With three stoppers re-signing with their teams in the matter of a couple of hours, the Great Goaltending Carousel of 2020 has at least become a little less crowded. Less confusing? Not a chance. That particular ride might be the one with the most ups-and-downs and twists-and-turns at the amusement part at the moment.
The dominos are indeed falling, but they’re also going off in a bunch of different directions. At least the Philadelphia Flyers have their goaltending figured out for next season, with Brian Elliott signing a one-year extension worth $2 million. But the other two signings on Saturday – Robin Lehner with the Vegas Golden Knights at $5 million a year for five years and Tristan Jarry with the Pittsburgh Penguins for three years with an annual cap hit of $3.5 million – have done a huge part in throwing the goaltending situations of a few teams in disarray.
Most of all affected are, of course, Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas and Matt Murray in Pittsburgh. If you see some irony in that, you’re not alone. Murray, who pushed Fleury out of the Penguins organization just over two years ago, is now the one being pushed out by Jarry. Throw in Henrik Lundqvist, who was bought out earlier this week by the New York Rangers, and you have a potpourri of future Hall of Famers and Stanley Cup winners that would make your head spin. Oh yeah, and depending upon whom you believe, Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney may or may not be shopping/listening to offers on Tuukka Rask. (And let’s not forget about Devan Dubnyk, who reportedly is on his way to San Jose to form a tandem with Martin Jones that should make a lot of Sharks fans more than a little nervous. And then there’s Brayden Holtby and, oh yes, the Vancouver Canucks still have to figure out what they’re going to do with Jacob Markstrom.)
Let’s start with Lehner in Vegas, because it’s just so darn compelling. The Golden Knights made Fleury their first pick in the 2018 expansion draft and he immediately became the face of the franchise. He seemed to be rejuvenated on The Strip and helped the Golden Misfits advance to the Stanley Cup final in their first year of existence. The Golden Knights then signed Fleury to a three-year extension worth $7 million that summer when he still had a year left on his contract. You do that with an almost-34-year-goalie and it’s a move that can come back to haunt you. Which is exactly what has happened here.
Fleury’s play slipped and the Golden Knights, rightly believing they had a shot at the Stanley Cup, brought in pending UFA Lehner. And this is where things get murky. The Fleury camp maintains the Golden Knights made it clear that Lehner was a rental and that Fleury was still there man, but either that wasn’t the case or things changed very quickly. The fact that Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, tweeted out a photo of his client getting stabbed in the back by a sword with coach Peter DeBoer’s name embossed on it gives you an idea where they stand on the issue.
So wither Marc-Andre Fleury? It’s abundantly clear that the Golden Knights, whose signing of Lehner actually put them over the salary cap, cannot devote $12 million to two guys who see themselves as No. 1 goalies. Fleury has a limited no-trade clause, but he’s good as gone. That will leave the Golden Knights looking for a backup. How about Lundqvist moving from the bright lights of Broadway to the neon lights of The Strip on a short-term deal to back Lehner up? Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it? With respect to Fleury, the Golden Knights could try to find a trade partner where they would undoubtedly have to take on some of his salary, or they could buy Fleury out. That would leave them with cap hits of $2.6 million, $3.1 million, $2.1 million and $2.1 million in the next four seasons. That would save them roughly $4.4 million in cap space in 2020-21 and $3.9 million in ’21-22. Or if they really wanted to get nasty, they could send Fleury to the minors, which would shave $1 million off the cap hit, then hope he doesn’t report, which would remove his cap hit for as long as he decides to not play.
The outlook for neither Fleury nor Murray is not terribly certain. The signing of Jarry pretty much precludes Fleury from returning to the Penguins, where Murray has fallen out of favor. With Dubnyk leaving the Wild, Minnesota will be looking for a goalie, so don’t discount the connection between Bill Guerin and Fleury, who won a Stanley Cup together with the Penguins in 2009. Of course, Guerin was also in player development with the Penguins when they drafted Murray in 2012 and was an assistant GM with them when Murray led them to two Stanley Cups. So there’s some very heavy familiarity there.
Whatever happens between now and the draft on Tuesday and the opening of free agency two days later, where all these goaltenders ultimately end up might be the most intriguing thing to watch.