"IF ONLY WE STILL HAD FLEURY..."


The Penguins have a goaltending problem. 

It’s very basic: Tristan Jarry can’t stop the puck. All four goals allowed by him yesterday were sketchy to some degree. Click HERE to read my analysis of Jarry’s performance. 

Ex-Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, was amazing in Vegas’ playoff opener. Fleury made 29 saves. Many were spectacular. But Vegas still lost to Minnesota in overtime, 1-0. With that start, Fleury became the first goalie in NHL history to play in 15 consecutive playoffs. 

If Fleury is between the pipes for Pittsburgh yesterday, the Penguins beat the New York Islanders. A few of you have commented on that likelihood via Twitter. 

But the fact remains that then-GM Jim Rutherford did right when he let Fleury go to Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft. Read a column I wrote in March by way of a reminder: 

When you are dealt a bust hand (hard 12-16 – i.e., not including an ace) in blackjack and the dealer shows a 6, you stand. That’s what the odds dictate. You won’t always win. But if you lose, you still made the right play. If you hit and win, you still made the wrong play. 

That brings us to Marc-Andre Fleury’s departure from the Penguins in 2017 when GM Jim Rutherford kept Matt Murray instead. Rutherford could only hold onto one or the other because of the expansion draft. Fleury went to Vegas, where he still plays (goal, not blackjack). 

This is still a hot topic among Penguins fans. It is discussed constantly. 

It heated up recently because Fleury, 36, is excelling for Vegas. He leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.59), save percentage (.941) and shutouts (three). He’s eighth in victories with nine. Robin Lehner supplanted Fleury as Vegas’ No. 1 goalie after being acquired late last season. But Fleury appears to have recaptured the job, at least for now. 

The Penguins’ netminding has been in flux since Fleury left. Murray got inconsistent, maybe because Fleury wasn’t there to push him, and got shipped to Ottawa. Tristan Jarry made the NHL All-Star event last season, but has since picked up where Murray left off in terms of sporadic play. If Jarry is better lately, it’s because his start to this season set the bar low. 

All this has set Twitter ablaze. Talk shows, too, if the host allows. “Should have kept Fleury!” 

Of course, you say that now. But GM Jim Rutherford had the equivalency of a bust hand with a 6 showing. Maybe even a made hand with a 6 showing. 

Rutherford played it right. But he lost. 

Fleury was 32, Murray was 22. 

Fleury’s salary cap hit was $5.75 million. Murray’s hit for 2017-18 was $3.75 million. 

Fleury won nine games in the 2017 playoffs, deputizing when Murray was hurt as the Penguins won their second straight Stanley Cup. Fleury played terrific in the ’17 postseason. But Murray won the last seven games in those playoffs, including two straight shutouts to end the final vs. Nashville. He won 15 games in the 2016 playoffs. 

Every GM in the NHL would have kept Murray and let Fleury go. (Though if not for the expansion draft, Rutherford would have likely kept both, at least to start 2017-18.) 

Rutherford played it right. But he lost. 

The Penguins would undeniably be better off now with Fleury – though his current cap hit is a hefty $7 million, and keeping him would have affected other personnel decisions made since. 

Rutherford could have got a ton for Murray in a trade then. Maybe, since the Penguins’ window turned out to be rapidly closing, Fleury was a better bet for the short term. 

But how could anybody logically think that given how Murray concluded the ’17 playoffs? 

Hindsight is 20/20, but the hindsight applied here smacks of delusion. Fleury’s final season with the Penguins was statistically subpar except for the playoffs. Fleury was a fan scapegoat after bad postseasons in 2012 and ’13. He wasn’t embraced again ‘til he became the underdog. Perhaps Fleury’s renaissance in Vegas was nurtured by the situation’s relatively low pressure. 

Rutherford played it right. But he lost. 

Reacquiring Fleury is bandied about constantly by Penguins fans, in particular those sporting No. 29 Vegas jerseys. The Penguins reportedly inquired about Fleury’s availability this season, but Vegas, oddly, was uninterested in trading the NHL’s leader in all significant goalie stats. 

It would not be surprising to see Fleury sign with the Penguins as a free agent after next season, the last in his contract with Vegas. Your dreams will be fulfilled. 

Until Fleury allows a bad goal, that is. Then you’ll start complaining. 

The only thing Penguins fans know about goaltending is that they like the guy who isn’t playing. 

Images via Getty Images


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