One of the biggest storylines for the Pittsburgh Penguins to play out over the next year is the contract status of Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was the #1 overall pick in 2003 and has been the #1 goalie for the Pens since 2005-06. In the past decade he now holds every major franchise record for goaltenders, breaking all of Tom Barrasso's old numbers. Fleury is set to be a free agent on July 1, 2015, as his seven year, $35 million contract expires.
On performance alone during these past six years of the contract, Fleury hasn't really lived up to it. Out of the 30 goalies who have played the most (195+ games) Fleury is only 21st in the league. The playoffs are even worse- Fleury is 14 (out of 16) goalies in save percentage- and that includes the season he won the Stanley Cup. We also saw some great data here about how the Penguins give up relatively few great scoring chances compared to the league.
No matter how you slice it, the Penguins aren't getting a lot of performance for the sizable part of the salary cap that they have dedicated to Fleury. And for a team that has dedicated $25.45 million to their top three players (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang) long-term, making a high priced mistake in goal further handcuffs the amount of talent that the team can put around that core.
To that end, it hasn't been surprising that the Penguins have seemingly lined up to walk away from Fleury next summer. They did not talk contract with him last summer and admitted they were content with letting him play out the contract this year.
So the Pens get a chance to get an upgrade in net or at least go in a different direction that might see them have more money around to address other positions, right?
According to GM Jim Rutherford, not so fast my friend:
"He's been and he will be in the future a key member of this team. As long as I'm the general manager, Marc-Andre Fleury will be our goalie."
In the same piece, Rossi goes on to hint that Fleury's contract will be extended by his upcoming 30th birthday in late November.
It is not inconceivable that parameters for his next deal could be in place by that big birthday. His agent will be in Pittsburgh in a few weeks, and nobody expects a contentious negotiation on a likely long-term deal.
What Jim is expressing publicly is exactly what he's expressed privately to Marc and myself," agent Allan Walsh said. "He expressed that to us when he had just taken over as the GM."
Up until now, Rutherford has built up some good will with Penguins fans by his decisions the first four months on the job. Even the trade of popular James Neal has seen early returns with great production for Patric Hornqvist.
A lot of Pens fans were concerned about Rutherford's trades. What they really should fear is the contract extensions. He paid Eric Staal ($8.25 million per) a little too handsomely. Same with Alex Semin (7 years, $7.0 million per). Worse of all, Rutherford, a former goalie, signed goalie Cam Ward to a six year deal averaging $6.3 million per.
At first all signs were pointing towards the Pens making a savvy business move to make a switch in net from their affable but under-performing franchise goaltender to a new route. New quotes and the knowledge that Walsh is coming to town might take it in a different direction. The statistical evidence says very clearly they shouldn't. About all Pens fans can hope for now is that the term and amount won't do significant amount of damage for the team's long-term future that will last longer than the current GM in place.