Matt Murray: Will He Get a Shot at the Backup Role in 2015-16?


The Pittsburgh Penguins’ backup goaltending has been a persisting issue over the past several seasons.

While the Pens boast one of the league’s best starters in Marc-Andre Fleury, they’ve had trouble locking up a reliable secondary netminder to come in and excel when needed.

Tomas Vokoun took a shot at the spot a couple seasons ago. Then came Jeff Zatkoff. General Manager Jim Rutherford brought Thomas Greiss to town this season but the experiment didn’t quite go as planned, as the veteran tender struggled mightily, posting a record of 9-6-3 alongside a lacklustre save-percentage of .908 and goals-against-average of 2.59.

With Greiss almost certainly not coming back next season, the Pens have a hole to fill in their goaltending corps.

One name that should garner some consideration is that of Matt Murray, the Pens’ shiny new AHL prospect, who emerged as the league’s top netminder in his first professional season.

The 20-year-old tender finished the 2014-15 campaign with a goals-against-average of 1.58, a save-percentage of .941, and 12 shutouts – all league-best marks.

He also broke the league record for longest shutout streak, setting a new historic mark of 304 minutes and 11 seconds without a single goal allowed.

Murray’s exceptional season earned him top rookie honours as he became the first Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin to earn the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award.

With Murray rising to the top of the AHL crop in such a short time – not only finishing as the best netminder, but doing so by a fair margin – he could find himself suiting up in the NHL next season, learning from one of the best in Fleury.

One key obstacle will be his age.

Well it’s not impossible for young tenders to break into the big leagues, it is quite rare. At only 20 years old, Murray may require more time to develop before being thrown into the ramped up pressure of NHL hockey.

The Pens’ management will have to find the balance with Murray as there exist two possibilities – one of Murray coming in and locking down the cage exceptionally well when given the chance, and another of Murray’s development being thrown off by giving him too much too early.

His season was historic, but it was still the first professional campaign of his career.

Should Murray continue to thrive next season, he’ll make himself an undeniable option, but at the moment, he arguably remains too unproven.

That being said, Rutherford has been upfront about his desire to upgrade his club’s top-six forward group, centrally via the trade market, and thus, Murray’s name could come into the conversation in a few different ways.

Firstly, he himself may be traded, as a blue-chip netminder could certainly net the Pens a skilled NHL forward, especially if a deal is made right after Murray’s league-leading season.

Or, alternatively, the Pens could gamble and insert Murray into the NHL lineup simply to save some dollars and avoiding dropping another million on a lacklustre backup tender, as they did with Greiss.

The argument there might be that the team doesn’t have the cap space to put significant financial effort into attracting a legitimate NHL backup, and thus, giving Murray a shot would seemingly be the best option.

If he fails, he’ll do no worse than any other tender the team could seemingly afford. If he succeeds, then the club gets a reliable goaltender at a significant bargain.

With much to be decided this summer regarding the re-tooling of the Pens roster, Murray will certainly be on alert to see whether his name gets included in any roster conversations.

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