Should the Pens Buyout Fleury?

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Marc-Andre Fleury was the first overall draft pick in 2003, played in two Stanley Cups, won one, and was named to Canada’s Olympic hockey team. It seems as though he would be everything you want in a starting goalie. Unfortunately, the most recent of those achievements took place in 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics in which he didn’t play. Fleury was brought in to be the franchise goaltender, and when the Pens won the Cup in 2009 it seemed like they had the right guy. Likewise, it has seemed like they had the right guy during the past several regular seasons. However, all the great regular seasons in the world won’t win you another Cup if you forget how to play in the playoffs.

Goaltending has once again become a hot topic for the Pens during these playoffs, and the question has been raised if the Pens should buyout Fleury. I’ll admit I originally scoffed at the idea. After all, the guy led us to the Cup in 2009. Without him we may not have even made it out of the first round. However, since winning the Cup, Fleury’s playoffs numbers have drastically declined. Since 2009 Fleury has a playoff save percentage of .880. This is the same as his save percentage from the 2007 playoffs, his first in the NHL. This isn’t a good sign. I remember right after we won the cup my dad turned to me and said that the team is only going to get better because Fleury is still young and is just going to improve. It was a perfectly logical statement at the time. However, Fleury hasn’t improved in the postseason. His numbers are right back where he started in 2007. His numbers from 2012 and so far in 2013 have been especially bad. Monday night he was given the chance to come in the game, and when he skated onto the ice I had a sense that he was back and would shut the door the rest of the game. Don’t get me wrong, the defense was atrocious, but the goals he let in were simply too soft. The sixth goal especially annoyed me. At that point we were down 5-1 and the game was lost. I can understand a weak goal going in at a time like that. However, I don’t like seeing my goalie play lazily, and that’s exactly what happened on that sixth goal. He didn’t even bother to have his blocker up. It was down at his side as the shot was fired. That’s not what you want to see from a goalie that is apparently fighting to get a start. After another poor performance in the playoffs, I decided to look into the idea of buying out Fleury’s contract, and I found out that it actually might make sense to do so.

The largest factor over this offseason will be the smaller salary cap for the 2013-2014 season. The cap will be $64.3 M. Keeping everything the way it is the Pens will have $7,876,667 in cap space. This is before signing any free agents, both restricted and unrestricted. If they were to buyout Fleury’s contract it would cost $1,166,666 against the cap for the next two years, and then $1,916,667 for the two years after that. Fleury currently has a cap hit of $5 M and the buyout would result in a savings of $3,833,333 in cap space for the next two years and a loss of $1,916,667 for the last two years of the contract. With the buyout, next season the Pens would have $11,710,000 in cap space.

While the buyout would give them more cap space it also leaves them with the task of finding a starting goalie. Tomas Vokoun is 38 years old and will likely be done after next season when his contract is up. Long term, I believe Eric Hartzell may be the answer, but he hasn’t even played in the AHL yet. That leaved the Pens with the task of finding a starting goalie for the 2013-2014 season. Since Fleury’s buyout would save the Pens approximately $3.8 M in cap space, it would be ideal to find a goalie that would cost the same price. In my opinion, the best goalie that will be an UFA this offseason is Niklas Backstrom. However, he has a cap hit of $6 M and I don’t expect us to be able to sign him for less. Also, I think the Wild will be more than willing to pay him what he wants, especially since their backup, Josh Harding is battling MS. If they lost Backstrom, they would be left with the same problem as us, trying to find a goalie. Other UFAs this offseason are Jose Theodore ($1.5 M) and Ray Emery ($1.15 M). If we were to get a goalie from free agency I think Emery is our best choice. We could get him at a reasonable price, which would give us more cap space. Chicago still has Crawford and I don’t think it would be a tremendous loss for them.

Although there are a few options through free agency, our best bet might be via trade. Goalies that I believe are realistic options are Jaroslav Halak ($3.75 M), Brian Elliott ($1.8 M), and Jonas Hiller ($4.5 M). All three goalies are at a price we can afford against the cap and I believe they would all fit in well with our system. Also, both the Blues and Ducks would be in decent positions after the trade no matter who they got in return. The Blues would either have Halak or Elliott, both capable starters. The Ducks have John Gibson coming up, and (although I’m biased because he’s my favorite goalie in the world and he’s from Pittsburgh) I think Gibson is going to be great in the NHL one day really soon. All three of these goalies would be great for the Pens, but they come with a downfall. They are all UFAs at the end of the 2013-2014 season. Which leaves the question, do we trade and then resign them, or do we wait another year, give Fleury one more chance, and then sign them through free agency if Fleury doesn’t work out? It’s something to think about at least.

Personally, I’m not sure what I would do. I think if the Pens get the opportunity to sign a starting goalie then they should take it, but I wouldn’t trade an arm and a leg for one. For all I know, the Pens could make it to the Cup, Fleury could get a start after a poor game from Vokoun, and win it for us. Then this whole idea may be gone, but for right now it’s a possibility.

Another thing to consider when talking about this offseason and the smaller salary cap is the large number of UFAs the Pens have. If we find a cheaper goalie it could give us more cap space to work with. These are our UFAs this offseason:

  • Jarome Iginla – $7 M
  • Brenden Morrow – $4.1 M
  • Douglas Murray – $2.5 M
  • Matt Cooke – $1.8 M
  • Pascal Dupuis – $1.5 M
  • Mark Eaton – $725,000
  • Craig Adams – $675,000

The Pens also have a couple of restricted free agents:

  • Tyler Kennedy – $2 M
  • Eric Hartzell – $1,595,625

If you’ve been doing the math in your head you’ve realized we don’t have the cap space to resign everyone. This is the saddest part of hockey. As much as I would love to keep Iggy on the team, if his cap hit remains $7 M, we simply won’t be able to afford him. Out of the UFAs this offseason, I think it should be Shero’s number one priority to resign Dupuis. I think we’ll resign Adams as well, especially since he won’t take a up a lot of the cap room. After that it’s whoever Shero thinks is best for the team. Maybe he’ll bring in someone else. It’s not up to anyone else to decide. Before I get too emotional over who will and won’t be coming back next season, I’ll remind myself that this was a goalie post and stop talking about it. When free agency gets here I’ll be back with more.

Anyway, let’s concentrate on winning this series against Boston. Let’s go Pens.

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