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Penguins' Fleury signs four-year contract extension

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury signed a four-year, $23 million contract extension Wednesday.

The contract will have an average annual value of $5.75 million and begin at the start of the 2015-16 season. Fleury could have become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Marc-Andre Fleury
Goalie - PIT
RECORD: 7-2-0
GAA: 1.89 | SVP: .931
The 29-year-old is 7-2-0 with a1.89 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage this season. Fleury's three shutouts are tied for the NHL lead, and he has back-to-back shutouts for the first time in his career heading into Pittsburgh's game against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

"I'm really happy," Fleury said Wednesday after practice at MTS Centre. "I've spent a lot of time [in Pittsburgh]. It's like my home. My teammates, I have been with them for a while. The organization has been great to me all of these years. The city, the fans, I couldn't be happier."

Fleury, the longest-tenured player on the Pittsburgh roster, was the first pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. He won the Stanley Cup in 2009 and is Pittsburgh's all-time leader with 540 games, 295 regular-season wins and 31 shutouts. His 52 wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs lead all active NHL goaltenders and rank him second in Penguins history to Tom Barrasso (56).

Fleury and backup goalie Thomas Greiss combined on a 205:28 shutout streak that ended Tuesday in a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild.

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said he and Fleury's agent, Allan Walsh, had been working on a contract extension for approximately a month.

"I think it feels good for everybody," Rutherford said. "When a player is in the last year of his contract, especially an important player like Marc, you wonder when you get closer to the end of the season, you wonder whether it's not in the back of his mind, so it's good that we got it cleared it up."

"We got to a point that it's a fair deal for both sides."

Fleury was happy to avoid any potential for distraction later in the season.

"It's nice to get it over with and think about just going and playing hockey and trying to win some games," Fleury said. "Just focusing on hockey and nothing else. It's nice that it's finally done."

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has been Fleury's teammate since the 2005-06 season, and the fellow first-round picks developed into senior voices inside the Pittsburgh dressing room as the Penguins grew from a last-place team to a perennial contender for the Stanley Cup.

"I've been teammates with him for a long time," Crosby said. "I know how hard he works and how much he loves it [in Pittsburgh]. We've had some great moments and we've faced some adversity too, so to see how he has handled all of that has been pretty amazing. I think you're always happy to see your teammates do well and be rewarded."

The Penguins hired Rutherford during the offseason after he has spent 20 years with the Carolina Hurricanes. Rutherford was familiar with Fleury before arriving in Pittsburgh, but seeing Fleury on a daily basis increased his appreciation for the goaltender.

"I liked him before I got here, but once I got to know him and saw his work ethic and determination and how he prepares for the game, and he's one of the top athletes of the team, you really recognize then that he's such an important part of the Penguins," Rutherford said. "When I first got this job, I called him and told him, 'Whatever you're doing, do the same thing in preparation for this [season] and build on it,' and he certainly has."

A major factor in the decision for Rutherford and coach Mike Johnston was Fleury's presence in the Pittsburgh dressing room.

"He is such a key guy in the dressing room," Johnston said of Fleury. "We talk often about how he plays on the ice and what he has done on the ice. But in and around the guys in the room, he's a real key chemistry guy. He's always energetic. He always has a smile on his face. I think that's the biggest thing. Our guys battle hard for him. They play for him."

Rutherford had a long NHL career as a goaltender and values the chemistry that a goaltender can provide.

"Players have to be comfortable with players, and you especially have to be comfortable with your goalie," Rutherford said. "You know that when you're going through a little bit of a down time that everybody is going to rally around him."

Fleury can focus exclusively on leading the Penguins to another Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh is 8-2-1 and has won five games in a row heading into the game against the Jets. The Penguins are allowing 2.09 goals per game,10th in the NHL, and they are looking like a strong Eastern Conference contender again.

Although the Penguins appear to be a strong Stanley Cup contender this season, it has been five years since they won the Stanley Cup, and Fleury is pushing 30 years old.

"It's unbelievable how quickly it goes by," Fleury said. "It seems like I just started, and now I'm the old guy."

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