Leading into February’s NHL trade deadline, the Colorado Avalanche were thrown out as a possible destination every time a goalie would wind up in the rumor mill. Everyone from Henrik Lundqvist to Robin Lehner, even Carey Price were connected to the Avs - mostly through people who didn’t pay a lot of attention to the Avalanche and how well Pavel Francouz had been playing.
Now, even with the league on hiatus, reports have emerged that the Joe Sakic is looking to trade for another high-end goaltender. This time it’s Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Last week, Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now reported that the Avalanche and Penguins had discussions before the deadline that would have seen Matt Murray move to Denver.
“The Colorado Avalanche kicked the tires on [Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender] Matt Murray at the trade deadline, but both sides knew nothing immediate would come of the talks. Instead, they were a building block toward a deal this summer.”
It’s an interesting thought and makes a lot more sense than the Price and Lundqvist rumors from February. Unlike the two veterans, Murray is only 25-years old and fits in perfectly with Colorado’s young core. He would give the Avalanche a Stanley Cup winning starter that would see his prime years align with the team’s contention window.
He’s coming off a down season during which he struggled with injuries, but Murray is among the best young goaltenders in the NHL. So why would the Penguins consider moving him?
Murray is a restricted free agent this summer and is likely going to be looking for a raise from his $3.75m cap hit. That’s something Pittsburgh might not be able to afford. Beyond the financial aspect, Murray might have become expendable thanks the the emergence of Tristan Jarry this season. Also 25, Jarry took over the starter’s role when Murray got hurt and he turned into one of the best goalies in the NHL this season.
Both Murray and Jarry need new contracts before next season. That means the Penguins have a very tough decision on their hands. Either sign them both and have a lot of cap space dedicated to the position or choose one as your future starter and trade the other. Team General Manager Jim Rutherford fueled the speculation with his comments last week:
“I’ll say this: If we are going to keep both of them, we’d have to move a few things around on our team.. There is a way to do things and to make that work, yes. There are some very, very tough decisions ahead.”
Rutherford definitely sounds like a general manager that is open to trading away one of his goalies this coming offseason - whenever that arrives.
But which one?
There were a number of reports last summer that the Penguins made Jarry available around the league in exchange for a draft pick but they couldn’t find any takers. Now, some believe he’s the one Rutherford wants to keep as the team’s long terms starter. Even if he thinks Murray is the better goaltender, he’s also the one that would be more expensive to re-sign. Given his pedigree, Murray would also bring back a bigger return than Jarry.
The expansion draft complicates things further. At the end of next season, the Penguins are only going to be able to protect one of Murray or Jarry and there’s a strong possibility that Seattle selects the other. Trading one of them now would prevent Pittsburgh from losing a quality goaltender for nothing next summer.
This leads to the rumor from Kingerski that the Avalanche were calling about Murray and while it is interesting, it’s something that has been refuted by people in both cities. A source close to the Penguins believes that teams have been calling about Murray for a couple years now but that he’s the one Rutherford has the most confidence in. If the Pens can’t afford to re-sign both goalies, Jarry will be the one to go.
On the other side of the rumor, while Murray would be a good fit for the Avalanche, Sakic seemed to double down his support for the Avs tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz when he signed Francouz to a $4m contract extension in February. It’s easy for people in other markets to look at the Avs and think that their biggest weakness is between the pipes, but that’s really not the case. A year ago, Grubauer was one of the the main reason why the Avalanche came within one game of the Western Conference Final. This season, when Grubauer struggled with injuries, Francouz showed why he was the best goaltender in the KHL only a few years ago. He took over the starter’s role and was among the league’s weekly Three Stars on more than one occasion as the Avs played some of their best hockey of the season.
Between the two goalies the Avs already have under contract and the youngsters in the organization, it’s hard to see Sakic giving up any significant assets to acquire Murray - and any trade would require significant assets. It’s likely Sakic made a call - he wouldn’t be doing a good job if he didn’t - but is also likely that the price to acquire Murray is far more than the Avalanche need to spend.
On the surface, this rumor of the Avalanche and Penguins working on a trade centered around Matt Murray makes sense for both side. Unfortunately, the more digging that’s done, the more it seems to be fruitless.