In somewhat of a surprising move, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com Tuesday that Marc-Andre Fleury’s future as goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins is secure:
“As long as I’m GM here, he’s my goalie,” Rutherford said. “My plan is to re-sign him when the time is right. When that is, I don’t know, if it’s during the year or after the year, but I do want to re-sign him. I believe in him.”
It’s tempting to file this under the “What Do You Expect Him To Say?” category, but let’s assume Rutherford isn’t just making this bold statement as a confidence-booster for Fleury as he enters this especially pressure-packed year and may actually re-sign the 29-year-old before his contract expires. Then let’s ask the question that would be begged by such a move:
Why? Why would you recommit to a goaltender who, since he won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2009, had four straight seasons of sub-.900 save percentages in the playoffs? Last year, Fleury’s SP improved to .915, but even then, that number is deceiving: a pair of shutouts against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal inflated his SP, but out of 13 games he played for the Pens in two rounds, Fleury posted a SP at or below the modest .900 level seven times.
And you're telling me this is the kind of asset who deserves a vote of approval in the form of a contract extension before the playoffs even roll around? Sorry, but I don’t get it.
If Rutherford wants to see how Fleury performs in the 2015 post-season before bringing him back, that would be logical – a straight-ahead, win-and-you’re-back, lose-and-you’re-gone situation that players around the league face each and every year. But offering up job security before Fleury and his teammates are tested in the only tournament that matters? Sorry again, still makes no sense.
A new contract before the playoffs might prove to be a hindrance to Fleury. Not in the sense of cash money and contract term, but if things went sour in the post-season for him again, a new contract wouldn’t make his life any easier. Fans and media would lambaste the team for bringing him back, and the affable Quebecker would bear the brunt of their frustration. He doesn’t need that. What he just might need is a fresh start somewhere else.
And that happens all the time to goalies – even goalies who’ve won Stanley Cups. Martin Brodeur is the exception to the rule in terms of a Cup-winning goalie remaining with one team his entire career; more representative is someone such as Ed Belfour, who won a championship with Dallas and was playing for Toronto three years later. For that matter, go back and look at the past 15 years of Cup winning teams, and see how long the goalies who delivered them to the promised land stuck around and settled down there for all their playing days. The list of those who did is short. Sometimes it’s good for these types of relationships to have a defined expiry date.
So maybe it is in Fleury’s best interest to wait and see how things pan out. It’s certainly in the Penguins’ best interest. Rushing into any future commitments during the season with Fleury is unnecessary and high-risk, low-reward. It’s not as if he’s got leverage to earn a massive raise on the $5-million cap hit he carries this year.
If things go his way and the Pens enjoy a deep playoff run, there’s no doubt the team will have him back, and that leverage will reappear. But signing him now? No. Frankly, he hasn’t earned it.