Matt Murray's status in the Penguins organization has taken a meteoric rise since he was selected by the team in the 3rd round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. After a mediocre start to his professional career in Wilke-Barre/Scranton, during which Murray posted a 2.20 GAA and 0.912 SV% with a pair of shutouts in 15 appearances, a switch flipped and he reached a level of play that's continued through to the present day. Starting with the 2015 calendar year, Murray went on a tear that included 10 shutouts, a 0.956 SV%, and 1.20 GAA over his final 25 games played. It was a season that won him Red Garrett Memorial Award (AHL Rookie of the Year), the Baz Bastien Memorial Award (AHL Goaltender of the Year), and the Harry Holmes Memorial Award (AHL Goltender Duo of the Year) as well as places on the AHL All-Rookie Team and the AHL First All-Star Team.
It was a season that opened the possibility that Murray could start the year as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup in Pittsburgh, though conventional wisdom would dictate that he remained in the AHL, continued to get starts and see game action as the unquestioned starter in WBS, and proved that the second half of his monster season was what to expect from him as a goaltender and not just a hot stretch of play. And conventional wisdom won out, as Jeff Zatkoff began the year in Pittsburgh while Murray continued his strong play for the Baby Penguins with a 1.84 GAA, 0.938 SV%, and 4 shutouts in 17 games. At that point, the next step in Murray's development was to face NHL action, preferably with a series of starts instead of spot starts as a backup.
Fortunately for Murray's sake, and much less so for the Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury's concussion opened the door in the short term for Murray to show what he could do in the NHL. Murray quickly established himself as the better option in net with MAF sidelined with a 1.72 GAA and 0.938 SV% in his 4 starts, easily outplaying Zatkoff during the same time frame. With Fleury returning tonight to face the Islanders, the pressing question is what to do with Matt Murray. The team has re-assigned Murray to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton even though his play has him deserving of graduating from the AHL. However, the NHL doesn't offer the playing time opportunity that would still be beneficial to his development. How best can the Penguins handle this situation?
The best option might be a situation where the Penguins essentially opt for both. A demotion back to the AHL allows Murray to continue seeing the starter's share of ice time and face game action. And given the Penguins' remaining schedule and roster, Murray might be able to get his fair share of starts in Pittsburgh too. Pittsburgh has 9 back-to-back games remaining on the schedule; 7 of those have a home game in Pittsburgh, one of them is a roadtrip against the Panthers and Lightning, while the final one keeps the team in the Northeast facing the Red Wings and Rangers. This gives the Penguins 8 built in opportunities to recall Murray to spell Fleury, and the team could plan a couple more spot starts as well. And while the roster dynamics could change, the Pens have scratched a waiver-exempt player in their last 6 games, further simplifying any potential roster shuffle.
This type of scenario is a win-win for all parties involved. Murray continues to get starts and see NHL action. The Penguins, who need every point they can get at this point in the season, can more comfortably rest Fleury knowing that they'll have an NHL caliber goaltender in net, something that Zatkoff just isn't. It even allows Tristan Jarry an opportunity to see more starts for the Baby Pens in what has been an impressive rookie season from him in limited action so far. With their current place in the standings, the Penguins are in the position where they need to maximize their chances to win while also needing to continue properly developing Murray. If they handle things correctly, they don't need to sacrifice one for the other.