Jan 15, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) stands during the national anthem before playing the Washington Capitals at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Marc-Andre Fleury's Last Season With Pittsburgh Penguins?

Drafted No. 1 overall back in 2003 by Pittsburgh, the Penguins are the team goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has ever known throughout his career.

Experiencing highs from winning the Stanley Cup to lows of five consecutive playoff meltdowns, Fleury has been through it all with the Penguins over the last decade.

However, his run may be coming to an end.

Due to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2014-15 campaign, Fleury’s possible extension is foggy. While he’s shown signs of brilliance, Fleury has become far too inconsistent, and given Pittsburgh has a plethora of young netminders on the mend, there’s a chance he won’t return.

Unless he wins the Cup.

If Fleury can somehow manage to string together a stellar season that includes lifting Lord Stanley’s chalice, I’d say general manager Jim Rutherford will wilt and give him what he wants. Would that be the right move? Too early to judge, but considering their payroll and how much he’d demand, Fleury still may be gone.

History has showed us that after a player has grabbed a Cup, they’ve cashed out in the summer. And I’m not so sure it would be wise for Pittsburgh to pay Fleury, given the amount of prospect goaltenders they own in their system, and who they could potentially add for cheaper money next summer.

Eric Hartzell (signed out of college), Tristan Jarry (second-round, 2013), and Matt Murray (third-round, ’12) all have the stones to replace Fleury long-term. Although they’re not yet ready to make the jump to the NHL, another year, and a short-term goalie – possibly Antti Niemi – could allow Pittsburgh to let Fleury walk, should his demands be too steep.

On the other hand, there’s always goaltenders who go through rough patches in their career, and Fleury, with more time, could transform into the netminder the organization anticipated him to be when they drafted him. I still believe it, but this is a business, and if Fleury doesn’t win a Cup next season, and doesn’t post superior numbers, it’s time to cut their losses.

I mentioned Niemi – he could fill-in for Fleury until their prospects are ready make the jump. And he may not cost a whole lot to be obtained. Niemi, like Fleury, has a boatload of playoff experience, and owns a Cup as well, so there’s really no differences between the two other than when they were drafted.

For me, this decision doesn’t come down to Fleury’s play, because I believe he made significant strides last season in steadying his head and not letting a goal bring him down – other than the Game 4 meltdown in round one against the Columbus Blue Jackets. No, this ultimatum comes down to a business move. I compare it a lot to Matt Niskanen‘s situation.

Nikanen, in a contract season, had an outstanding 2013-14 campaign when Pittsburgh needed him most. Due to his tremendous improvement and prosperous outlook, there’s no doubt the Penguins would’ve preferred to have him back, but the reality is they didn’t have enough money to retain him. That’s how I’m envisioning Fleury’s situation playing out.

Like I said, should Fleury raise the Cup and ask for reasonable money, he returns – no doubt about it. But if he fails, the organization may seek to expand their payroll, and work with what they can afford; unless, he accepts a short-term contract to return.

It’s on Flower to blossom.

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