Right about now, there’s not much movement in the local media when it comes to hockey in Pittsburgh. All the town is abuzz with Steelers training camp stories and the typical “August” mindset. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be some exciting speculation on what will quickly become the hottest story in Pittsburgh once the hockey season is in full swing. That question will become simple: Where will Marc-Andre Fleury play in 2017-18?
Just spoke with Stars GM Jim Nill. In case anyone is wondering: all quiet on the goalie trade front. Sticking with Niemi/Lehtonen for now.
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) August 11, 2016
In what I’d consider the most perplexing goaltending situation in the NHL, we have the Dallas Stars general manager, Jim Nill, confirming that both Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen will return to the team. A quick trip over to nhl.com’s stats link shows that Dallas had the 11th worst goals against per game (2.78). While that stat may not seem too damning, playoff teams that merely sniffed the playoffs didn’t rank any lower than 14th overall in the league (Detroit at 2.67 GA/GP).
Another stat that shows that goaltending should be priority No. 1 on the Stars’ list of future improvements is the fact that they were best in the league when it came to goals for per game (3.23). Dallas absolutely dominated that category with Washington coming in second over a full tenth of a point below the Stars.
Yes, Dallas might be able to out-gun the majority of the league regularly. Wouldn’t it be something if a competent goaltender was able to push them over the top? Dallas has a trade history with Pittsburgh (James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski) and they’re in the right conference. If the cap hit can be balanced, this match makes sense for everyone involved.
St. Louis is another interesting potential destination for Fleury. Currently, the Blues are trotting out young-but-developing netminder Jake Allen, who just signed a $17.4 million contract with an average annual value of about $4.35 million. That’s not as much as Fleury’s $5 million-plus, but is probably befitting a goalie who had a very up-and-down playoff series against the San Jose Sharks.
According to GeneralFanager, the Blues have just over $4 million from which to draw for the remainder of the 2016-17 season. They’d have to get fancy (if at all possible) to pull something like this off. If one team knows what it means to roster a bunch of backup-grade goaltenders, it’s St. Louis. Perhaps this season is the season they finally find their second coming of Curtis Joseph.
It Could Happen…
The last scenario is simple: If Fleury is still on the roster after the trade deadline has passed, it means that he’s reestablished himself as the No. 1 goalie, without any inkling of doubt. If it plays out like this, both management and the head coach need to embrace the potential notion that this is Fleury’s team both now and for the near future.
Perhaps Tristan Jarry will also have ascended by this time, making the decision a bit more transparent. Either way, for this to happen, we’re going to need to see the best Fleury that we’ve ever laid eyes on. He will have to be golden. He will have to be considered the top candidate for the Vezina. He has to go to work.
The fact remains that the Penguins’ roster will undergo some wild changes in the short future. However this plays out, Fleury has galvanized himself as the franchise’s all-time goalie. He’s part of Penguins history. He has two Stanley Cups and last season was the best he’s played in his entire career. He’s still got a lot going for him, and that’s something no trade or expansion draft can take away from him or the Penguins. It’s an exciting storyline, no matter where he ends up.