In a move that everyone on the internet chimed in on, the Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed Marc-Andre Fleury for four years and $5.75 million per season. Here at Pensburgh, ever the progressive blog, our resident #statguy has had many articles in recent months (start here and here for a refresher) to show that Fleury is at best OK and at-worst a very bad goalie, especially when the focus is placed upon save percentage. It's well reasoned and the numbers are what they are, not here to pick that apart.
However, what is done is done and Fleury will be a Penguin until 2019, which I feel comfortable saying since he has limited no-trade clause and a no movement clause.
Let's be clear, if you're in the camp that this extension is just atrocious and all is lost, this article isn't for you. In fact, if you're that jammed, perhaps try logging off, enjoying some nature or unwinding a little. It's just a game, ya know?
With that out of the way, this is a devil's advocate as to why the Fleury extension might not be the crippling, terrible contract that it appears to be.
It's Not Actually a Raise
But wait, you will say, he was making $5.0 million against the cap, but now it will be $5.75 million. This is too much money and it is an increase, thus a raise.
HOWEVA, if you are looking at it like this, change your perspective to the shifting economic realities of the league today. With an ever-rising salary cap, contract values of yesterday aren't the same as what the dollar value means tomorrow.
@mlse $5M/$50.8M is 9.8% of the cap (2008). $5.75M/$71M(approx) is 8.1%of the cap (2015). That's a pay CUT when factoring in the market.— Ajabaja (@IL_ajabaja) November 5, 2014
Make sense? And, the NHL's salary cap has gone up every season. With a new television deal, ever-rising ticket prices and potential extra markets coming into the league, this is only going to continue. So Fleury's share of the Penguins money is only going to decrease, just as it has every season since 2008-09.
Compared to NHL Goalies, it's Reasonable Money
Fleury's $5.75 million cap hit is the 13th highest among NHL goalies next season, as of right now. This doesn't include Sergei Bobrovsky ($5.625 million cap hit), Jonathan Bernier ($2.9 million hit) and UFA to be Antti Niemi ($4.5 million cap hit) all still to sign contracts for next season, which could realistically put Fleury the 15th or 16th highest paid goaltender next season.
Based off past performance, that's not a terrible price to pay for someone with the pedigree that Fleury has compared to some peers like Corey Crawford ($6.0m cap hit), Jonathan Quick ($5.8 cap hit), Jimmy Howard ($5.2m cap hit) and Ryan Miller ($6.0m cap hit).
$5.75 million is a lot to pay for a goalie, but it's about average for what the league values NHL starting goalies at when you look at the other salaries around the league.
The Stability Factor
Many fans wish that the Penguins- who have $25.45 million on the cap per year tied up with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang long-term- would not pay the goalie so much and instead try to find average performances from journeymen goaltenders and save the extra money to build up the team.
One such option often brought up is Thomas Greiss, who the Pens signed as a free agent for a perfectly reasonable 1 year, $1.0 million deal. Greiss has decent NHL stats, but he also has a very short base to draw from- his career high games played in a season is 25. At age 29, there's nothing there to show that Greiss can or would be in a position to succeed playing 40-50-60 games. Perhaps he could, but it hasn't happened yet.
Marc-Andre Fleury has had incredible stability in the Pittsburgh net, having 6 seasons of 60+ games since he took over the job in 2005-06 out of a possible 9 full seasons, third most in the league in this span.
Maybe a platoon can fill in for a full season, but that is an unknown. One of the points of paying for a goalie is buying the peace of mind for knowing that you have a #1 guy to carry the load. It's possible a tandem can take on extra responsibility but it's a risk. Buying Fleury, believe it or not, reduces the Penguins risk in the next four seasons, because they know they will have a tested played who's done well for them in regular seasons.
Further, teams without stable goaltenders don't usually tend to advance to the latter rounds of the playoffs. Be it coincidence or just luck, a team is probably better off paying money to get the services of a front-line NHL goalie. It is the most important position on the ice, and taking an unnecessary risk on the unknown isn't a sound strategy.
Of course, we can't go any further without acknowledging that Fleury has been poor in the playoffs recently. There's no way around it and no point in dodging it, so let's dig into it head on.
Fleury was absolutely awful in 2012- although, you could say that about all his teammates too that year. 2013 was also unacceptable performance by Fleury, earning him a deserved spot on the bench. His numbers in 2010 and 2011 aren't pretty either, though if you add a little context the Pens pretty much ran out of gas in 2010 and they were dead in the water in 2011 with injuries to Crosby and Malkin. Excuses? Maybe, but it also is true.
Fleury was good in the 2014 playoffs- his .915 save % was better than the eventual Stanley Cup winner in Jonathan Quick. Fleury also of course won the Cup in 2009- without a great save percentage but the team wouldn't have won without his saves in key moments. Think Jeff Carter in the opening round. Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway in Game 7. And of course in the closing seconds against Detroit- but beyond that he held the Red Wings to 1 goal in Game 6 and 1 goal in Game 7. His numbers aren't great, but his name is still etched on the Cup, which means it was good enough to win 16 games in the spring, and that's the idea.
And, if you're going off of career playoff numbers, Fleury's .933 save % in 2008 was the best of any goalie, and on many nights he was the best Penguin on the ice. Can he ever repeat that performance? That's a good question, but if we're going to look at the bad (and we should) then the good has to be acknowledged too, right?
Fleury has been inconsistent in the playoffs, however the last time we saw him in playoff action he only gave up 15 goals in 7 games to the New York Rangers. Usually, you would like the Pens odds in a 7 game series if their goalie had those numbers. Going off the most recent evidence, Fleury's play was basically acceptable the last time out, and there's reason to believe it should be again in the future.
If you don't like Fleury, or wanted a new direction in the net, you're not happy and that's understandable. But there are some aspects why this does make sense. The Penguins needed a good goalie for a few years, until hopefully prospects like Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, who are 20 and 19 years old respectively, can develop into legitimate NHL netminders. This deal buys the Penguins a reasonable amount of time to develop that next wave of goalies.
Until then, they're paying basically the same (if not less depending on the cap) to keep a guy they know, and one that management and the players are comfortable with. They know that they can win with Fleury, if everyone is playing at their best. At the end of the day, that is the important part. If Fleury can play like he did in the 2008, 2009 or 2014 playoffs, this contract won't be bad at all. If he has a meltdown like 2012 or 2013, it's not going to be pretty. That's a risk taken, but all things considered it's not actually that big of a gamble for a guy who's already entrenched as a starting goalie in the NHL today.