It’s no secret that the Leafs are currently one of the teams with arguably the most up-in-the-air goaltending situations league-wide. As they head into the summer, perhaps only the Flames have more question marks between the pipes than Toronto, and given that Lou Lamoriello has said as much as half this roster could be turfed in the offseason, you have to think there’s a possibility for an overhaul in net.
Lamoriello has shown in the past to put a premium on a having true starter. Considering his years with Brodeur and then fast-acting trade for his replacement in Schneider, he’s probably not sleeping much given the uncertainty surrounding the Leafs’ netminders right now. And while we know this fancy stats driven front office will always be hesitant to hand out any serious amount of term or cap hit for a goalie (as they should be), there might be some guys on the tad expensive side who can still make sense here.
A few weeks ago there were some rumours floating around that the Leafs, at some point, looked into acquiring Matt Murray from the Penguins. Murray does have some history with Toronto’s front office, as he’s a product of the Kyle Dubas led Greyhounds of the OHL. Now, of course, Murray is in the middle of a playoff run that could very well turn into him hoisting the Cup in a few weeks. He’s taken the net (at least temporarily) from M-A Fleury, and once again there’s some uncertainty about what Pittsburgh might do in net for the long term.
There’s no doubt the Leafs could, and should, go back to that well in the summer, no matter how things shake out in the Penguins’ Cup run. And they likely won’t be the only ones checking in with Rutherford to see if he might part with a young goalie on the way up. But it’ll be absurdly tough to shake Murray from that tree, as it should be.
If anything, Rutherford should entertain the idea of moving on from Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s been strong over the last couple seasons, but carries an expensive tag on a capped out team and is now 31-years-old.
But why move either of these guys, right? Why not just hold on to both until Murray gets into expensive contract territory and worry about it then? Well, there’s expansion coming.
The rules surrounding the potential 2017 expansion draft aren’t nailed down yet, but it appears as though teams will only be able to protect a single goaltender. With M-A Fleury holding a no-movement clause, it’s probable he’ll be able to exercise that to force the Penguins into protecting him, leaving Murray exposed and likely out the door for nothing in return. This means Rutherford, like Yzerman in Tampa with Vasilevskiy and Bishop, will have to think about his options this summer and into next season. Murray’s rise this postseason will make those decisions even tougher.
So Pittsburgh can be left with two options: Trade Murray before next summer in order to get something for him, or go to Fleury and ask for a list of teams (he has a limited NTC for twelve teams he can block) so they can ship him out and protect Murray. If I’m in Rutherford’s position, I’m probably leaning latter.
But is Fleury someone who makes sense for the Leafs?
‘Flower’ carries a cap hit of 5.75-million through the next three seasons (via NHLNumbers), so that’s the main item that will give everyone pause. As we mentioned up top, he’s also now on the wrong side of thirty. But his numbers have been especially strong over the last couple seasons and given his workload hasn’t really taken a step back, there’s no real reason to think he’s wearing down.
Admittedly, the first name that sprung to mind when looking at comparisons for active goalies who have had long careers was Ryan Miller, which seems like sort of a cautionary tale. But keep in mind Miller’s current contract, which pays him 6-million annually, was signed by the Canucks when he was 34, which would be Fleury’s age when his current deal expires. In terms of stages of their careers, these next three seasons of Fleury would more closely align with Miller’s final three in Buffalo.
It’s unlikely the Leafs want to tie up too much cash in net, but here they’d be getting a proven commodity in Fleury and considering the relatively short term remaining on his deal, it’s hard to believe this contract could become much of a disaster. Given the new faces the team will bring in on ELCs for the next three seasons in Matthews, Marner, and others, Fleury’s money would conveniently come off the books when they’ll need it most.
As for performance, we mentioned Fleury has put in some good work over the last couple years. This past season he ranked 13th among 49 goaltenders with 1000 minutes played in 5-on-5 sv% at 0.933, and was 11th of 50 with 1250 all-situation minutes played, with 0.921 (via HockeyAnalysis).
The big question, given his age, is how he’ll look going forward. Is this performance about to go right over a cliff? Not likely.
While Fleury is unlikely to keep getting better with age (not many of us do), his decline shouldn’t be stark. There’s been a lot of work done attempting to see how goalies age, and the general takeaway seems to be a gradual decline through the late twenties and early thirties with things getting scarier around 35. But as most would point out, establishing much of a standard for goaltenders has proven to be quite difficult. Hence the “goalies are voodoo” phrase.
So, back to the main question from the top. If the Leafs go after Murray and are unsuccessful, should they look at Fleury as an option? Personally I’m not a strong advocate for that kind of move because I think there are better avenues out there, but given his track record and the relatively low term that aligns with Toronto’s cap timeline, he would be worth looking at. With the situation that will likely unfold for the Penguins with respect to expansion, the cost to acquire him probably wouldn’t be much, and I feel like he could be a good placeholder while the Leafs get their draft on and fill things in with some young goaltenders developing in each of the lower levels.
This summer it’ll be interesting to see how Lou and co. attempt to change over Toronto’s situation in net, and the looming expansion draft represents another key factor. We’ve talked about options like Andersen, Gibson, Murray, and even Bishop and Vasilevskiy, among others. Fleury’s name is now another worth tossing on the pile.