you have a death wish.
Philadelphia is in dire straits goaltending-wise. Neither Steve Mason nor Michal Neuvirth are playing anywhere near what the Flyers need them to in order to stay afloat in the Metropolitan division. Their promising young goaltender (PYG), Anthony Stolarz, was selected #9 in BroadStreetHockey.com’s Top 25 Under 25 this past September, but he’s probably another couple of years away from seeing regular time in the NHL. Mason, Neuvirth, and Stolarz are all in the last years in their contracts, with Mason and Neuvirth being UFAs and Stolarz an RFA. Unless they decide to let Mason and Neuvirth go to free agency and extend Stolarz, the Flyers risk losing one of these three in the expansion draft. To their dubious credit, neither Mason nor Neuvirth are particularly attractive goaltenders in terms of starters, and Stolarz isn’t particularly high on the list of PYGs, so maybe Philadelphia will escape this situation unscathed.
The Islanders are a team in transition. Jaroslav Halak has worn out his welcome in Brooklyn, his cap hit of $4.5M not turning into the bargain it sounded like with all the not-winning and such. Halak’s backup is former Penguins backup Thomas Greiss, who played quite well last season, is three times cheaper than Halak, and is in the last year of his contract. General manager Garth Snow’s mission is clear: find a buyer for Halak; re-sign Greiss and save him from the expansion draft; and let Greiss drive the bus while they wait out Jean-Francois Berube (#15 on LighthouseHockey.com’s Top 25 Under 25) and see if Berube will improve sufficiently. Halak isn’t a bad goaltender, he just may need a change of scenery.
Like the Penguins, the Rangers and Capitals already have elite goaltenders of their own (Henrik Lundqvist, Braden Holtby), highly-touted and relatively young backups (Antti Raanta, Philipp Grubauer), and at least one PYG each (Igor Shestyorkin, Ilya Samsonov). Lundqvist is older than Holtby (35 in March vs 27), more expensive ($8.5M cap hit vs. $6.1M), and is under a full no-movement clause through the end of his contract in 2021 whereas Holtby has a modified, seven-team no-trade agreement that kicks in next season. The Capitals wouldn’t trade Holtby unless the end destination bends over backwards for him; the Rangers meanwhile are stuck with Lundqvist and may have to live with losing Raanta to the expansion draft. Both teams will have some difficult decisions ahead of them.
Stay tuned for Part II of this series (unless of course something happens before then…).