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Could Fleury Be on Penguins’ List of Goaltending Options?



Pittsburgh Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a goaltending problem.

Arguably a few of them, actually, but one is the most pressing.

They have just one goalie, Casey DeSmith, who has faced a shot in the NHL under contract for the coming season.

Even DeSmith’s most staunch supporters would not argue that he should be the go-to guy for a team that, reasonably or otherwise, envisions itself becoming a Stanley Cup contender in 2023-24.

The obvious answer would be for the Penguins to re-sign Tristan Jarry, who has been their No. 1 since Matt Murray was traded to Ottawa in 2020, but that’s not as simple as it might sound.

Jarry will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll re-sign here. Sure, Jarry has publicly proclaimed that staying with the Penguins is his priority and perhaps that really is the case, but any player would be foolish to rule out staying with his current club, if only because that would eliminate a prospective bidder for his services.

And even if Jarry has absolutely no desire to play elsewhere, there’s no way of knowing yet whether the Pittsburgh Penguins’ next general manager will view him as a goalie capable of helping a team compete for a championship. And it’s always possible that even if that GM is a Jarry backer, another club will offer a contract that simply is too lucrative for Jarry to turn down.

If the Penguins do have to replace Jarry, for whatever reason, the chances of replacing him via free agency aren’t particularly good, because the pool of high-quality goalies scheduled to be unrestricted July 1 is about as deep and impressive as the Penguins’ pool of top-shelf prospects.

The headliner is Jonathan Quick, who was dominant for years in Los Angeles but has been relegated to backup status with the Kings and Vegas this season. Carolina’s Frederik Andersen could attract interest, too, but the Hurricanes’ Game 6 victory against the New York Islanders last week was his first playoff appearance in two seasons with them.

A couple of others — Vegas’ Laurent Brossoit and Andersen’s partner in Carolina, Antti Raanta — have raised their value with strong showings in this year’s playoffs, but Raanta is the only one of them to ever appear in more than half of his team’s games in a season, and he did that just once.

If keeping Jarry or recruiting a free agent doesn’t resolve the issue, Ron Hextall’s successor presumably would explore a trade to bring in a No. 1.

Chances are the GM wouldn’t be able to pry, say, Igor Shesterkin away from the New York Rangers or Jake Oettinger out of Dallas, and with the limited number of quality assets the Penguins could offer to another club in a deal for a goalie, the odds of acquiring a guy who can lock down the position for a number of years seem to be about the same as Hextall being named GM of the Year.

Which means that, if things break a certain way, it’s conceivable that the goaltender on whom the Penguins’ hopes for a revival next season ultimately will rest on someone who is, in one or more ways, suspect.

Maybe because of a history of inconsistency. Perhaps because of a reputation for being a difficult teammate. Or possibly because he’ll turn 39 on Nov. 28.

The latter would be Marc-Andre Fleury, the most celebrated and accomplished goaltender in Pittsburgh Penguins history. He was Minnesota’s No. 1 goalie for most of the past season, but was supplanted by former Penguins prospect Filip Gustavsson as the Wild’s go-to guy during their first-round playoff series against Dallas.

Fleury seems like a long shot, at best, to reclaim the top spot in Minnesota, and while he isn’t likely to cause a disruption about it — remember how well he handled being dropped behind Murray during their final season together here? — he presumably still would like to handle more than a backup’s workload.

He has one season left on a contract with a $3.5 million salary-cap hit, which matches the one on Jarry’s about-to-expire deal, and it’s plausible that Wild GM Bill Guerin would be interested in having a promising prospect such as Jesper Wallstedt fill the backup role in 2023-24.

Because of Fleury’s age and the cap space Minnesota would gain by moving him, the asking price in a trade would be modest. At most.

Fleury’s cap hit wasn’t his only number that mirrored Jarry’s in 2022-23. Fleury was 24-16-4, with a .908 save percentage and 2.85 goals-against average in 46 appearances; Jarry was 24-13-7, with a .909 and 2.90 in 47 games.

Fleury is not the goalie he was earlier in his career, and it’s hard to imagine that bringing him back will be high on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ list of options for addressing their goaltending situation, if it makes the list at all.

Could a 39-year-old lead a team that figures to again be among the oldest in the NHL on a serious run at a championship?

It seems unlikely.

But so does a lot about believing that a team that hasn’t won a playoff round since 2018 and didn’t even qualify for postseason play this spring can be made over into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

And, as Florida and Seattle reminded us Sunday, things don’t always play out in a logical, predictable way in this game.