Sadly, it appears that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury may have less than a month to live...as a
member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Based on the comments made by team General Manager Jim Rutherford, and the upcoming expansion draft with the Vegas Golden Knights, the team might make the decision to deal him before the NHL trade deadline March 1. Fleury has a no-movement clause, which makes him the goaltender the Penguins can hold onto when the Golden Knights start building their team. It would leave Matt Murray, who is ten years younger, at the mercy of the expansion draft.
As a fan, you felt like the writing was on the wall when Fleury unveiled a new mask for the Stadium Series game at Heinz Field, that featured teammates he has had over the last 13-plus years.
There's a part of me that wants to label this beautiful artwork on his mask "The Long Goodbye".
Whether it happens at the deadline or before the expansion draft, Fleury's time with the team seems to be near its end and the farewell seems underway as it continues to be business as usual for everyone in the locker room.
Fleury, 32, was at the mercy of two concussions during the 2015-16 season, and it was the younger, surprisingly hot hand of Murray, 22, who helped the Penguins get through the spring and win the Stanley Cup. Fleury was 35-17-6 in the games the 58 games he played. He appeared in one playoff game after being cleared, stopping 15 of 19 shots on goal in a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final. After that, Murray started the rest of the way.
When the team realized they had two good goaltenders (a luxury in the game), they knew that eventually their two-goalie system would need to be addressed. No move came last summer, but with the deadline approaching, and the situation the team faces as the NHL welcomes in their 31st franchise, a decision needs to be made.
With the end approaching, you go back to the 2003 NHL Draft. Then-General Manager Craig Patrick had a rag-tag group after salaries were dumped, being marketed as the "X Generation". Fleury went first overall to the Penguins that year, and was one of five goalies to see action that season.
Fleury was between the pipes for the home opener on October 10 when the Penguins welcomed in the Los Angeles Kings.
His first game was a 3-0 loss in front of an optimistic sellout crowd at Mellon Arena. It didn't last long as the Penguins finished at the bottom of the league standings, playing in front of crowds that averaged about 11,000 a game. I was in section F18 for several of those games. Only two other games drew 16,000 plus fans. A January 24 game against the Colorado Avalanche (who had an amazing list of names on the roster that season) and the home regular season finale against the Washington Capitals April 4 (both were losses).
Fleury finished with a 4-14-2-2 record that season (when ties were still in the game) while jumping back-and-forth between the NHL and AHL.
Things got better as Patrick, followed by Ray Shero, began putting the pieces together and found themselves in the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs after a 6-year absence.
The shining moment came in 2009 when this new era of Penguins won the franchises third Stanley Cup, in a heart-stopping finish against the Detroit Red Wings in the deciding Game 7, where Fleury made a diving save on Niklas Lidstrom after the Penguins lost a faceoff with 6.5 seconds left in their zone and gave the former Red Wings captain a juicy rebound.
When it comes to numbers, Fleury's 2006-07 (40-16-9) and 2011-12 seasons (42-17-4) have been his two best. Although both ended in first round playoff losses.
It would be easy to get sentimental about what could be the last weeks of Fleury as a Penguin, but this is life in any professional sports league. The Penguins have the best of both worlds with two good goalies on the depth chart, but the future (not rifts or locker room troubles) has finally brought the team to this point.
It's not known what Rutherford will do at the deadline, but there might be a need come March. If another team makes an offer and it involves Fleury, he might pull the trigger.
So maybe fans should take Marc-Andre's approach to the situation: enjoy each day and take a few selfies that will help you remember the good times