The Pittsburgh Penguins reaped the rewards in holding onto Marc-Andre Fleury beyond the NHL trade deadline, hoisting the Stanley Cup for the second straight season. But now the bill is due.
The Penguins need Fleury off the roster in some fashion before they can submit their list of players to be protected from the upcoming NHL expansion draft, lest they lose rising star netminder Matt Murray to the upstart Vegas Golden Knights. The rub? Fleury owns a no-movement clause and a partial no-trade clause that gives him enough leverage to at least partially dictate the terms of his departure, while the Penguins cannot and will not lose Murray for nothing.
The solution could be simple, but it will not come without a cost. Here are a look at the options — good and bad — facing the Penguins in the days ahead.
Fleury won’t budge and the Penguins are forced to expose Murray
This is the bad option. And it won’t happen. But it’s worth pointing out to demonstrate that Fleury does have leverage in this situation and will need some sort of incentive to waive his no-movement or no-trade clause.
After a season in which General Manager Jim Rutherford, Fleury and his agent, Allan Walsh, spent time discussing solutions to this dilemma, it’s unlikely Fleury digs in his heels and refuses to cooperate. But he could and that would create problems.
Fleury can name 18 teams to which he’d accept a trade. In theory, he could only name teams secure in their goaltending situations, effectively barring a deal. That moves the Penguins to their next decision point, but again there is no reality in which Murray is exposed in the expansion draft.
The Penguins will not let Murray go and get nothing in return. They would sooner trade him. And Rutherford would probably choose self-flagellation even before that. But what if …
Fleury won’t budge and the Penguins are offered a big trade package for Murray
This too is highly, highly unlikely. But there’s always the potential for teams to do crazy things, such as offer Pittsburgh a ridiculous package for Murray.
Fair market value is probably something north of a top-10 pick in the coming NHL draft. The Canucks traded Cory Schneider for the ninth pick in the 2013 draft. Murray is younger and has a more team-friendly contract as well as two Stanley Cups on his résumé. Pittsburgh would have to be enticed by (much) more than that — including assets that could help it win immediately.
As of now, Pittsburgh only has three defensemen under contract next season and depth on the blue line has been the biggest issue the Penguins have navigated the past several seasons. Of course, they’ve “dealt with it,” by winning two Stanley Cups. Would a team such as, say, Winnipeg — which could be really good with a strong netminder — be willing to part with a top-four defenseman plus Marko Dano (a potential expansion draft victim himself) in exchange for Murray? That’s completely hypothetical, but for the Penguins to even entertain the idea, it would have to be a massive haul.
Smart money says this ain’t happening, though. Moving on.
Fleury waives his no-trade clause to be dealt to another non-Vegas team
The Penguins will not get anything close to the haul they’d get from dealing Murray, but they would get something and also keep him. If they can achieve the latter, that’s a win. The former is a bonus.
Given the limited size of the goalie trading market and Fleury’s no-trade clause, realistically, he has to okay any deal. The pool of teams looking for a starting goalie doesn’t make that prospect too optimistic, though.
Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Buffalo, Philadelphia and maybe the New York Islanders figure to be in the market. Fleury would probably prefer a team capable of at least competing for the playoffs, which strikes the Canucks and, probably, the Sabres, from the list. It’s highly unlikely the Penguins would trade Fleury within the division, so now we’re down to two teams and the next player who requests a trade to Winnipeg will be the first, even though the Jets could be really good with a consistent goaltender.
Still, working out a deal with anyone is probably the best-case scenario for the Penguins. There just doesn’t seem to be a clear trading partner.
Fleury waives his no-trade clause and is taken by the Knights in the expansion draft
For this to happen, Pittsburgh will have to find some incentive for him to waive the no-movement clause. But what?
With a contract running through the next two seasons, Fleury isn’t yet eligible to sign an extension. So there would be nothing to guarantee Fleury a solid new contract should his play plummet while an expansion team endures its growing pains. And if Fleury has no interest in playing in the desert, this is a non-starter.
Fleury — and Walsh — aren’t just going to give the Penguins a get-out-of-jail-free card for nothing. Fleury needs to get his back scratched somehow. But again, how? That brings us to the most likely end to the impending drama.
Fleury refuses to waive his no-movement clause and is bought out by the Penguins
This is the simplest avenue that has a clear benefit to Fleury and the Penguins. Pittsburgh could protect Murray. Fleury gets paid out in full, gets to handpick his next team and can then make even more money by signing a new deal while two years younger than if he had played out the current deal somewhere.
It wouldn’t be ideal for the Penguins, but it would definitely allow them to avoid the worst-case scenario of losing Murray for nothing. And that’s what this whole exercise is truly about.