Rutherford says he'll listen to Fleury as trade deadline approaches
In the topsy-turvy world of NHL transactions, there aren't many things Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford can guarantee in the next month as the league's March 1 trade deadline approaches.
He can't guarantee he'll acquire defensive depth or land an extra forward. He can't guarantee he'll keep his roster completely intact, either.
There's one thing, however, that he's sure of.
Whatever happens, he will listen to his goaltender.
All things considered, Rutherford would rather not trade goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in season. He'd still like to kick the can down the road a little further and worry about the implications of June's NHL expansion draft after his team's playoff run is done.
After all, the Penguins used three goalies en route to a Stanley Cup championship last spring. If there's anyone who understands the value of depth at the position, it's Rutherford.
“Our priority here is to win,” he said. “My preference hasn't changed. Go back to training camp. My preference is to keep both these goalies here this year.”
With Matt Murray starting the team's last seven games, though, it's clear Fleury has been relegated to backup status. If that situation is more than the 32-year-old goaltender can stand and he would prefer a trade to a place he can play more regularly, Rutherford said he will listen.
“The one thing I'll have to watch for and keep the lines of communication open with the player is, is he OK with the situation that he's in?” Rutherford said. “Going back to last year and to this point in time, he has handled it like a true pro. No issues at all. It may play out that we may be able to go right through having two top goalies on our team. We just have to keep an eye on what direction Marc wants to go here in the next few weeks.”
Fleury's agent, Allen Walsh, said via text message Thursday that he had no comment on which direction his client wanted to go.
Whichever scenario comes to pass, Rutherford said he'll make every effort to do right by the franchise's winningest goalie who has been a cornerstone of the team for more than a decade.
“We want to respect what he's done,” Rutherford said. “He has won two Stanley Cups here, has been a popular player not only within the organization but with the fans. He deserves to be respected properly, and that's what we're trying to do.”
As a matter of practicality, making an in-season trade of a high-profile goaltender is rarely easy.
For one thing, it's hard to make the math work. Fleury carries a salary cap hit of $5.75 million for this season and the two seasons after it. According to capfriendly.com, 22 of the NHL's 30 teams, including the Penguins, are within $3 million of the cap.
For another thing, it might be difficult for the Penguins to find a suitable trading partner.
Fleury has a limited no-trade clause that can block a move to 12 teams, but that's not the most significant hurdle. It's that the pool of teams in the market for a No. 1 goalie in-season is small.
A club would need to think it is a goalie away from going from bubble team to solidly in the playoffs or from playoff fodder to Stanley Cup contender to make the deal worthwhile. Otherwise, it could just wait until the offseason to make a move.
“All deals are tough to do, as you can see now,” Rutherford said. “There's hardly any deals going on.”