The Pittsburgh Penguins signed goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to a four-year contract extension worth a total of $23 million. Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate the risks involved in the timing of the extension:
BURNSIDE: Good day, my friend. Both you and I had conversations with Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford in the past month, and he was very consistent: He didn’t care about the past, he believed in Marc-Andre Fleury and said Fleury would be his guy as long as he was GM. He made good on that promise Wednesday when he extended Fleury by four years at $5.75 million annually, eliminating the possibility that he would become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
The announcement triggered, as you might expect, a firestorm. That’s to be expected when it comes to a goaltender who is as polarizing a figure as there is at his position (OK, Ilya Bryzgalov factors into that list, too, but I digress). One of the most successful regular-season goaltenders of his generation and a Stanley Cup winner, Fleury has also more recently been guilty of horrific playoff meltdowns. So, let me ask you this, if you were the Pittsburgh GM, would you have inked Fleury to an extension, or would you have waited out one more playoff run before committing to another four years?
LEBRUN: Easy to say from my desk chair, but I would have waited until Fleury delivered next spring. It’s the same response I got from another NHL GM when we reacted together to the Fleury news. Having said that, the GM in question made a good point, which is probably at the heart of it: Had Rutherford not signed him now, that storyline would have tracked more attention and taken on more weight as the season went on; it pretty much would've been a constant talking point during the playoffs after good games (the price to sign goes up) or bad games (thank goodness he’s UFA).
At the end of the day, you get the sense that eliminating what might have been a huge distraction was worth it for the Penguins. It’s not as though this prevents Pittsburgh from ever making a change in goal next season or years beyond if the Penguins really want to. Every contract in the league can be moved, even though this new agreement has a no-move/limited no-trade clause. But for now, it eliminates what might have been a nagging issue.
BURNSIDE: For me, it’s a simple question of what was the alternative? Let’s say the Pens moved Fleury in the offseason or at some point during this season because they wanted something different next spring. Who’s better? Ilya Bryzgalov? Nope. Martin Brodeur? Nope. Tomas Vokoun? He was terrific for the Pens in 2013 but, with his health issues, he's not a real option long-term and maybe not even short-term. Let’s say the San Jose Sharks and the Pens swapped netminders with Antti Niemi coming to Pittsburgh, how is that an upgrade even though both Niemi and Fleury have won Cups and are off to terrific starts this season? And let’s not forget that Fleury could hardly be blamed for the Pens’ collapse against the New York Rangers in the second round of last spring’s playoffs when they let a 3-1 series lead slip away, scoring just three times in the last three games. If the Penguins win another Cup in June, or even if they go to a final or a conference final, this deal will look fine. If Fleury reverts to the form he showed from 2010-13, well, that’ll be an entirely different story, and the pressure from ownership to make use of that limited no-trade clause will be significant.
LEBRUN: Running an NHL team is all about managing your risks. The risk in signing Fleury now is that he stinks next spring and all the people on Twitter on Wednesday will go back and retweet their comments from today when they said this deal was crazy. And that’s very possible. The other risk is if you let Fleury walk away July 1 after he’s just won you a Cup, and you can’t find a replacement who’s as good as he is, not to mention the PR disaster of letting your Cup-winning goalie leave town. Is it very likely that the Pens win the Cup? Not based on the last couple of playoffs. But is it possible? Right now, they are playing the best hockey they've played in a long time, so yes. It’s more than possible.
Either way, this debate won’t be answered until next May or June, which is almost always the case.