Saturday, May 07, 2016

Fleury, Part 2: Examining the Possibility of Calgary Trading For the Penguins Star Goalie

For 10 years starting in 1989, the name Fleury was emblazoned on the back of a Flames sweater. What an impactful player he was too.

Maybe it's time to bring back that old name bar.

Seventeen years after Theoren Fleury was traded away by Calgary, is Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury a realistic possibility to be brought in via trade?

Given the Flames desperate plight in net, it's an intriguing situation to monitor because there are many reasons why it is a deal that could make sense for both clubs, as well as most importantly for Fleury. Keep in mind that the 31-year-old holds the trump card in the form of a limited no-trade clause. This means each year he submits a list of 12 teams that he cannot be traded to.


Murray's Emergence

What's thrust this discussion topic into the forefront lately is the continued stellar play between the pipes of standout Penguins rookie Matt Murray.

Since taking over for Jeff Zatkoff in game 3 of Pittsburgh's first round series with the New York Rangers, the 21-year-old has been outstanding, winning six of his seven starts.

In the throes of a battle with the ever-dangerous Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at the moment, Murray made 47 saves in a 3-2 win in game 3. He followed that up with another 34 stops in a 3-2 overtime victory in game 4.

Murray has the Penguins one win away from dispatching the NHL's top regular season team and moving on to the Eastern Conference final. In doing so, he's merely continued where he left off in the regular season.


Why this is getting real interesting is getting the tap on the shoulder ahead of Zatkoff was one thing, playing ahead of Fleury is quite another. The 12-year vet is back from his concussion now but the past two games he's watched from the end of the bench as Murray continues to be the guy.

With Pittsburgh on such a roll, it begs the question, when does Fleury get back in. Or, does he?

It was reported back in February by Sportsnet Analyst Elliotte Friedman that Calgary had inquired about Murray and were told by Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford that he was not available. Maybe the Flames asked about the wrong guy.

When the season is over, could Fleury become available? I don't see why not.


Why it Could Work for Pittsburgh

Every indication so far is that Murray has what it takes to be the Penguins No. 1 goalie and not in two or three years, but right now.

Ten years younger than Fleury and far less expensive, it's the type of seamless transition at a critical position that in a salary cap system enables teams at the top to remain at the top.

While there will always loom the question of what if Murray doesn't work out and can they really afford to part with Fleury, Murray's peripherals can't get much better.

We're talking about a guy that has been a standout in the AHL. When he was called up this season, he was second in the league with a .931 save percentage. Last year as a rookie, he led the circuit with a .941.

You'll remember the splashy arrival of Andrew Hammond in Ottawa last season, a shine that came off this year. This is not that situation. As an older, undrafted player with mediocre AHL numbers, Hammond never had the pedigree to back up what he was doing in the NHL. Murray, on the other hand, does.

Also for Pittsburgh, you're freeing up a ton of cap space. Murray, with another year to go on his entry-level deal, makes a nominal $620,000. That's a savings of over $5 million from what the team is paying Fleury.

For a team up pushing up hard against the salary cap, that's more beans in the jeans of the GM that allows you to bring in some additional help in the off-season to address a position of concern. Or it gives you some additional cash to re-sign RFAs like Beau Bennett and Justin Schultz. Regardless, it gives the Penguins some freedom.

If the package from Calgary was to include a first round draft pick, that's helpful too. The Penguins have only picked in the first round once in the last three seasons and they don't have a first round pick in 2016 either. Not yet, anyway.

Meanwhile, they still have 2013 second rounder Tristan Jarry as a young goalie in the system and there are plenty of economical veteran options Pittsburgh could pick up to back-up Murray.


Why it Could work for Calgary

Jon Gillies will need time in the minors. As I documented in this look earlier in the season at the state of the Flames organizational depth chart in net, NCAA goalies take time to become NHL-ready, typically 2-3 seasons in the AHL. If you look at two of the top college goalies in the league today -- New Jersey's Cory Schneider and Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop -- they needed three and four seasons in the minors respectively. Gillies has had only one month, his rookie season cut short by hip surgery.

I stated it in that article when I laid out a five-year plan in net for the club that the Flames would ideally be looking this summer to bring in a top goaltender for three years. With three years remaining on his contract with the Penguins, that makes Fleury a perfect fit.

Sure, Gillies could be ready earlier than that, but a smart organization won't count on that. You bring him along slowly and if anything, you wait until he's overripe rather than rush him. If you do bring in a veteran like Fleury for three years and Gillies forces his way into the starting job discussion sooner than later, this is the kind of 'problem' a GM loves to have. Unlike this year's problem of having too many No. 2 goalies, there are lots of options when you have too many legit No. 1's.

Meanwhile, should Gillies not work out and that's very possible as we know how few goaltenders this organization has developed in 35 years, you're covered for the next three seasons and who knows, maybe a Fleury extension could be in the offing after if that's how it all unfolds.

The other attraction for Calgary is Fleury would arrive with a pretty friendly cap hit of $5.75 million. This is a team that paid nearly $9 million for their goaltending last year. Whether it's Joni Ortio as the back-up or a different back-up is brought in for $1.5 million, it would be a net savings.


Why it Would be Attractive to Fleury?

Would Fleury be willing to be traded to Calgary? Why not.

He would not be coming in to compete for the starting job, it would be his, period. That in itself would have to be a very attractive situation.

With the young pieces in place in Calgary and the caliber of players the Flames have as their foundation up front in Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau, a return to the playoffs as soon as next season is not out of the question either. So for Fleury, still driven to play in the post-season, it's not a stretch that he could get this team there. Remember, Calgary missed the playoffs by just 10 points last season and with atrocious goaltending.

