Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury: The Wet Willy & Smart Cookie Decision
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Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury: The Wet Willy & Smart Cookie Decision

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Matt Murray. Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

It might be tempting to do some second-guessing as Marc-Andre Fleury moves and grooves toward possibly another Stanley Cup and perhaps a Conn Smythe Trophy with Vegas.

Let’s go ahead and say it: The Penguins might have won more Cups in the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era, maybe even this year, had they kept Fleury instead of making him available to the Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft. But we’ll never know.

Circumstances forced the Penguins to make a difficult choice. Matt Murray is 10 years younger and, for now, $2 million cheaper. He was as instrumental, or more, than Fleury in the team’s Cup wins the past two years.

It was the smart choice to make, and it won’t be possible to fully judge the decision until years from now, when Fleury is in the Hall of Fame and Murray, if all goes well, is still playing.

Could Murray morph into another Jim Carey? (Look him up, youngsters.) Another Cam Ward? It’s possible but doesn’t seem likely.

It’s incredible what Murray, at 23, has already been through. He has won two Cups. He has become a franchise goaltender. He has endured the crushing loss of his father. He has teetered on the edge of being labeled injury prone. He has come through his first full season as a No. 1 NHL goaltender with very mixed reviews.

Murray, on locker cleanout day after the Penguins lost to Washington in the second round of the playoffs, declined to assess his 2017-18 season, saying, “Ummmm, I’m not going to answer that right now. I’d be talking for days.”

Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Dan Kangerski offered the scoop on Murray’s season in review, complete with statistical analysis, so the goalie didn’t have to.

Projecting Murray’s Future

It’s probably just as productive to try to look ahead. Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Murray to do that – to think about how much could lie ahead after what he has accomplished at just 23. His answer was long and thoughtful.

“I’ve been lucky so far to have success, apart from this year,” he said – and don’t discount the open criticism there.

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“I’ve been through a lot of learning experiences, been through a lot of different things that most guys don’t see at my age. I feel very fortunate for that – good things and bad things. You learn from all of it. You learn from the bad things probably even more than from the good things. I’ll take that.

“Everything that’s happened is going to make me stronger in the long run. I feel lucky to have been through so many experiences in my really short career so far. My goal is just to get better each and every day. If you keep that course of action, I think you can do great things. That’s what I hope to do.”

That would seem to be a healthy, honest, encouraging outlook.

Murray is well spoken and intelligent. At times he goes so far as to apologize for giving cliché answers when asked about his game, but the guy really does believe in a very basic, step-by-step, detailed approach to the craft of goaltending.

Even if his learning curve flattens out some, he has a tremendous upside with seemingly a lot of years to keep honing.

“Every year I learn more and more about how to be a pro and how to handle the ins and outs of a long season, dealing with adversity, all the kind of stuff,” he said. “This year was a huge learning year for me.”

Murray, like a lot of his teammates, took the loss against the Capitals hard but can see the silver lining of a longer offseason to recuperate and improve. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now is already anticipating your comments suggesting Murray spend some of the summer working on his glove hand.)

“You’ve got to go with the flow and take advantage of what presents itself,” Murray said. “Obviously, we would much rather be playing, but the longer summer opens some opportunities for more work to be done and more time to improve your game and to get ready for next year, so you have to take advantage of that. … My focus this summer is on getting faster, getting stronger, getting better each and every day. That’s where my head’s at.”

Murray noted that he’s rooting for Fleury in these playoffs and will try to catch some of his games on TV despite having other plans and an agenda to tend to.

The decision a year ago? We’ll have to wait to fully judge it. Murray and Fleury certainly are different personalities – it’s hard to imagine Murray giving an opponent a wet willy during a playoff game.

But an equation of Murray + an analytical approach to constant improvement + many years left in his career would seem to add up to a something positive.

 

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Shelly is the newest columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Robert

    May 20, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Not sure why this has been so controversial. From a business standpoint letting Fleury go was the only viable option they had. I’m sure it caused all of them and his teammates a lot of pain.

    • Shelly Anderson

      May 20, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Well, you know, goalies and quarterbacks stir up controversy among fans like no others…

  2. Matt Luda

    May 21, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    Rutherford should be the runaway Executive of the Year for the way he turned Vegas into a contender in a matter of months.

    J.R. laid the foundation when he gave away Fleury AND a second-round pick and got zippo in return. Said it at the time — he should have traded him to any number of teams that were desperate for a proven goaltender. Sure, he wanted to reward MAF for his above-average career here, but screw that. The organ-i-zation, the team and Penguins fans should come first.

    Add the pathetic Niemi signing and the misguided Reaves trade, and it’s clear that J.R. had one of the worst seasons of any GM in recent memory at the worst possible time.

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