As the Pittsburgh Penguins embark on an offseason that figures to include significant changes, coach Dan Bylsma insists the goalie position won’t be one of them.
Bylsma called Marc-Andre Fleury “a franchise goalie . . . this franchise’s goalie” on Sunday, one month to the day after Tomas Vokoun made his Penguins postseason debut in place of Fleury as Pittsburgh’s starter.
Fleury started every playoff game the Penguins played since being taken with the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2003 until Bylsma opted to go with Vokoun for Game 5 of a first-round series against the New York Islanders. Fleury played just 43 minutes the remainder of the playoffs, fueling speculation he might be traded or bought out of his contract this summer.
Not so, Bylsma said Sunday.
“Marc-Andre Fleury, I’m not sure the definition of ‘franchise goalie,’ [but] he’s our No. 1 goalie,” Bylsma said two days after the Boston Bruins completed a stunning sweep of the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals. “He’s a No. 1 goalie for this franchise and he will be going forward.”
The 28-year-old Fleury has two years and $10 million left on a seven-year contract extension he signed with Pittsburgh after leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008.
He backstopped them to the Stanley Cup title a year later, going a combined 30-14 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .920 save percentage over those two postseason runs.
Since, though, it’s been a much different story. Over the past four postseasons, Fleury is 14-16. Vokoun turns 37 in three weeks, so he was never going to be the long-term answer in net for the Penguins. Still, there has been widespread speculation general manager Ray Shero would trade Fleury this offseason to allow Vokoun to be the unquestioned No. 1 in 2013-14.
Another option is a compliance buyout, a mechanism under the new collective bargaining agreement that allows teams to pay a player two-thirds of his remaining salary to remove his salary-cap hit from the ledger. Teams are given up to two of these buyouts to use either this offseason or in 2014.
Pittsburgh’s roster includes seven unrestricted and three restricted free agents, plus 12 players about to enter the final year of their contracts. Only five players are signed beyond next season.
“Management and the coaching staff, they’re going to have to make some decisions, we all know that,” defenseman Kris Letang said.
Letang said “of course” he wants to sign an extension with the team that drafted him in 2005 and with whom he blossomed into a Norris Trophy finalist this season. But an inconsistent postseason has left his future in doubt. He and reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin each are entering the final year of contracts and are due extensions.
“I want to be here,” Letang said. “From hearing all the other players, this is the best organization in the league.”
Winger Pascal Dupuis acknowledged he took a so-called “hometown discount” to stay with the Penguins the previous time his contract expired. A pending unrestricted free agent, he said Sunday he wants to stay.
Trade-deadline “rental player” acquisitions Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla and Douglas Murray also expressed a desire to re-sign with Pittsburgh, as did restricted free-agent-to-be winger Tyler Kennedy.
“For a guy who hadn’t been to the playoffs in five years to get back there, and knowing that the players they have coming back next year they’re probably going to have the same opportunity they had this year,” Morrow said, “they’re going to be a heck of a team for a long time.”
Bylsma said Sunday he has not yet discussed his future with Shero. Bylsma led the Penguins to the best record in the Eastern Conference this season (36-12), but has been at the helm during playoff losses to lower-seeded teams four consecutive years since guiding the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Captain Sidney Crosby was one of many players supporting the coach, saying “we were well-prepared” and “we appreciate everything our coaches do for us.”