The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup Final with Marc-Andre Fleury on the bench. The Dallas Stars lost in the second round of the NHL playoffs with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi splitting the workload in the net.
Pittsburgh has a goalie of the future in Matt Murray ready to take over the full-time job, while Dallas has two goalies that have proven to be unable to handle the starting job.
Stars General Manager Jim Nill said the following about a goaltending transaction:
“We always have our eyes open to improving every aspect of our team, so if an opportunity presents itself, we’ll study it,” Nill said. “But I think goaltending is like the quarterback position, where everyone is searching for the perfect one. You can look at the NHL every year, and the best goalie doesn’t always win. So it’s sort of a moving target when you try to assess who is best and who is best for your team.”
Jim Rutherford said this about potentially moving Marc-Andre Fleury:
“If it was in a perfect world and (coach Mike Sullivan) and I were making a decision right now, we’d like to start the season with Fleury and Murray,”
Unfortunately for Rutherford, the Penguins are not operating in a perfect world. The Penguins have plenty of reason to move Marc-Andre Fleury, and the Stars have plenty of reason to acquire a goaltender that can win now.
There is a perfect match between the two teams, as one organization wants to receive the most value possible out of a goaltender they need to move, and the other wants to receive a starter in return for a goaltender they would like to move as well.
The Proposal: A deal to send Kari Lehtonen (with some salary retained or additional assets) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Marc-Andre Fleury.
Why the Penguins Would Make the Deal: Pittsburgh is in a unique predicament with Marc-Andre Fleury. Any other offseason Fleury would have enormous value as a trade option, but this is a buyer’s market thanks in part to the expected expansion draft in 2017.
The expansion draft wrinkle could prove costly to the Penguins, as any team interested in acquiring Fleury can leverage that against the Penguins. If Pittsburgh protects Fleury, they must either send assets to Las Vegas in return for a guarantee that Matt Murray is not drafted, or they must convince Fleury to waive his no-movement clause and accept a trade.
This still creates an advantage for the acquiring team, as if a player must be traded regardless of how valuable he is, the trading team loses almost all leverage. With this in mind, it is impossible to envision the Calgary Flames or Stars starting a bidding war to try to acquire a player that the Penguins must unload anyway.
Pittsburgh could send assets to Las Vegas and hold onto Fleury, but that option would only create a two-season long goalie controversy that could stunt the development of Matt Murray. The Penguins would also lose assets to keep a goalie that would not be a clear No. 1 starter, an unwise decision.
By trading Fleury to Dallas, the Penguins won’t be losing a player for nothing to Vegas, and hands the starting job to Matt Murray.
As for the acquisition of Kari Lehtonen, Pittsburgh could keep him as an expensive insurance policy for Murray, or they can buy him out and accept a cap casualty in return for assets. Keeping Lehtonen at a reduced cost for two years and gaining assets would likely prove to be the ideal scenario, especially if Lehtonen begins to look more like he did in the earlier parts of his career.
Why Dallas Would Make the Deal: Nill can claim the Stars didn’t exit the postseason because of their goaltending, and perhaps he could even be right. Regardless, the Stars goaltending was not good, and it takes good goaltending to win the Stanley Cup Final.
There is no sign of either Lehtonen or Niemi stepping up as a #1 goaltender in the near or distant future, and by the time they are off the Stars’ books, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp will be 36 and 35 years old, and Sharp’s last guaranteed year in victory green is the 2016-17 season.
The time to win in Dallas is right now, and neither Lehtonen nor Niemi is the solution.
Dallas can take advantage of Pittsburgh’s Fleury dilemma and strike a deal for a goalie that has won two Stanley Cups (one as a starter) and has been a consistent No. 1 goaltender in the NHL for over a decade. Fleury has shown no signs of regression and has a slightly smaller cap hit than Lehtonen, though his contract has an extra year on it.
Having to retain salary and surrender assets would be difficult for Dallas, but the cost would certainly equal to the gain.
In Marc-Andre Fleury the Stars would receive an answer to the non-stop questions about their ability to win the Stanley Cup with their goaltending situation. The likely youth movement on their defense would benefit from a more reliable goaltender in net, too.
Fleury could be the missing piece of a championship puzzle, and all the Stars would have to give up is an overpaid goalie, and either some retained salary or a prospect. It sounds costly, but the Stars should be willing to pay big if it means solving their only remaining problem.