Marc-Andre Fleury’s days as a Pittsburgh Penguin’ are numbered.
Despite the confidence bestowed within the former first-overall pick to turn his game around, the Pens know that this upcoming season could very well be his last.
And because the Pens are tight on cap space these days, they won’t hesitate to ship the “Flower,” elsewhere — should he continue to malfunction.
Fleury, 28, is due to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2014-15 campaign and will make an average annual value of $5 million — which is a lot of dough the team could save.
Sure there’s other players the organization could part with, but because Fleury hasn’t been able to mentally sustain in the playoffs the past two attempts, it makes it all the more likelihood that he’ll be first on the pecking order.
Hardly being able to stomach his last two postseason statistics, Pittsburgh is preparing for his departure – as they should.
Signing Eric Hartzell was one of the first indicators.
Hartzell, 24, was named the 2012-13 USA Hockey College Player of the Year at Quinnipiac University, and he was inked by the Pens this past season to a one-year entry-level contract.
Tendering a qualifying offer to him earlier in July, Hartzell has currently been on display in Pittsburgh’s development camp, and he spent time on the team this past postseason.
With his 6-foot-4, 205-pound build (two inches taller than Fleury), Hartzell’s chances of playing in the near future are high, simply because of that – his massive frame.
Another prospect to keep an eye out for is Pittsburgh’s 2013 second-round draft choice (50th overall) Tristan Jarry.
Although he’s still just 18, Jarry is already reportedly displaying promise at the Pens development camp – according to Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
So well, that he was even going toe-to-toe with Hartzell in shootout drills.
According to Yohe, assistant coach Todd Reirden – acknowledging the two goaltenders stopping consecutive shootout attempts – went on to say, “I think the goalies are winning this one.”
Set to play Junior Hockey back in British Columbia next season, Jarry is probably still a ways away from stopping pucks in the NHL.
However, because he’s already showcasing brilliance in day one of camp, Jarry – like Hartzell – could be line for an NHL job soon.
Noting that this next season could be Fleury’s last, Hartzell would probably be next in line to take his place in net for the future.
But because the Pens have had great success with young players throughout recent years (Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal), that doesn’t mean Jarry is ruled out of the picture just yet either.
Point being, the 2013-14 campaign is all or nothing for Fleury.
Taking in more of a role for this upcoming season, Hartzell could end up stealing the show and creating a three-way battle for starting goalie.
Fleury’s play will ultimately decide Hartzell’s fate — only time will tell.