PITTSBURGH -- Despite widespread speculation to the contrary, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma left little room for interpretation when it comes to whom the team's starting goalie will be when the 2013-14 NHL season begins in October.
"Marc-Andre Fleury is going to go back in net and he's going to take the net and he's going to be the No. 1 goalie and he's going to play great," Bylsma said. "There's no question about that. And he's going to win a lot of hockey games for this team next season and he will have an opportunity in the playoffs again when this team gets there."
Fleury, when healthy, was Pittsburgh's unquestioned starting goalie from early in 2006 until Bylsma elected to start Tomas Vokoun for Game 5 of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Islanders last month. But Fleury, the No. 1 pick of the 2003 NHL Draft, made just one relief appearance in the Penguins' final 11 games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For a player who had started every one of the Penguins' postseason games since he entered the League, Fleury acknowledged the temporary demotion was "a little difficult." But the 28-year-old remained a good teammate, resisting any urge to publicly express any displeasure with the situation.
Fleury developed a good relationship with the 36-year-old Vokoun, whom the Penguins signed last offseason as a complement to Fleury after he allowed 26 goals in six games of a first-round series loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Vokoun had a 2.01 goals-against average and .933 save percentage during the playoffs; Fleury had a 3.51 GAA and .883 save percentage.
"I was disappointed to not play, but you know it's understandable," Fleury said. "(Vokoun) was playing great and giving the team a chance to win every night."
On Sunday, while the 2012-13 Penguins congregated for the final time as a team, Fleury said his status within the organization "hasn't changed." There had been rumors general manager Ray Shero might trade Fleury or use one of the team's compliance buyouts on him. Fleury has two years remaining on his contract at an annual salary-cap hit of $5 million.
When asked if perhaps a fresh start with another organization would be welcome, Fleury said, "It's not going to be my choice, you know? I'm here and I want to stay and keep it like that."
Fleury is the Penguins' all-time wins and shutouts leader, and he ranks second to Tom Barrasso in playoff victories. But the successes of 2008 and 2009, when he led Pittsburgh to consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances and the 2009 Stanley Cup, have been overshadowed in recent years by poor postseason performances.
Last season, Fleury bottomed out with a 4.63 GAA and .834 save percentage in the first-round loss to the Flyers.
His regular-season numbers, though, have remained steady. Fleury went 23-8-0 with a 2.39 GAA and .916 save percentage this season after going 42-17-4/2.36/.913 in 2011-12. Neither Bylsma nor Fleury had an explanation for the decreased performance come playoff time.
"I don't think there's anything you can do between now and playoff games and playoff hockey to solve that solution or even consider talking about it," Bylsma said.
Before Bylsma spoke with the media on Sunday, Fleury said he had not spoken with Bylsma about his standing in the organization, but Fleury did say he had "a good talk" with Penguins goalie coach Gilles Meloche.
Fleury said he didn't need any assurances he would be the team's starter to feel comfortable over the offseason.
"I don't need to have a number -- I just want to come back and work and get some games and win some games and just try to do my best to help my team win," Fleury said. "Hopefully I can play a lot of games."
Vokoun, who was not available to the media on Sunday, repeatedly said this season that he was content to serve any role. He turns 37 on July 2 said he signed with the Penguins for a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Vokoun is signed through next season.
Until the four consecutive defeats to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final -- when he was supported by a total of two goals by the Pittsburgh offense -- Vokoun had won 16 of 18 decisions down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Still, Bylsma said Sunday, it's a return to backup duty for Vokoun next season.
"Tomas I don't think is in any different a boat than he was when he came in here for last season to our team," Bylsma said. "He's a guy who makes our goaltending tandem a very good one, and he's going to play games for us, absolutely -- big games for us.
"He came in and did for us exactly what he came in here to do last year and what we signed him for last year. Next year, he's not going to get that opportunity because Marc-Andre Fleury is going to be in net and winning hockey games."
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