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The Pittsburgh Penguins won't re-sign Fleury before the season

It's not a shock, but it sets the stage for the goalie to potentially leave the team next summer.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

In unsurprising news, the Pittsburgh Penguins made it official. They won't be signing Marc-Andre Fleury to a contract before the season starts. They could have signed him as early as July 1st, and it's almost September, so it's not exactly shocking that this is the case, but here we are. From Josh Yohe at the Trib:

Rutherford on Monday told the Tribune-Review that signing Fleury, who could become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2015, isn't on his immediate agenda.

"I'm not in a hurry to do a contract with him," Rutherford said.

Walsh isn't offended by Rutherford's decision.

"We're actually on the same page," Walsh said. "It's of no consequence at all."

In many ways, this paves the way for Fleury's departure from the Penguins on July 1st, 2015.

Should Fleury falter or fail to lead the Penguins to a deep playoff run, it would be time to change directions and find a new netminder somewhere. Fleury has only won two playoff series in the past five seasons and his struggles in post-seasons past have been well-documented. The Penguins goal is to get deep into the playoffs and they've already removed two links in coach and GM for failure to bring results. If the "franchise" goalie can't get them, he's going to join them on the list of ex Penguins.

Should Fleury play really well this season, or even about as good as this season (high wins, slightly above average save percentage) he will cash in. Ten of the top 14 goalie salary cap hits have kicked in last year of this year. Even goalies on the down-swing (Ryan Miller, $6.0 million cap hit) or not as accomplished (Kari Lehtonen $5.9 million) have recently signed big deals. A lot of teams are playing goalies a lot of money.

Fleury's current $5.0 million cap hit is the 15th biggest in the league this year among goalies. For the first year of his deal, his cap hit was 8.8% of the then $56.7 million upper limit. That same hit is only 7.2% of the $69.0 million upper limit this season, showing an instance where a long contract worked out to the team's favor.

However, that likely wouldn't be the case again as Fleury approaches his 30th birthday, his demanding butterfly style that can tear up goalies hips and as time naturally erodes the athleticism and quickness that made him the #1 overall pick back in 2003.

That said, the Penguins organizational depth in net, as present, isn't a promising short-term picture.
  • Presumptive NHL backup this season, Thomas Greiss, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent for 2015-16 currently. Jeff Zatkoff would be under contract in 2015-16, if he sticks around, for an affordable $600,000 cap hit.
  • Matt Murray is starting in the pros this year, but his journey is at the beginning and would only be 21 years old in the fall of 2015 and will have one year under his belt. History suggests he probably won't be ready for competent NHL action.
  • High profile collegiate free agent Eric Hartzell struggled last year and bounced from AHL to ECHL, and is scheduled to be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2015.
  • Top prospect Tristan Jarry won the Memorial Cup, will only be 20 years old in the fall of 2015, with little to no professional experience, and likely not ready to assume an NHL role.

The Penguins would probably be looking outside the organization for a starter in 2015-16, should they part ways with Fleury. That sounds scary, but probably shouldn't be, given that good goalies (Cory Schneider, Jonathan Bernier, Ben Bishop, Roberto Luongo) get traded all the time, for one reason or another, and often times teams can acquire a pretty good goalie without giving up a lot in return.

Finally, being as Pens GM Jim Rutherford gave his then franchise goalie, Cam Ward, a $6.3 million cap hit for six years back in 2009, it's refreshing to see him play the waiting game. Almost all of Rutherford's moves as Pens GM have gone towards clearing up room and retaining as much flexibility for the future as possible. For an admitted GM in a short-term role, fears that he would be pressured to go all-in for a Stanley Cup run in his limited time would have meant sinking the Pens next general manager with long-term commitments like a Fleury extension.

Rutherford won't do that, and it very well might have set the stage for Fleury's departure. Or it will require the goalie and team to come together for an interesting agreement next season- depending on how it goes. Either way, the Penguins have more flexibility to determine which way their future goes and Fleury won't be joining Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang as long-term cornerstones of the team at this point.