The Pittsburgh Penguins’ decision to sign Marc-Andre Fleury to a four-year, $23 million contract extension was met with mixed opinions.
There are reasons why Pittsburgh made this move. He’s had some solid campaigns, won a Stanley Cup, and the Penguins’ options weren’t appealing given the relatively weak projected free agent goaltending market in 2015 and the lack of appealing alternatives within the Penguins’ system. At the same time, he has struggled mightily in some of the Penguins’ playoff runs, which has led to some people to question his ability to consistently stand tall under pressure.
Dave Lozo argued the latter stance when he broke down the deal for the Bleacher Report:
The best thing anyone can say about Fleury at this stage of his career is that he has been average at his profession during the regular season for a very long time, but really, he’s been below average in recent years, even with his .931 save percentage in 12 games this season.
The real insanity, where it appears in its truest form, is the decision to invest four more years in Fleury despite his comically bad postseasons since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. It’s as if general manager Jim Rutherford is still bitter about the Penguins knocking his Hurricanes out of the conference finals on the way to that Stanley Cup and is now actively sabotaging the primes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Fleury has gotten off to a strong start this season with a 1.89 GAA and .931 save percentage in nine games, but given all that’s come before it, the Sporting News‘ Sean Gentille isn’t willing to assume that he’s embarked on a career year:
The worst-case scenario for Pittsburgh is that they’ve hitched their wagon to a goalie who can’t be relied upon to put together a complete, consistent, truly above-average season (he’s finished one of his 10 above .918) or avoid self-destructing in May. The feeling that they’ve done just that is also based on years of evidence, and if that’s the guy they just bought for five more years, no amount of equivocating is going to make the decision a smart one.
Not everyone has been critical of the Penguins’ decision to re-sign Fleury though. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun thinks inking him eliminates what could have been a big distraction hanging over Pittsburgh’s heads late into the season or playoffs. His colleague Scott Burnside also seemed okay with the move:
For me, it’s a simple question of what was the alternative? Let’s say the Pens moved Fleury in the offseason or at some point during this season because they wanted something different next spring. Who’s better? Ilya Bryzgalov? Nope. Martin Brodeur? Nope. Tomas Vokoun? He was terrific for the Pens in 2013 but, with his health issues, he’s not a real option long-term and maybe not even short-term.
Let’s say the San Jose Sharks and the Pens swapped netminders with Antti Niemi coming to Pittsburgh, how is that an upgrade even though both Niemi and Fleury have won Cups and are off to terrific starts this season? And let’s not forget that Fleury could hardly be blamed for the Pens’ collapse against the New York Rangers in the second round of last spring’s playoffs when they let a 3-1 series lead slip away, scoring just three times in the last three games. If the Penguins win another Cup in June, or even if they go to a final or a conference final, this deal will look fine. If Fleury reverts to the form he showed from 2010-13, well, that’ll be an entirely different story, and the pressure from ownership to make use of that limited no-trade clause will be significant.
Sports Illustrated’s Allan Muir took a similar stance:
Would the Pens have preferred an upgrade between the pipes? I have no doubt. But the Rangers aren’t dealing Henrik Lundqvist. The Habs are holding on to Carey Price. Jonathan Quick will have grandkids before he leaves Los Angeles.
With Antti Niemi and Viktor Fasth headlining the Class of 2015 and Cam Ward and Jonas Hiller the top names in 2016, there was no help on the horizon via free agency.
Ultimately, it will be a while before we can say with any degree of certainty whether this deal will be to Pittsburgh’s benefit. Fleury is a gamble given his history, but perhaps he’s one that will pay off over the life of his new contract.