NHL Playoff’s Goalies Roulette: Will Pens ship Fleury in offseason?

Goalies are a wild bunch, eh? And not just because they all used to be the inspiration for Jason Voorhees’ mask. No goalies are a wild bunch in part because they some times make you feel like this,

And other times like this,

Which is interesting to point out because, hey, pop quiz!: who owns a sub-.900 save percentage in the series Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay through six games? Considering we’ve seen 21-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy flip out on his team, the other team, and at whomever is foolish enough to be close enough to incur his wrath, one would suspect it’s the Lightning. But no, it’s the Penguins! Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury (for all of 79:19 in the series) have combined to stop just 144 of 161 combined shots for a .894 save percentage. While Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop (for all of 12:25 to begin Game 1) have turned away 211 of 229 combined shots for a .921 SV%. If this surprises you, then take it as a lesson on recency bias and how strong displays of emotions can bias our perceptions and how these percentages aren’t necessarily a proxy for quality of play.

Admittedly, things are much more in line with perceptions over in the West. Martin Jones and James Reimer (half a game) have combined for a .915 SV% on 118 shots through five games, whereas Brian Elliott and Jake Allen (split nearly evenly) have posted a .892 SV% on 130 combined shots.

So what’s the difference?

Who the hell knows in these short series. And yes, four to seven games is a short series as it pertains to making definitive statements. All I want to get across to you here is that goalies matter, absolutely, but it’s frequently unclear how much. Part of San Jose’s success with Jones has been the lack of work he’s seen. He’s second in the NHL in shots-faced now, but coming into the series with St. Louis he wasn’t top-five. That’s what makes a 97 GA% with a 2.27 GAA and .918 SV% look fantastic. The Blues meanwhile got so far in spite of their porous defense by leaning so heavily on Elliott to guide them through the postseason. He still sits atop the shots-faced by a wide margin, and currently leads Martin 503-440. Without Elliott’s 94 GA% with a Goals-Saved Above Average of 2.75, a pretty good number, the Blues would’ve turned in yet another disappointing postseason.

Here’s what we do know about these goalies though: only one of them is completely secure in his job, and it’s Martin Jones. Ben Bishop is probably safe for at least for one more season before he hits free agency as a 30-year-old. Brian Elliott continues to be a thorn in the Blues’ side, but at least this time he was playing like an elite goalie. It’s Matt Murray who could be creating the biggest change come September.

The list of teams that could benefit from capitalizing on Murray’s emergence in net is pretty interesting through the lens of a draft day trade. In no particular order; Edmonton (fourth overall), Buffalo (eighth), Toronto (first) and Carolina (13) are intriguing options for Pittsburgh. Though Edmonton and Buffalo are probably not as keen to “upgrade” over Cam Talbot and Robin Lehner respectively, and Toronto would laugh at any deal that somehow includes Fleury and their first overall pick, Carolina has just Eddie Lack signed for next season with plenty of space to absorb Fleury’s $5.75M cap hit for the next three seasons. Add on Carolina’s dearth of quality young (read: cheap) defenders, and Pittsburgh’s bounty of young energetic forwards, and a deal makes more and more sense, at least on digital paper.

But it’s Winnipeg (sixth) and Calgary (fifth) that both seem most likely to acquire one of the more decorated and befallen netminders today, and make a playoff push in 2016-17.

Winnipeg will have to figure out what to do with Ondrej Pavelec’s final season at a $3.9M cap hit, which is cheap for goalies but expensive for one who is two-for-seven in trying to be at least league-average. Meanwhile Calgary has no such problems, literally. Calgary has no goalies signed for the upcoming season. The draft pick situation for these trio of teams makes things even juicier.

Pittsburgh has just a pair of second rounders before selecting again in the fourth in June, their own plus Anaheim’s. Winnipeg has both their own first and Chicago’s, plus their own second. While Calgary has their own first plus a trio of second rounders, the additional two being Dallas and Florida’s. If you’d like recent precedent for big name goalies being dealt at the draft then see below (you can turn it off once Pierre starts yapping),

What does it take to make a trade? At its core just want, assets, and a conversation. The Penguins’ brass may be loath to break up their proverbial Core-4 in Fleury, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby considering all that they’ve done together, but there’s a list of reason that spans the Grand Canyon as to why Fleury is on the shortest and cheapest contract among them.

Regardless of how their season finishes, none of us with know if Murray is more Patrick Lalime or Henrik Lundqvist for a few years. But we do know the Pens are a cap-strapped team lacking picks in a deep draft and at least one goalie playing at a high level on an Entry Level Contract in the damn playoffs, and are one win away from their first Cup Final appearance since 2009.

The 22-year-old has been a indomitable force in net since 2013-14 with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. He breezed through the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and very well could represent the best thing that’s happened to the Penguins since winning Crosby.

Why not capitalize and extend your Cup window just a bit longer?

Matt Riegler is a freelance sports writer who covers the NHL routinely for SiriusXM. Hit the ice with him on Twitter at: @mattriegler

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