Fleury Extension The Obvious Choice
You’re Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford, and you have two choices – do you stand by Marc Andre Fleury? Or do you move on from Marc Andre Fleury.
This isn’t a new question – it’s one that Rutherford’s predecessor Ray Shero had to consider all too frequently as well. The Quebec native’s much talked about post season struggles inevitably enter(ed) any conversation about his status as Penguins #1 and thus his future with the franchise.
So when news broke of his 4-year, $23m contract extension, the hyperbole from some was so great you’d be forgiven if you worried the internet might go in to supernova.
But the reality is that Pittsburgh has made the right choice here.
Perhaps via combination of ebbs and flows in form and increasingly OTT ‘narrative’ that surrounds his career, you’d be forgiven for thinking Fleury has the highest highs and lowest lows of any netminder in the NHL – perhaps even any player, period.
Such is the storm that swirls around the 1st overall pick in 2003, you can hear completely opposing views of him within seconds of each other.
There is no escaping the problems he’s had in the play-offs since Pittsburgh won the Cup in 2009. Two straight trips to the Finals were almost erased from memory as he posted sub .900 efforts in each of the four following seasons. Not until last year did he finally find some spring time form again.
But the story was already written – his two shut outs largely ignored, in favour of a bad bounce off the boards when handling the puck against Columbus. He could have posted the longest shut out streak in play-off history and some still would have pointed to previous woes and dismissed the effort as some flash in the pan.
It’s a tale all too often woven about the Pittsburgh puck stopper, but to fit the picture so many want to paint of Fleury it has to largely ignore the reliability he has provided during countless regular seasons, helping the fracnhise paper over cracks in the bottom six and ride out injuries to star players.
The 29 year old has played more than 60 games (or equivalent taking lock out in to consideration) in six straight seasons – were it not for an ankle injury in late 2007, that ‘streak’ would extend to 8 seasons – winning 35 or more games in each of those campaigns (again ‘pro rate’ for lock out shortened 2012/13 season).
While some may, perhaps fairly, say some of that success comes from playing on a team with Crosby, Malkin, Letang et al in a weak Conference – Fleury has been a much a part of the clubs consistent domination of the regular season.
Simply put, Pittsburgh has a good idea what they get from Marc Andre Fleury on an annual basis – and whilst he may not be a perennial Vezina candidate, he does provide them with consistent league average (or maybe just above) goaltending. And if you’re a coach or GM and you know that’s what you’ll get, well then you can work with that.
Another oft forgotten factor is his popularity in the room – an element some dismiss as ‘stupid’, but one that cannot be underestimated. Even on a winning team, playing with a jack ass can wear on you, compromising a teams long term prospects of success.
With Fleury, Pittsburgh knows what it is getting – and they are clearly happy with that if they are going to stump up another $23m. And while the slight raise he receives caused some to ask questions, it’s been 7 years since he signed his last contact – to quote the Baz Luhrman song “Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old. And when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.”
Prices will indeed rise in a market that has only seen the cap ceiling go up. And up. And up.
The other, ‘minor’, issue in this story is a simple question with a complicated answer – if Pittsburgh went another way, who would replace Fleury?
As Joe Yerdon pointed out, the free agent goalie market isn’t exactly strong this summer:
Perhaps a case could be made for Niemi, or Neuvirth after that start he has had in Buffalo (one of their few positives this season). Some may even argue a trade should be made or that Thomas Greiss or Jeff Zatkoff should get a shot – but in Fleury, again, the Pens have a known quantity without getting in to a bidding war for a free agent or giving up assets with no guarantee of getting a significant upgrade between the pipes.
Whether some people like it or not, Fleury is the Pens man. He provides them with competitive goaltending and for a competitive price in the current market.
And that’s not going to change for at least 4 years.