Many people will argue that the most difficult position to play in professional sports is goaltender in the National Hockey League.
Sometimes goalies will perform well, other times they’ll perform poorly. It takes a truly special goalie to play well consistently over an 82-game season. That is what the Pittsburgh Penguins thought they had found when they selected Marc-Andre Fleury first-overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft.
For years, Penguins’ fans have become accustomed to seeing Fleury in between the pipes during almost every game. He truly has been a workhorse for the Penguins, and has been spectacular during the regular-season. Throughout 531 regular-season tilts, Fleury has posted a .910 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against-average.
Those numbers may seem a little off for a franchise goaltender, but his best years have been the last four. During the last four years, Fleury has played his way to a .915 save percentage and a 2.36 GAA – which is exceptional.
Regular-season success has never been an issue for the man known as “Flower,” but his failures have been in the postseason. Prior to this last season, Fleury was horrendous during the playoffs. From the 2009-12, Fleury’s numbers during that stretch of playoff performances was a .877 save percentage and 3.36 GAA – not too exceptional.
Entering the 2014 season, Fleury is coming off a playoff run where his play, for the most part, rebounded. He recorded a solid .915 save percentage and 2.40 GAA, which isn’t good, but not bad either. The most frustrating thing about watching Fleury is seeing him make an unbelieveable save, and then the next minute let up a goal that he should have stonewalled.
While Fleury’s play was more consistent, he’s still quite erratic at times throughout the playoffs – as shown by the video below.
Now, after 10 seasons, there is uncertainty facing the Pittsburgh Penguins as to who will start during the playoffs. Fleury is entering the last year of his contract – a cap hit of $5 million, per Cap Geek.
Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford has signed free agent goaltender Thomas Greiss to provide an upgrade at backup goaltender. And this most recent signing now leaves three goaltenders on the roster, with only two roster spots on the team available.
Given the circumstances, one of three things will happen to Marc-Andre Fleury.
The first possibility is that he plays out his contract and shows that he is able to leave the mental mistakes behind him. In this case, he will post another solid regular-season and postseason, and then after the season, he will then sign a three or four-year extension, where he then receives a very slight raise.
Another scenario I see is not only the worst for the team but also the most unlikely: Fleury, theoretically, being traded this offseason to bring in a scoring wing or two. Some fans probably would love the idea of trading Fleury to increase cap space and help with depth at forward, but this in all likelihood is a stretch.
The most likely scenario I foresee is Fleury plays for the Penguins until the trade deadline.
I believe that Greiss was brought in for an audition to takeover starting for the Penguins. The 2014 season will begin with Zatkoff sent to the minors and Greiss backing up Fleury. Greiss will be given a chance to showcase his talent and Rutherford will notice.
Greiss will act as a bridge until 2013 second-round draft pick, Tristan Jarry, is ready to start. Given that it’s Fleury’s contract year, the Penguins will not let him leave as a free agent for no return. You can bet he’ll be moved for a top-six forward before that happens.
Watch at the trade deadline, because I truly believe Fleury’s time in a Penguins’ sweater is dwindling.