PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s barely been a week since the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup. While many are still celebrating the franchise’s fourth title, there’s a tough decision to be made this summer.READ MORE: Man Facing Arson Charges In Massive Fire That Destroyed Historic South Side Building
It’s the elephant in the room and has been for a while.
What do the Penguins do with Marc-Andre Fleury? What do the Penguins do with the guy that backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup title in 2009? A guy that has been a vital part of the franchise for over a decade?
By no fault of his own, the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft may have played his final game for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Fleury suffered two concussions toward the end of the regular season and was forced to watch most of the playoffs.
Personally, I’d like to see the Penguins keep Fleury – at least for next year. In that scenario, the duo of Fleury and Matt Murray could split time in the crease. It would create competition for playing time and Fleury would be there to help mentor Murray during the rigors of an 82-game schedule in the NHL.
You know, kind of how Fleury was there to help Murray during the playoffs.
At this very moment, I have one issue with the Penguins turning the keys over to Murray.
As well as Murray performed down the stretch and in the playoffs, we still don’t know if he’s ready to be a bona fide number one goalie. Before you get upset, I’m not knocking him, his ability or his potential.
Quite simply, he’s 22 years old and has some noticeable flaws in his game. Yes, he will work on them – if he isn’t already. I don’t believe those flaws are fatal, but they are there. Most notably, his glove hand is questionable.
Anyway, the book is out on Murray. How will he hold up and adjust against the best shooters in the world on a nightly basis? We simply do not know.
In Fleury, the Penguins have a great insurance policy. If Murray bombs (unlikely…probably), Fleury will be there to shoulder the load.
Let’s not forget, without Fleury the Penguins could very well have missed the playoffs. Think back to the start of the season under Mike Johnston. Fleury was the sole reason the Penguins were still in the playoff hunt.
Under Mike Sullivan, the Penguins rebounded and Fleury was still steady. Simply put, he carried this team to the playoffs. It’s a shame that an injury kept him from finishing what he started. Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that the Penguins would have won the Stanley Cup with Fleury in net.
That’s not taking anything away from Murray. That’s just how good this Penguins team is.
All that said, the unfortunate reality is that Fleury’s time with the Penguins is likely approaching an end.
He’s signed for another three years and carries a $5.75 million salary cap hit – a modest deal for a top-tier goaltender.READ MORE: Pitt Researchers Say Ear Tubes May Not Be The Best Way To Treat Chronic Ear Infections
For a team up against the salary cap, shedding re-allocating his salary could go a long way toward keeping the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh.
The question is what the Penguins get in return. Would they trade him at the NHL Draft for picks and prospects? Maybe get a roster player back too like they did in the Jordan Staal trade?
At this point, who knows?
They’d also probably be able to get more for Fleury now than they would next summer. By then, they might be forced into moving him because of a potential expansion draft.
While the final rules haven’t been released, it appears teams won’t be allowed to protect two goaltenders in the expansion draft. Teams would also be forced to protect players with limited or no-movement clauses, which Fleury has in his contract.
As a result, Murray would be exposed to the draft.
If Murray really is the goalie of the future (all signs point to this eventually), the Penguins would almost assuredly have to move Fleury for pennies on the dollar.
As it stands, the Flames have already reportedly contacted the Penguins about Fleury. Would Fleury be willing to allow a trade to Calgary? Again, who knows?
I’m not going to sit here and speculate about Fleury’s mental state at the moment.
Here’s what I do know – he wants to play.
How do I know that? Every player wants more ice time. It’s the nature of being a competitor. He did everything he could during the playoffs to help his team win, but he barely saw the ice.
Now, it remains to be seen if he’d be willing to go to a struggling team in order to get that ice time.
Fleury is one of the most well-liked and well-respected Penguins both in and out of the locker room. A generation of Penguins fans has grown up with Fleury on the roster. This decision won’t be taken lightly and will have far-reaching ramifications.
Many, myself included, wouldn’t know how to react to seeing Fleury’s trademark smile behind a different colored mask.
This is one of those unfortunate situations in the salary cap era. As great as it’s been for the league and the Penguins, it forces teams into making difficult choices about valuable players.
In reality, Fleury is a goalie that could put a team over the top. If that’s not the Penguins, so be it. But, he’s earned the right to play for a contender.
As hard as it may be to process, it might be time for fans to start preparing for the inevitable, while hoping for the best.MORE NEWS: Washington Police Launching Decoy Pedestrians To See If Vehicles Stop In Crosswalk