While the Flames having the fourth-worst team goaltending the NHL has seen in the last six years would suggest they are also a team that is in shambles defensively -- and there were plenty of examples of that last year -- it's not as bad as it may seem either.

Calgary is still a team with a very good top three in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton that have the abilities to be one of the top trios in the league. General manager Brad Treliving implied on Tuesday in announcing the firing of Bob Hartley that the style of play is partially to blame and changing the style of play to give up less dangerous chances was one of the reasons behind the dismissal of the Flames coach.

For Fleury, this would be a chance to join a team on the rise that desperately needs a goalie but has other pieces in place to be a playoff contender sooner than later. For a Canadian kid born in Sorel, Quebec, you'd think there would also be an attraction to playing in a Canadian market for the first time since he suited up a dozen years ago for Cape Breton in the QMJHL.


What Would it Cost?

A great question is what would it take for the Flames to pry Fleury out of Pittsburgh. On the outside, not privy to daily conversations with GMs around the league, it's very hard to gauge.

I'd first look at how much it cost New Jersey to get Schneider, a 27-year-old rising star at the time, out of Vancouver. In that trade announced at the 2013 NHL Draft, it took the Devils first round pick, 9th overall.

While the Flames could surely get a deal done by leveraging their sixth overall pick in this year's draft, I don't see that happening. That would be too hefty of a price to pay, especially considering Calgary also traded away its first round pick last year and could really use the type of high-end winger they're projected to get at that number. So let's take that option off the table.
 
Instead, what else could the Flames offer? Should Dallas come back and defeat St. Louis, that first round pick from the Stars could be valuable currency in putting together a package.

Perhaps it's that Stars first round pick, include the second round pick (in the mid 50s) from the Panthers in the Jiri Hudler deal if you need to, and maybe a prospect? While I liked what Jyrki Jokipakka brought to the Calgary blueline when picked up from Dallas in the Kris Russell trade, you do need to give up something to get something. The fellow countrymen of Olli Maatta would be an economical addition to the Penguins blue-line. Or might the Pens have an interest in Tyler Wotherspoon or maybe Brett Kulak?

The Flames also have four first round picks at forward that have yet to solidify themselves at the NHL level in Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk, Hunter Shinkaruk and Mark Jankowski. Perhaps the upside of a guy like Poirier is someone that could be leveraged in a deal.

Of course, should the Blues win and that first rounder not come to fruition, you'd need to recalibrate. For example, Calgary's own second round pick is 35th so not that far away. One way or another, I'd think the Flames have the assets to put together a package that could get a deal done.
 
Also, an expansion draft could play into it if the NHL decides to proceed on that front as such an announcement could create a buyer's market. Teams two-deep in good-calibre NHL goaltenders like Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Chicago, Tampa Bay and St. Louis, all fearful of losing a goalie for nothing, would suddenly be more motivated to make a deal and that could bring prices down.


What Calgary is Getting?

Calgary is getting a goalie with a lot of mileage on the chassis but also gives them the stability they're badly looking for, especially with the wounds from last year's debacle still very fresh.

Since making his NHL debut at age 18, the first overall pick in 2003 has played 12 seasons. His 357 career victories is third among active goalies and ranks him 18th all-time. If he were to average 30 wins per season over the next six years, he would pass Patrick Roy, who is second in career wins behind Marty Brodeur.

Make no mistake, Fleury would not be coming in as one of the NHL's top five goaltenders. But you could argue he's in the top 10. Last January in this piece, The Hockey News ranked him as the NHL's sixth best goaltender. Here's his regular season save percentage and where in ranked in the league in recent years:
  • 2015-16, .921, 10th
  • 2014-15, .920, 15th
  • 2013-14, .915, 22nd
  • 2012-13, .916, 16th
  • 2011-12, .913, 26th
  • 2010-11, .918, 13th

What Fleury would do is instantly solidify the position and give the Flames above-average goaltending and that would be an improvement on what they've been getting recently. It could also be all they need to get back to being a legitimate threat to make the post-season.


Final Word

In summing up why Treliving dismissed Hartley, he said he had taken the team as far as he thought he could take them. There is a very clear commitment to winning in Calgary and it's not two, three, four years from now, it's right now. It's next season.

Adding a legitimate starting goaltender like Fleury would be walking that talk and the front office demonstrating that commitment to winning. And in one quick strike, the goalie mess would be solved. Done.

While there are many other potential goaltender options out there -- Bishop, Frederik Andersen, Brian Elliott, James Reimer -- I'd put Fleury right there in that mix too, maybe even at the top given he's already got a contract in place unlike Bishop and Elliott -- pending UFAs after 2016-17.

Andersen is a pending RFA but with him you have the question of does Ducks GM Bob Murray want to deal him within his division? Vancouver was certainly fearful of trading Schneider within the division to the point where they reportedly passed up on a better deal from Edmonton to move him to the Eastern Conference.

If for no other reason, maybe it's just superstition. After all, when you find Calgary on the Stanley Cup, you also find the name Fleury right underneath. Maybe it would be a good omen.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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3 comments:

  1. Does a promising young goalie like Gillies get picked up in the expansion draft as a back-up if he performs well in the AHL this year because we are forced to protect MAF? Or would that be a long shot as there will be a plethora of current NHL back-ups to choose from?

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    1. Regarding Gillies, last word from the Flames was they believe Gillies will be exempt. For a better explanation, I'll refer you to where I wrote about that specific thing in more detail. See take No. 20 on this year-end wrap-up story.
      http://www.flamesfrom80feet.ca/2016/04/20-takes-on-20-topics-compilation-of.html

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    2. Thanks Darren, I have heard it both ways so hopefully he may be exempt. Really enjoy your blog.

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