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The specter of Marc-Andre Fleury hangs over the Penguins as NHL free agency begins

Pittsburgh Penguins v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

On the eve of free agency yesterday, the hockey world was rocked by the reigning Vezina winning goalie traded — really given away —without his knowledge or approval. That the goalie happened to be Marc-Andre Fleury, who according to his agent is going to “seriously evaluate his hockey future at this time” might have thrown quite the twist into the plans of the Penguins.

Fleury didn’t want to leave Vegas, and is considering not reporting to Chicago, for the major reason that he didn’t want to relocate his young family again. Antennas went up all over Pittsburgh, could this be the chance to reunite such a popular and successful player with his first team?

Depends on where you’re looking. Some interest is being drummed up, ironically and fittingly by the same sources 10 years after the flirtation with Jaromir Jagr caused a panic (and heartbreak) among the Penguin corner of the internet.

However, the Post-Gazette quickly and decisively had other information yesterday, reporting in part:

But a source told the Post-Gazette on Tuesday evening that the Penguins are not looking to reacquire Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner here, and that he is not part of their plans with free agency set to begin Wednesday at noon.

The Penguins are still interested in upgrading the goaltending position after Tristan Jarry struggled mightily in their first-round playoff loss to the New York Islanders. And Fleury, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, remains a fan favorite.

But he is 36 and has a salary cap hit of $7 million in the final year of his deal. The Penguins, with limited cap space, are expected to go in another direction at that pivotal position, the source said. And it makes sense. If they coveted Fleury, why weren’t they the ones acquiring him for next to nothing from Vegas?

So there you have it. Everyone, including Fleury, was certainly blindsided that Vegas actually traded him yesterday, but did anything really change? Fleury still has a $7.0 million cap hit, which the Penguins can’t afford. He’s also a part of the Blackhawks organization now.

It doesn’t look like hurdles that can’t be overcome if Pittsburgh wants it, but this is Ron Hextall now that we’re talking about. Had Jim Rutherford been around, I get the feeling he would have given Vegas more (and maybe a LOT more) than nothing to get Fleury. But Rutherford isn’t steering the U.S.S. Penguin any longer and that didn’t happen.

What will happen is that the NHL’s free agency will open at noon today. Insiders already have leads on where many of the top players will be signing, and Pittsburgh is rarely mentioned.

The Pens are set to lose one major player to unrestricted free agency today in defenseman Cody Ceci — who rumors say may be headed to Edmonton. Will Pittsburgh be in the market to replace Ceci, who played a large role? Many assume the Pens will back-fill the open spot with Mark Friedman, but right hand defense and replacing one of the heaviest players in Ceci could be on the Pens’ radar.

The Pens have not really been tied to any specific player with a credible report, which makes this afternoon have quite the range of possibilities. It would be great to see Pittsburgh add a player like Pius Suter or Nick Ritchie, though there certainly will be a lot of interest from around the league in players like that.

In net, aside from Fleury, there will be a ton of movement across the NHL today too. There has been almost nothing from the Pittsburgh angle, but will they be looking to get into the Linus Ullmark or Antti Raanta sweepstakes?

Will the Penguins have a quiet day? Or make a minor signing? Or maybe get really crazy and make a move for Fleury after all? NHL free agency day is filled with surprises and unpredictable changes, and Vegas’ sudden dumping of their Vezina goalie just hours before the market opens certainly sent a shockwave through the ‘Burgh, even if they can’t or won’t be able to do much about it.