With a resume that already boasts a Stanley Cup and one of the most impressive playoff goaltending performances of the past several years, it should come as no surprise that Penguins netminder Matt Murray has already signed a contract extension before he has even played the first game of what would technically be his rookie campaign.
Murray, 22, was one of the most interesting stories of the post-season, going 15-6 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .923 save percentage after taking over the Penguins’ starting gig in place of then-injured goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray’s performance was such that Fleury’s place with the Penguins was questioned throughout the off-season, and it appears the writing on the wall got that much clearer with Murray landing a new deal.
The Penguins announced Thursday morning that they have come to terms with Murray on a three-year extension that will pay him $3.75 million per year — a total of $11.25 million over the lifetime of the deal. As it currently stands, Murray is in the final year of his three-year entry-level deal, which is set to pay him less than $700,000 this season.
As noted, the deal comes before Murray has played even a single minute in the Penguins’ crease this season. Selected to play for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey, Murray broke his hand during round robin play and has been on the shelf for the duration of the pre-season and into the start of the campaign, missing all four games Pittsburgh has played thus far.
Murray’s initial timeline for return was 3-6 weeks and there’s still some uncertainty about when exactly he’ll return to action. Murray was cleared for practice Wednesday, though, and wore a splint on his right thumb.
"It's a day-to-day type of thing," Murray said, according to NHL.com’s Wes Crosby. "You can come back one day and maybe it's a lot more sore than what it usually is and you may have to ease off a little bit. It's just about getting the pace back a little bit and getting in a real practice and taking it step by step."
With Murray inking a lucrative contract extension before even playing one game this season, it’s hard not to feel as if Fleury’s days with the Penguins are numbered. The 31-year-old has just started the second season of a four-year, $23-million deal, and the Penguins having more than $9 million locked up in goal heading into next season seems unlikely with some of the high-priced pieces on their roster.
The difficult part about Pittsburgh’s situation is that Fleury holds a lot of the cards. According to CapFriendly, Fleury’s contract boasts a no-trade clause that allows him to list 18 teams that he will accept a trade to and a no-movement clause that prevents him from being placed on waivers. That will limit the Penguins’ options when it comes to moving the veteran goaltender.
As of Thursday, the Penguins will have little more than $9.3 million in cap space to operate with come July 2017, with Chris Kunitz and Nick Bonino set for unrestricted free agency and Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz, Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin among those with restricted free agent status.
That could be enough to keep all the major pieces around and hold onto Fleury, but if Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford want salary flexibility going forward, Murray’s deal likely means Fleury’s time as a Penguin is all but certain to come to a close.
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