Friday, February 26, 2016

Is a Fleury Trade on the Horizon?

Olli Maatta and the Penguins surprised everyone this morning with a wonderful new contract that will keep him a Penguin for quite a while.  However, for the Penguins it's yet another heavy contract on a team loaded with them.  Is this the first sign of a Marc-Andre Fleury trade to come?

At this point, Fleury is the longest tenured Penguin of the current crop.  Making his debut, with bright yellow pads, before the 2004-05 lock out at 18 his wild athleticism was apparent, letting everyone know exactly why he was the first #1 overall pick for the Penguins since Mario Lemieux.

Marc-Andre Fleury, longest serving Penguin
Ever since then, he's become the Penguins leader in every goalie metric.  Helping lead the team to two Stanley Cup Finals, including one win, he's clearly shown himself to be worthy of the #1 pick.  Even during the rough stretches where he seemed to crumble in the playoffs, he'd bounce back and lead the team through some rough stretches the past few seasons.  Where would the Pens be without him last year and this year?

Last season Fleury signed a deal that would keep him in Pittsburgh for four more years at a cost of $5.75 million per season starting this season.  Some praised the stability in the franchise's most important position.  Others wondered about the cap hit for a position that, over the last half decade, has faltered from importance with winning teams taking chances are lesser named goalies, more average, who would front load rosters and simply ask goalies to not lose them games.

Should we enjoy this while it lasts?
No where is this more evident than with the three time champion Chicago Blackhawks.  The Blackhawks, the closest you can find to a modern day dynasty, have won three Cups since the 2010-11 season.  This you know.  What you might now know?  They've had five different goalies, out of a possible six, in those times.

The 2009-10 champions boasted a netminder tandem of Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi.  The 2012-13 champions?  Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.  Finally last year's team had the only holdover, Corey Crawford, as well as Scott Darling.  Before winning two Cups, Crawford's highest salary was $2.5 million per year.

When will Matt Murray take over?
It's a copycat league.  Teams will look to do what others have done for success.  When your success is that of the Blackhawks, teams will look to emulate.  As such, teams are starting to spend less and less on goaltending and more and more on the front end.  On few other teams is that a truth than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Per General Fanager, the Penguins have $66.271 million tied up in next year's salary cap after adding today's Maatta deal.  With the assumption that it stays at the current $71.4 million rate (which is even in question), that gives the Pens all of $5 million to fill in the positions of nine players (seven forwards, one defender, and one goalie).  That's a tough pill to swallow.

That's where we see Matt Murray.  Murray, as we've been told, is a non-starter for trade talks.  He's not going anywhere.  We've also been told we'll be seeing more of him soon.  But there's a big, Marc-Andre Fleury sized wall in his way from real playing time and being the franchise goalie he can be.  The Penguins need forward help and cap space.  In no other position (thanks in part to Ray Shero) are the Penguins particularly deep enough to trade and have a replacement in the wings.

According to General Fanager, as well as The Fourth Period, Marc-Andre Fleury's new deal came with a limited No Movement Clause.  He can choose 12 teams he cannot be moved to but beyond that his fate is in the air.

How soon will we see more of this?
Fleury is in his goaltending prime.  He's played some of the best hockey of his career.  He's the perfect piece for a young team missing that thing to get them over the hump.  He's also the Penguins most tradable asset.  A proven winner with proven skill and an affordable contract for three more years, with an equally talented (if not moreso) replacement behind him?  One that would double the Penguins cap room?

Trading a player like Fleury, who is so emotionally tied to a franchise, can seem unlikely.  It can also prove to be somewhat painful as a fanbase if/when it happens.  Facts being as they are, however, stand that in the current Penguins situation he's by far the mostly likely to be traded, fetch a solid return, and open up a world of cap space.

Is a Fleury trade on the horizon?  Not in the immediate future.  Should you be prepared for the possibility?  It would be smart, as it's the most logical move.  Stunning as it may be._________________________________________________________
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