PITTSBURGH — The last time the Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Final, Marc-Andre Fleury was the club’s unquestioned No. 1 netminder.
Now, seven years later, the Pens are back — but Fleury’s in a greatly reduced role. He’s backing up 22-year-old Matt Murray, which has cast doubt on Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh.
It’s a situation he acknowledged at today’s Stanley Cup media availability, but one he didn’t exactly want to dive into.
“Not yet,” Fleury said, when asked if he’s thinking about what might happen next year. “It’s not time. It’s time to win it, it’s time to chase the Cup, and that’s all that matters.”
Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh has been a hot topic this postseason. Pens GM Jim Rutherford was asked about it during the Eastern Conference Final, and offered up an emphatic defense of his longtime No. 1 netminder.
From the NHL:
Q: What about the young players?
Rutherford: “They speak for themselves. Those two goalies – you can never have enough good goalies. The Penguins have three good ones now. I feel bad for Fleury. He’s such a great team guy and we’re fortunate that he is. He’s handled this situation like a pro. First class. He’s ready to go when called on.”
Q: Does this mean he’s history with the organization?
Rutherford: “Absolutely not.”
That absolute hasn’t kept pundits from pointing out that Fleury’s future in Pittsburgh is far from certain.
First, there’s the fact the No. 1 gig may not just be Murray’s now, but also moving forward — meaning Fleury, who turns 32 in November, would be a backup making $5.75 million annually through 2019. An expensive backup, sure, but also a good backup. Fleury’s had at least 30 wins, a 2.35 GAA and .920 save percentage over each of the last two seasons, and was an All-Star in 2015.
That’s the kind of goalie a few teams could use.
One of them, as has been speculated over the last few months, is the proposed Las Vegas expansion club. While the announcement has yet to be made official, all signs — including discussions of expansion draft format at the most recent GM meetings — have led to assumptions Vegas will be a go.
With that said, consider this bit from Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:
An interesting aspect of the recent deal worked out by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association regarding expansion draft rules is that only players with a full no-movement clause will have to be protected by their team, according to a source.
Fleury’s contract includes a no-movement clause for the purposes of waivers or being assigned to the American Hockey League, but it is limited when it comes to trades. Each year he submits a 12-team list of teams where he can’t be dealt.
As a result, he’s not exempt from the expansion process and the Penguins would have to decide between protecting either him or Murray if both remained on the roster through the end of next season.
It might ultimately force general manager Jim Rutherford into making up his mind sooner in order to trade one away and get a return on the asset.
Now, keep in mind the Penguins do love Fleury, and still think he’s quality goalie. That’s partly why Fleury received the chance to reclaim his starting gig in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, when head coach Mike Sullivan parked Murray after yanking him in Game 4.
But Fleury wasn’t great — allowing four goals on 25 shots — and Murray stepped back in like he hadn’t missed a beat, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.
As such, it sees as though it would take a pretty dramatic turn of events for Fleury to regain the net. Because of that, he spent most of Sunday focusing on the “we,” not the “I.”
“To me, it’s about the team — it’s not about me or the way I play. I can’t be selfish about it,” he said. “I’ve been playing here a long time and I really love this city, and I’d really love for them to have another championship here.
“It’s a lot bigger than me, you know?”