Marc-Andre Fleury was putting together a pretty good season before a concussion on March 31 sidelined him for a month. By the time he was taking full part in practices again, Matt Murray had already won a playoff round.
Fleury ultimately only played two games en route to the Penguins’ fourth Stanley Cup: the first he came in as relief during a 4-0 seemingly hopeless cause; the second, he lost with a .840 save percentage.
And thus, things seem clear for the Penguins. Murray is the guy now, and Fleury might have to go. Ideally, they keep him around as the season starts, in case Murray falters – but the expansion draft could also force things, as the Penguins would have to protect Fleury over Murray.
Fleury isn’t meant to be a backup, though. And there are just a few teams in the league who need a starting goaltender, Calgary chief among them. It’s a match made in heaven.
… Or is it?
Let’s talk contract
If the Flames are after Fleury – and it has been reported Brad Treliving has discussed him (though it’s Treliving, so he wouldn’t be doing his job if he wasn’t at least exploring the possibility) – then they’re after his contract, too.
Marc-Andre Fleury is under contract for another three years at a $5.75 million cap hit. He’s a November birthday, so he’ll turn 32 early into next season; he’ll be 34 years old by the time his contract ends. He also has a history of concussions.
That is a lot of cap space committed to a good goalie – for now. Fleury has rebounded over the past couple of seasons, but just as with any professional athlete, he’s going to be susceptible to age. When that strikes is yet to be determined, but if it happens during this contract – and the Flames are on the hook for an expensive, declining goalie – then is that really ideal?
Say Jon Gillies is ready to go sooner rather than later. Would Fleury not be put in the same position as he appears to be in Calgary: stuck behind a 2012 draft pick? Obviously we can’t count on Gillies being ready so quickly – but should the possibility of stranding him behind Fleury (or vice versa) not be considered if they have faith in their prospect?
The Pens are up against the salary cap, so this isn’t even really a chance for the Flames to offload a bad contract. And even if it was: Dennis Wideman’s expires after next season; Fleury’s goes on for another two after. There’s no contract-for-contract deal to be had here at all.
Let’s talk age
The Calgary Flames are a young team. They even just hired one of the youngest head coaches in the NHL to go with them. This is a team that’s growing and coming together; one in which Mark Giordano (who will be 33 when the 2016-17 season starts) is the odd man out of the core because he’s 6-12 years older than the rest of them
Fleury is just one year younger than him. Your starting goalie is a crucial part of the team, but Fleury already doesn’t even fit in with this core.
He’s not a bad goalie. He’s really not. But he might become one as his contract comes to an end. The Flames should be entering their prime competing window during it, and if things do go south, does it really make sense to have an aging goalie who very well may not be part of their future plans taking up nearly $6 million in cap space?
Let’s talk options
In this case, beggars absolutely can be choosers.
The Flames need a new goalie. There’s no disputing this; they literally don’t have any signed. (A handful of prospects don’t count: you know they aren’t jumping in the NHL next season.)
Toronto is the only other team in this predicament. It’s a buyer’s market, and that means the Flames have tons of options they can explore.
There are other guys in similar situations to Fleury, such as Jimmy Howard or maybe even Mike Smith. There’s Ben Bishop, who is almost 30 himself, but at the end of his contract and not yet locked in for a while. There’s Brian Elliott, who is significantly cheaper. There’s Frederik Andersen, who fits right in with the Flames’ age group.
There’s James Reimer, who’s relatively young, has put up some good seasons, and wouldn’t cost a thing in a trade, because he’s a free agent.
Why would the Flames go after an aging goaltender with a concussion history signed to an expensive contract when they can go after virtually anybody else?