This post is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…
After a spring and early summer filled with speculation, Marc-Andre Fleury is heading back to where he’s always been — Pittsburgh.
But while his city stays the same, the circumstances are more different than ever.
It’s still not 100 percent official what in capacity Fleury will report to camp next month, though logic suggests that — after watching Matt Murray backstop the club to the Stanley Cup in June — Fleury will enter the season as Murray’s No. 2.
But he wants to be the No. 1.
“I love Pittsburgh, and the Penguins are my team; I want to stay with them for the rest of my career,” Fleury said this summer, per NHL.com. “I had some good conversations with management after the season. Nothing is written in stone. I want to come to camp ready to win my job back.
“I have to get back to the same level of play and help the team, win games.”
The Fleury-Murray dynamic is complex, to say the least.
A few angles to consider:
— For as good as Murray was last year, he’s still only 22 years old with just 13 career regular season games on his resume. It’s a remarkably small body of work, and there’s always the looming specter of a sophomore slump.
— There’s also the looming specter of Fleury, who’s clearly gunning for Murray’s job.
— Next year’s expansion draft is a fly in Pittsburgh’s ointment. The way things stand now, they’d be forced to protect Fleury because of his no-movement clause, which would force them to expose Murray.
— No chance that scenario plays out, so Fleury and the remainder of his four-year, $23 million contract will (theoretically) be on the move at some point.
— Calgary reportedly made calls about Fleury’s availability earlier this summer, prior to trading for Brian Elliott at the draft. But the Elliott acquisition might not close the door completely. The former Blues netminder is heading into the final year of his contract, and there’s been no word from Flames GM Brad Treliving about an extension. Elliott could be a one-year stopgap solution, especially if he doesn’t perform.
— Pens GM Jim Rutherford has been artful in dodging queries about Fleury’s future with the team, dating all the way back to last year’s playoffs. He was at it again prior to the draft, saying he would “like to start next year with both goalies.” The key part there, obviously, is “start.” Nothing about both finishing the year as Penguins.
While this situation doesn’t figure to derail Pittsburgh’s championship defense — as Rutherford pointed out this summer, having two good goalies is a good problem to have — it will be a constant source of speculation and banter until a solution is found.
So yeah, the Fleury-Murray watch is on. The question now is how long it’ll last.