(photo: Michael Miller for Wikipedia)
With his stellar performance to start the season (a 7-2-0 record, .931 save percentage, 1.89 goals against average, and three shutouts), it seemed inevitable that the Penguins would re-sign Marc-Andre Fleury. While some Penguins fans pointed to Fleury’s off-season meltdowns as reason to trade him, others said that Fleury showed marked improvement since being coached by Mike Bales and seeing a sports psychologist, and that the Penguins’ loss in the playoffs last year was largely the result of a lack of offensive prowess, not a goaltending issue.
Furthermore, Penguins fans on both sides of the argument had to face the grim reality of the current goalie market, which is extremely barren. A goaltender of Fleury’s caliber or an upgrade who is eligible for hire simply doesn’t exist, and certainly not at a price the Penguins could pay. Fleury stood to gain a large amount of money on the open market if the Penguins didn’t make their move – either to trade or re-sign him.
With that in mind, GM Jim Rutherford made good on an earlier verbal vote of confidence and signed the 29 year old goaltender to a four year contract with a cap hit of $5.75 million. This contract would make him the 13th-highest paid goaltender in the league. As Craig Custance for ESPN magazine noted, Fleury would be making less than many goaltenders who could be considered of comparable skill. Considering Fleury’s age and the fact that this may be his last contract (and almost certainly his last as a starting goaltender), four years would give plenty of time for current Penguins goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry to train enough to eventually replace him.
Fleury is verging on 300 wins before he’s even reached 30, an impressive statistic to be sure. With this extension, it’s likely he will reach 400 wins, all in the Penguins uniform. Here, though, is where Fleury detractors tend to lose their argument. While games won is arguably the only statistic that matters in goaltending (because who cares how many goals you let in so long as the other goalie lets in more?), many would say it’s not really about goaltending, but about the team in front of the goaltender. Which is a fine argument to make, until you consider that the selfsame people would also like to finger Fleury as a major reason for the Penguins ultimately disappointing in the playoffs. A goalie cannot simultaneously be a scapegoat as a reason a team has lost and yet irrelevant to a team winning. Fleury may not be Vezina material, but he is far more competent and reliable than most give him credit for.
The truth of the matter is, this deal benefits both parties. Fleury gets to stay in a city he’s stated many times is where he wants to play and gets a moderate increase in salary. The Penguins not only get a reliable goaltender who has shown himself to be capable of winning the Stanley Cup, but they keep a team member who is a beloved staple of their lineup and in their locker room, and for cheaper than they could hire someone of comparable skill. With power forwards – such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin signed to long-term deals, as well as Norris-nominated defenseman Kris Letang – a more skilled goalie, while on the wishlist of some Penguins fans, is not feasible if the team wishes to remain competitive.