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Rutherford: Mental game used to be difficult for Fleury, but he’s improved

Jun 8, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT

Marc-Andre Fleury Getty Images

Before the 2013-14 campaign started, Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had taken a lot of heat for his recent performances in the playoffs. Former GM Ray Shero backed the goaltender and Fleury rewarded him with a solid showing in the 2014 postseason, even if it wasn’t enough to save the Penguins or, for that matter, Shero.

Now that Jim Rutherford has taken over as the team’s general manager, he’ll have to decide what to do with the future of the Penguins’ goaltending as the 29-year-old netminder only has one season left on his seven-year, $35 million contract.

“The one thing I’ll say about Fleury is this past season was the best season, the most consistent season he’s had over several seasons, probably over three or four seasons,” Rutherford said, per NHL.com. “Other than a couple of goals in the Columbus series, I thought his playoff series performance was fine, his regular season was fine and from an ability point of view he’s a very, very good goalie.

“Going back a couple years, I think the mental part of the game was difficult for him, and certainly it seems that whatever he did in last offseason has strengthened his position, and I see him as a guy that’ll build off of last season and be as good or better next year.”

Publicly praising one of your players is one thing, but will Rutherford throw his full support behind Fleury by inking him to a contract extension over the summer? Or would he rather wait to see how Fleury does in the 2015 playoffs before attempting to re-sign him?

One obvious factor is what Fleury will demand. He currently comes with a $5 million annual cap hit, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he seeks a raise given that he’s set to rank 14th among goalies in 2014-15 from a cap perspective and he’ll slip further once Ryan Miller signs.

  1. micklethepickle - Jun 8, 2014 at 2:30 PM

    Beach-Ball has deserved every bit of criticism he has received in the past, but even as someone who roots against the Penguins (except when they play Boston, then I just hope both teams miraculously lose simultaneously haha), even I can’t deny he stepped up his game this year, and really came through for the Pens. Fleury wasn’t the reason they got bounced; indeed, one could argue he is the reason they wen’t as far as they did.

    Question for anybody reading this comment: what FA/trade-able goalies are out there that would be an improvement over Fleury, and that PIT could afford? With Halak on the Isles, I can’t think of anyone.

    • steelcity333 - Jun 8, 2014 at 4:39 PM

      No goaltender that will be available is as good as Fleury. People here in Pittsburgh want to get rid of the guy and somehow seem to think they’d be able to just pick a better goalie off a tree.

      • hockey412 - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:39 AM

        Do they, though? I haven’t heard anyone say ‘get rid of Fleury’ in this town in over a year, and it was the fans that were chanting Fleury’s name to pump him up in the playoffs. The only people I hear saying get rid of Fleury are people that cheer on other teams, just hoping to get people worked up.

        I actually have a hard time thinking of another goalie in the league (current or not) that has received as much backing or is as well-liked as Marc.

      • steelcity333 - Jun 9, 2014 at 4:57 PM

        Really? All I heard after Game 4 vs. Columbus was how Fleury should be cut right after the plane landed back in Pittsburgh. How he doesn’t give them a chance to win even though the Penguins scored just one or two goals. The guy got more blame here than anyone up until Game 7 vs. New York.

  2. runhigh24 - Jun 8, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    James Riemer could be an intriuging option for any goalie needy team but if I’m the Pens I let Fleury play out the final year of his deal and deal with it next offseason. I mean honestly where is he going? He likes Pittsburgh and most contenders are already set at goalie. Let him show his success this year can be replicated before you reward him and if not, you can easily move on.

  3. gbart22 - Jun 8, 2014 at 4:38 PM

    If they do switch it up I could see them taking a stab at brodeur as a backup and if fleury struggles at all being there to give it a try based on his past success ya never know. Miller could be interesting in pit but honestly fleury wasn’t the problem in pit last season and I’m not one of those crazy fans who like to over react to everything so I don’t think it’s fair to just judge a player based on a playoff series or his last season. Players no matter how good have down years and others play out of their mind one season and are just pedestrian the rest of their careers if you see it over a few years it’s fair to assume a decline or this is who he is. People want to write off miller and yes he’s declined but I don’t think he’s done yet and some team whoever gets him will get a good player same with fleury and the Richards.

  4. gbart22 - Jun 8, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    And just to add to my point people are going to be overly critical of lundquivst after this last series more than likely and does that make him a bad goalie? No. They wouldn’t be there without him and I hate the queen but still you have to be honest. It’s all part of this instant gratification culture and social media. It never ends now. People want to be satisfied right now.

  5. hockeyflow33 - Jun 8, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    If your team has an offense-first mindset and doesn’t play sound defense any goalie will play poorly in net. Fleury is a really good goalie but lacks the support any goalie needs.

  6. steelcity333 - Jun 8, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    The Penguins will be skating on thin ice if they don’t sign him to an extension before the season. He’ll go out and have an excellent year (like he always does) and then say “screw the fans, I’m tired of being criticized and blamed for all the failures of this team.”, walk away and sign with another team. The Penguins don’t have anyone in the organization that will be ready to be the starting goalie by the beginning of 2015 season. They need to sign him to some sort of an extension whether it’s for the long term or a shorter term.

    • steelcity333 - Jun 8, 2014 at 5:19 PM

      I don’t believe Fleury’s a guy that would do that but why take the risk.

  7. apkyletexas - Jun 8, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    Rutherford might as well call Babcock and ask if he’ll want Fleury after this season, since the Pens clearly are just keeping the seat warm in the hopes they can get Mike to leave Detroit and take total team control. This season is going to end up being a ridiculous joke on ice, as the Pens shed salary and prepare for the great Mike to swoop in and take them back to the promised land.

    I’m sure that Rutherford’s one job he’ll be entrusted with by Mario this season is getting rid of Letang and getting as many draft picks and Babcock-style prospects in return as possible. Saying nice things about Fleury could indicate Babcock won’t want him, and that Fleury is going to be pumped up and primed for trade as well.

    • steelcity333 - Jun 8, 2014 at 6:11 PM

      Yeah I’m sure they’ll throw away yet another year of the Crosby/Malkin era to try and get a guy who most likely will still be in Detroit after this year.

  8. chrisk61 - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:18 AM

    it is bizarre that pens fans are praising fleury. the guy is a sieve and one of pens’ basic issues. it is easy for a GM to maintain the status quo. make the safe bet. re-sign the veteran so the fans and media don’t voice their displeasure. then these risk-averse GMs sit on the hands and bit their nails hoping that it works out. the right call is to dump fleury and go in another direction. he isn’t getting it done. he comes up small in big games now. he is a shell of his former stanley cup final self.

    rutherford’s (1) we’re changing direction but not changing the roster, and (2) we need to add analytics to our toolkit comments are absurd. the pens need character, toughness and heart. it is really pretty simple to anyone who watches them.

    • hockey412 - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:44 AM

      Well, you certainly have it all figured out. Except you left out every possible detail to your otherwise brilliant plan. When you say “go in another direction” – what exactly do you mean? Who, exactly? And since there aren’t many top quality UFA’s, you MUST be calculating a trade? And who are you trading? And who’s going to replace THEM?

      When you say Fleury’s a “sieve”, is this why you think they lost in the playoffs? Is that what you are saying? He wasn’t good enough? Interesting take! No one else really picked that up, you know, from watching the games and all.

      Yep, you’re brilliant. This is why you’ve made it this far.

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