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Inside the NHL: Murray extension adds to Pens' dilemma in goal

If you're sunk in goal, you're sunk in the standings most of the time. Or at least when you get to the playoffs. Look at what happened last year in Dallas, which couldn't last in the postseason or Calgary, which couldn't get there at all. Look at the dilemma now faced in Los Angeles, which is looking to perhaps 2-3 months without the injured Jonathan Quick and saw backup Jeff Zatkoff suffer a lower-body injury during Saturday's morning skate.

All these points come up when you ponder what's going on in Pittsburgh. The Penguins have veteran Marc-Andre Fleury manning the net while Stanley Cup hero Matt Murray is mending the broken hand he suffered during the World Cup. Murray signed a three-year, $11.25-million extension Thursday, so it seems inevitable the Pens may deal Fleury sooner rather than later and get out from under his $5.75 million cap hit that stretches through 2019.

Still, Pens GM Jim Rutherford told Pittsburgh reporters last week not to make any such assumption.

"The focus seems to be on what happens with Marc-Andre, but let’s let this play itself out first,” Rutherford said. “Let’s not just presume that Marc is automatically out. He’s been the franchise goalie here, he is a terrific person, he’s a terrific player and I think that assumption, we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves.”

The Pittsburgh situation is similar to the one in Tampa Bay where the Lightning have an established goalie (Ben Bishop) and recently signed a younger version (Andrei Vasilevskiy) to an extension that puts him in line to be the goalie of the future.

How can these two teams use up that amount of cap space on two goalies? You would think one has to go and it almost certainly would be the veteran. And keep in mind there's expansion draft issues to consider as well. Fleury has a no-movement clause so if he stays, Murray could be available to the new Las Vegas franchise. There's no way the Pens allow that to happen.

"Our focus this year is winning, and we’ll deal with the expansion draft at the appropriate time,” Rutherford said. “This signing of Matt doesn’t go hand-in-hand with any of that.”

Bishop and Fleury could be on the market and another goalie to watch could be old friend Ryan Miller. He's in the last year of his deal in Vancouver and Jacob Markstrom is more than adequate in net for the Canucks, as the Sabres found out on Thursday.

If Zatkoff is out long term, you wonder what kind of play the Kings make for Miller, who would almost assuredly love to move to Los Angeles. He's in the final year of his deal, valued at $6 million per season, and could probably count on a relatively low workload behind the LA defense. But, oh, that cap number. Still, can the Kings just watch their season go away with Peter Budaj as the starter?

Taking it outdoors

The NHL's schedule of outdoor games begins Sunday in Winnipeg, where the Jets meet the Edmonton Oilers at Investors Group Field in the leagues' Heritage Classic at 3 p.m. Eastern on NHL Network. The Jets will wear throwback jerseys, similar to what they wore in the WHA days and in their years in the NHL from 1979-1996.

Alumni from the teams held an exhibition game Saturday and newly named NHL ambassador Wayne Gretzky said it might be the last time fans see him skate in these affair. Now 55, Gretzky admitted it's not so easy to glid around anymore.

"I don't skate a lot or get out there. I only have a couple of more of those games in me, I can guarantee you that," Gretzky said.

"I have a bag of equipment, and I skate once a year and when I put mine back in the garage, I say, 'That was a lot of fun, I need to do that again,' and I don't get it out for another year. I'm just not as good as I used to be, I'm the really 'The OK One' now, not even 'Good One.' "

Spirit of 50

With the old West Division teams all celebrating their 50th anniversary season, the only remaining team wihtout a Stanley Cup is the St. Louis Blues. Entering their 50th year without a title makes the Blues' drought the fourth-longest in North American pro sports, ahead of only baseball's Texas Rangers (who date to 1961 as the Washington Senators) and Houston Astros (1962), and the NFL's Atlanta Falcons (1967).

Among the original West teams, Minnesota and Oakland are defunct while Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles have all won multiple Stanley Cups. Oddly enough, the Blues were swept in the Stanley Cup final in their first three years of existence (1968-70) and have never gone back.

Around the boards

---The early season of comebacks has the Jets making big history, as the first team in NHL history to wipe out a deficit of three goals or more to win twice in the first four home games of the season. Winnipeg erased a 4-1 deficit to post a 5-4 win last Sunday over Carolina, then erased a 4-0 deficit to be Toronto in overtime Wednesday, 5-4.

---You wonder how long before former Sabres goalie Chad Johnson simply takes over for Brian Elliott as the No. 1 goaltender in Calgary. Johnson was solid in his first two games, including the overtime win Tuesday over the Sabres, and got the call Saturday at home against St. Louis -- Elliott's old team. For coach Glen Gulutzan to not go back to Elliott makes a pretty big statement on his subpar play in the frst two games against Edmonton, when the Flames gave up 12 goals.

---New Edmonton winger Milan Lucic on linemate Connor McDavid: "His speed combined with his skill is something people haven't seen in a long, long time. It's a lot of fun to play with a guy like that. Just give him the puck and he'll make something happen."

---Former Sabres defenseman Mike Weber signed a training camp tryout contract with St. Louis but was released from that deal. Last week, he signed a PTO deal with the Iowa Wild, Minnesota's AHL affiliate. Weber has not been in the minors since spending the 2009-10 season with the Sabres' farm team in Portland, Maine.

---A new bar area at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena has been christened Pete and Terry's, after original Predators broadcasters Pete Weber and Terry Crisp. Weber, who spent two decades in Buffalo calling Bisons and Sabres games, was the Preds' original TV voice for their 1998 expansion season and contributed memorabilia from his voluminous collection to add to the decor of the new spot.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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