There is always a "yeah, but" when people speak of Marc-Andre Fleury. No doubt the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie has accomplished a lot during the regular season in his career and let's not forget that he was the netminder of record when the Pens last won the Stanley Cup in 2009, but…he plays on a team with two of the best players on the planet and more parades were expected by this point. So with Pittsburgh signing the affable goalie to a contract extension today, things just got a little more real.
Fleury's new contract is four years and $23 million for an annual cap hit of $5.75 million, which is a totally reasonable sum for a netminder whose goals-against average has never been worse than 2.39 in the past five campaigns.
The problem of course, is a save percentage which, until this year's hot start, had never been better than .921…ever. In most years, that would put him outside the top 10 in the NHL, but his career average is considerably lower at .911.
And hey, some goalies are bend-don't-break guys and that's all good. Grant Fuhr is a Hall of Famer who didn't stop every puck, but usually got the crucial ones. More recently, there's Corey Crawford in Chicago, a Cup winner with just 11 shutouts in 218 career appearances.
But Fleury hasn't been that guy. There was of course, the debacle against Philadelphia in 2012, when the Pens ceded 30 goals to the archrival Flyers in six games, many on Fleury's watch. There were even the close calls last season against Columbus, when the Blue Jackets put a temporary scare into Steeltown thanks to some less-than-clutch play by the Pittsburgh netminder.
He also hasn't always been the goat, however. When the Pens managed just two goals in the process of getting swept by Boston in the Eastern Conference final in 2013, goaltending had nothing to do with the letdown. But there is definitely a stigma surrounding Fleury and this extension magnifies it. Not because of the dollar amount, which is reasonable, but for the sheer fact the Pens re-signed him at all. Keep in mind, this is the same franchise that brought in Tomas Vokoun as a backup/potential replacement, only to see the Czech veteran felled by blood clots after one season.
If Fleury goes on the warpath this summer and helps Pittsburgh win another Cup, or at least get back to the final, I'm sure all will be forgiven – winning does that. But if the Pens come up short again and the fans think another season has been wasted, they're not going to be too keen on GM Jim Rutherford locking in Fleury for another four years.
Early in his career, Fleury was a game-changer for the franchise. If he can hold the fort when the pressure is on, the Penguins will be difficult to beat in the post-season. If he gets too spacy again and Pittsburgh flops? That's not going to be a good scene.