Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford made it very clear who his starting goaltender is now and for the foreseeable future.
And that man is Marc-Andre Fleury.
“As long as I’m GM here, he’s my goalie,” Rutherford told Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. “My plan is to re-sign him when the time is right.”
Turns out, the time was right this afternoon.
Fleury, 29, and the Penguins inked a four-year contract extension that is valued at $23-million ($5.75 million average annual value) and will run through the 2018-19 season.
“I’m really happy,” Fleury said. “I’ve spent a lot of time here. It’s like my home. I’ve been with my teammates for a while. The organization has been great to me all these years, the city, the fans. I couldn’t be happier.”
Here is a look at what this deal means.
ON THE ICE
First of all, let’s step back for a minute and look at the bigger picture.
Marc-Andre Fleury could go down as, if he isn’t already considered, the greatest goaltender in Penguins’ history.
We can start with the numbers.
Fleury holds the franchise records for wins (295) and shutouts (31). Since 2008-09, no other goaltender in the NHL has more wins than Fleury (219). And that includes the likes of Henrik Lundqvist (210), Ryan Miller (191) and Jonathan Quick (181).
Fleury backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup championship and two Stanley Cup Final appearances. No other active goaltender has more postseason wins than Fleury’s 52.
And there’s no doubt Fleury will pass Tom Barrasso (56) for the franchise record for postseason wins (56-52) either this season, or next.
Most goaltenders hit their career prime in the mid 20s to early 30s. Fleury seems to be finding that groove. He’s off to the best start of his career this season with a 7-2 record, 1.89 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and three shutouts. He’s currently riding a career-best 145:30 shutout streak.
Fleury is one of the better goaltenders in the NHL. His athleticism is in the upper-echelon of keepers in the league. And with the help of goaltending coach Mike Bales, Fleury has harnessed that athleticism with some technique changes that have paid huge dividends in his game.
The Penguins will have security and depth in the goaltending position for the next four years.
OFF THE ICE
If captain Sidney Crosby is the leader and heart of the Penguins, then Marc-Andre Fleury is the soul of the Penguins.
Every single player in the Penguins locker room would lay it all on the line and sacrifice themselves for Fleury. He is that beloved amongst his teammates. And that is not an accident.
Fleury is the epitome of character. His playful personality keeps things light in practice. But it is his intensity at game time that really rallies the players around him. The team is loyal to “Flower.”
“He’s such a key guy in the dressing room,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “We talk often about what he’s done on the ice, but in and around the guys in the room he’s a real key chemistry guy. He’s always energetic, always has a smile on his face. Guys battle hard for him, they play for him.”
Goaltending is the highest-pressure position in the NHL, and maybe in all of sports. Other players can make a mistake and the results are not detrimental. If a goalie makes a mistake, the result is a goal against – not to mention a red light flashing, a horn blaring and a stadium erupting.
It should come as no shock, then, that the goaltending position is also the most scrutinized. Fleury is no stranger to criticism. He’s also been through many ups and downs with the team, from winning a Stanley Cup to being benched during the 2013 postseason run in favor of Tomas Vokoun.
But there is no bigger critic of Marc-Andre Fleury than Marc-Andre Fleury.
“You learn to go through those tough times and get better,” Fleury said.
After finishing the 2013 playoffs on the bench, he rededicated himself to his craft. With the help of Bales, the two refined and tweaked Fleury’s game.
Fleury bounced back with a 39-win season and a spectacular playoff performance that featured back-to-back shutouts of the NY Rangers in Round 2 of the playoffs. Fleury is certainly not to be blamed for the Penguins’ second-round ouster.
Fleury’s resiliency throughout his career is remarkable. No matter how daunting the challenge, he’s been able to bounce back and answer the call.
“(Fleury’s) attitude and the way he approaches every year, he’s got a ton of passion and cares a lot,” Crosby said. “He understands that there is a lot of responsibility on the goalie, but he’s dealt with it as good as anybody.”
The average annual value of Fleury’s new deal is $5.75 million – which translates to a $750,000-dollar raise. That’s not a lot when considering other goalie salaries: Lundqvist ($11 million); Tuukka Rask ($7.5 million); Pekka Rinne ($7 million); Quick ($7 million).
In fact, 14 other goalies around the NHL make more money than Fleury, and only four have won a Stanley Cup (and Rask won his backing up Tim Thomas).
Fleury would have commanded a hefty pay raise on the free agent market. But he opted for less money to remain a Pittsburgh Penguin. And the Penguins are happy to have him.
“Once I got to know (Fleury) and saw his work ethic and determination and how he prepares for the game,” Rutherford said, “you really recognize then that he’s such an important part of the Penguins.”