Marc-Andre Fleury is three wins away from winning his fourth career Stanley Cup and his third in three years. He has led the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural season through three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and is the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP), even if the Knights don’t win the Cup.
Fleury has 13 wins, four shutouts, a .939 save percentage, and a 1.88 GAA (goals-against average) so far in the 2018 playoffs. On the flip side of this, Matt Murray, the Pittsburgh Penguins starting goaltender, has a mediocre .908 save percentage, a 2.43 GAA, and has been playing golf since May 7.
With all that being said, there is still no argument that the Penguins should have kept Fleury in last summer’s expansion draft.
For those who don’t know or need refreshed, each NHL team, as a part of the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft, had a certain amount of players to protect from the Golden Knights to select. Only one goalie was allowed to be protected in the process — meaning that the Penguins had to pick between keeping Fleury or Murray. Vegas would select one player from each team who wasn’t protected to be a part of its team, and since the Penguins kept Murray, Fleury was drafted and became a Vegas Golden Knight on June 21. This was the right choice for both teams.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Fleury. He is my favorite goalie of all-time, and deserves another cup, and maybe even a Hockey Hall of Fame induction when he eventually retires. He is playing out of his mind this year, and as a Penguins fan, I love seeing him win. No Penguins fan should be jealous of the Knights’ final appearance as the Pens just had two straight final appearances. Also, no fan should be mad at Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford for not protecting Fleury, as both Murray and “Flower” are phenomenal goaltenders. Murray just has more potential upside and talent.
Fleury is 33 years old, which is getting up there in goaltender age. The oldest current NHL starting goaltender is Roberto Luongo, at age 39, who plays for the Florida Panthers. According to QuantHockey.com, only 24 players overall have retired over the age of 40 since 2000. I don’t think Fleury will retire any time soon, but it’s easy to say that he will leave the game before Murray does.
Another thing to consider is the salary cap hit. “Flower” carries a hefty $5,750,000 AAV (average annual value) contract for one more year, while “Muzz” has a steal with a $3,750,000 AAV for two more years. Having less money to pay in any contract is always a steal, but for the Penguins, who are usually always up against the cap limit, it is great to have one of their best players on a good contract.
Murray has won two Stanley Cups in his first two years in the NHL, and is only age 24 — which is ridiculous. Despite being injured for some games, Murray was still the heart and soul, and last line of defense in the nine consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff series wins for the Penguins. While he is not as decorated as Fleury when it comes to individual achievements (yet), Murray will definitely catch up.
Yes, Murray did struggle this season at times because of injuries, the passing of his father, typical goaltender mistakes, lackluster defense in front of him, bad calls, and more, but every goalie struggles and it’s near-impossible to win the Cup every year.
Murray will have a bounce-back season next year, and so will the rest of the Penguins. For the first time in two and a half years, the Penguins will get to rest the full offseason without having to play hockey into early June. Whatever injuries the team is dealing with will heal this offseason. No big trades should be made. The Penguins, led by Murray, will be back come the start of the 2019 season, ready to compete for another Stanley Cup.
So when Fleury, hopefully, gets the Cup in the coming days, we Penguins fans should not be jealous, or call for Jim Rutherford’s head. We should simply be happy and proud for Marc-Andre and the season he has had.