PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Of all the things that happened during a tumultuous off-season for the Pittsburgh Penguins , shoring up goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for the long term was not one of them.
Fleury is entering the final season of a seven-year, $35 million contract. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer if he is not re-signed.
The first overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft helped the Penguins reach the 2008 Stanley Cup final and win the trophy in 2009. If entering a contract year or the possibility of a trade is weighing on him, Fleury is not letting on.
“I just want to go play, go win,” Fleury said Monday before giving up two power-play goals on 20 shots over two periods of work in Pittsburgh’s exhibition loss to Detroit . “What’s going to happen is what’s going to happen. I’m not worried too much about it.”
For Fleury, the memory of the negotiations that went into his current deal has given him some perspective and eased the uncertainty. He was 23 when he signed that lucrative offer.
“I thought, ‘I won’t have to worry about it for a long time,'” Fleury said. “And now I’m already entering my last year. It’s crazy how time flies. I was very fortunate to have that contract, to be in Pittsburgh for that long, to have that security, a chance to play with great players, win the Cup.”
Fleury also set franchise records for wins (288), shutouts (28) and playoff shutouts (eight). He’s had at least 35 wins every season except for lockout-shortened 2012-13.
But Fleury became a target as Pittsburgh’s post-season failures piled up. Since winning the Cup, the team has reached the Eastern Conference final just once, getting swept by Boston in 2013, and lost in the first round twice. In 2013, Fleury lost his No. 1 role to Tomas Vokoun during the first round.
Fleury finally escaped harsh criticism last spring when the Penguins’ offence withered and the team blew a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers in the second round — a post-season disappointment that led to an overhaul of the Penguins’ staff and roster.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a push, if any, to get a new contract in place for Fleury. How he performs this season and in the 2015 playoffs could heavily influence what approach the Penguins take under will new coach Mike Johnston and new general manager Jim Rutherford .
“We try to stress the process — following through with the process and trying to do the right things every day so you’re not looking too far ahead,” Penguins goaltending coach Mike Bales said. “Marc’s good at that and that will obviously have to be his focus this year.”
In their first season working together, Fleury and Bales hit it off last year.
“It was good from the start,” Fleury said. “He’s easy to talk to. The thing we changed the most was (handling) plays around the post, a little different technique that I had to learn, practice and get better at.”
Neither Fleury nor Bales identified an aspect of the goaltender’s game that will receive extra attention this season, although Fleury’s puck-handling has been adventurous at times.
A home game Nov. 28 will hold special significance for Fleury. Not because of the opponent, Carolina , or any career statistical relevance, but because he’ll turn 30 that day.
“I don’t know if it’s a milestone,” said Fleury, grinning. “I’m, like, ‘Oh, geez. I’m going to be 30. I’m getting old.’ A little more experience, a little more mature. I guess it’s not all bad.”
Before he turns 31, Fleury will know what his future holds. He said he’s not equating wins with dollar signs or decimal points.
“I don’t want to tie it in that way,” Fleury said. “After (this) contract, I’m set (financially). My family is good. I just want to go out, play, win.”