Rutherford says Fleury’s ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh, but logic suggests otherwise

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Matt Murray‘s emergence this postseason has led to questions about Marc-Andre Fleury‘s future in Pittsburgh (see here and here and here).

But if you ask Pens GM Jim Rutherford about it — like WPXI’s Alby Oxenreiter did on Thursday — you’ll get a pretty definitive answer.

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 [from Oxenreiter]: 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.

Rutherford’s move could be to give Fleury an option for his future. Something like:

“If it’s not going to be in Pittsburgh, want to try and choose a location? Or risk having your location (Vegas) chosen for you?”

A landing spot that’s making the rounds is Calgary. The Flames don’t have a legit NHL starter under contract for next season and, as the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatshek points out, Fleury could be the ideal “transitional guy.”

“In a perfect world you’d bring in a young guy who can play for you for a long time and grow and mature with your group, but if that guy isn’t available and if you think [goalie prospect] Jon Gillies can be that guy in a few years down the road, then you just need a transitional guy,” Duhatshek said, per Sportsnet. “The acquisition cost for a guy like Fleury… that might just be taking him off your hands, free the money off the books, and it doesn’t cost you a tangible asset off your roster.”

Money’s a key part of all this. In the end, money could end up trumping all.

Because as good as Fleury’s been for Pittsburgh, as good as he might continue to be and as well-liked in the room as he is, the Penguins 1) have their goalie of the future in Murray, 2) are hovering very close to the salary cap ceiling, and 3) could certainly use nearly $6 million in cap relief.

It might have to come via trade this summer, because there’s no guarantee Fleury would be picked at a potential expansion draft next year — and who knows where his market value would be by then?

Whether they like it or not, Rutherford and the Pens may need to act sooner rather than later.

No matter now much they love the Flower.