The news of GM Jim Rutherford's statements about the future of Penguins' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury sent shock waves around the blogosphere, and the national media yesterday. Judging from the comment sections of several stories there is a large contingent of Pens fans who are counting down the days until the Penguins can move in a different direction. From what I have been able to gather there are three main camps on the Fleury situation.
1. The camp that wants to replace him with a stellar free-agent.
2. The camp that wants to replace him with several lower priced goalies.
3. The group that wants him resigned for no more than 5 million and two years.
Let us examine each point of view, and while I do not intend to change anyone's mind, we might be able to provide context to a rather delicate debate.
Replacing Fleury with a stellar free-agent is, in theory, a great plan. Who would not want to spend the $5 million cap hit on an elite, or just on the cusp of elitism goalie? Dreams of Tuukka, Carey, and Quick dance through our heads. I have to admit if given the chance to flip Fleury for one of the top goalies I would. But I seriously doubt that opportunity will present itself. A quick look at the impending free agents via Capgeek.com shows a rather bleak outlook in the goalie market. Looking at the restricted free agent list is a little more promising, but in this field you have to consider the cost of the draft pick in your calculations. Via Capgeek.com: I am not going to drop my opinion on these choices here, I am going to allow you, the ever faithful reader to do that in the comments section, but there are not any home run free agent types available as far as I can see.
Letting Fleury go and replacing him with a cheaper option is a highly attractive one for sure. Assuming Tristan Jarry is as good as advertised, the Penguins simply let Fleury walk, sign a competent low-price option and let him and Jarry split time in net. Then with the $3 +/- you save you can improve the team in other areas that will balance out any potential win shares you might lose with letting Fleury go in free agency.
Personally, I find this the most intriguing option for the Penguins (Note I did not say best, I am going to refrain from making that declaration here). There are plenty out there who feel the Penguins can replace Fleury's average production with low cost replacements, maybe even entry level deal players. The only downside to this is we have to assume the replacements are going to be able to play at an average level, or slightly below that level for this to work. What happens if the youngsters choke in the spotlight? Who will be the scapegoat when the team bows out of the playoffs in this scenario?
The least favored camp is the one where Fleury is brought back. Now looking at this option there are a few ways in which this decision works for the Penguins. First, if Fleury is willing to resign a short 2-3 year deal at, or below his current pay rate, to stay in Pittsburgh it could be feasible. But if he wants anything above his current rate, or a lengthy deal the Penguins would be absolute fools to extend him. Given Rutherford's track record (e.g. Staal, Ward, Semin) of extending veteran players for well beyond what they are worth to the particular team, I think we should all hold our breath about this possibility.
I do not think this debate is going anywhere anytime soon. Even if Fleury is resigned the discussions and debates will continue. But one thing is for sure;
If Fleury leaves we will all miss his affable ways and healthy smiles.