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Breaking Bad: How the Penguins Correct Choice Ended in Disaster

The Penguins made the right call back in 2016, but it’s one they should reverse to change the course of the franchise.

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury by Michael Miller is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Breaking Bad: How the Penguins Correct Choice Ended in Disaster

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Here we are again. The Pittsburgh Penguins are out of the playoffs in the first round for the third year in a row. This Penguins team, by the numbers, was their third-best since 2010, the other two having been the 2015-16 and 2016-17 teams, both of which won the Stanley Cup. The kick to the groin for Penguins fans is that this year was 100% done in by goaltending, or a lack thereof.

How it all broke bad for the Penguins between the pipes

For that, we run it back to 2016 and 2017 and those Stanley Cup teams when long-time netminder Marc Andre Fleury went down with a concussion just prior to the start of the postseason. That moment in time would alter the Pittsburgh Penguins timeline in two very drastically different ways: fantastic in the short term, detrimental in the long term. In the short term, Matt Murray would step in and take the reins from the Flower and lead the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. This would lead to the Penguins keeping the younger, cheaper Murray over their pricer veteran. A move that I will tout as 200% the right move. That’s not to say it didn’t carry with it grave consequences.

The Curse of the Flower

Marc-Andre Fleury loves the city of Pittsburgh and the Penguins organization. Hell, if it were up to him, he would have played his whole career in the Steel City. Certainly, I’m not suggesting that he put a curse on the franchise like some bar owner that couldn’t bring his livestock to a ballgame. But like the Curse of the Bambino and the Billy Goat here we are suffering all the same. Hopefully, not for as long.

Marc-Andre Fleury tears up in his return to Pittsburgh

Like many of the fans in Pittsburgh, Fleury understood the business of it. That with an expansion draft looming and a younger, hotter keeper on the heels of back-to-back cup wins, Fleury’s days in Pittsburgh were at an end. No one really liked it, and we all wished it didn’t have to happen, but it did. And in the years since we all wish it really, REALLY didn’t have to happen.

Let’s get a breakdown of the numbers first. Since Fleury’s departure, the Penguins have gone 1-4 in playoff series with 2 different keepers. Matt Murray (traded October 2020) and Tristan Jarry. The wheels fell off of Matt Murray and the Penguins decided to roll with another top prospect Tristan Jarry in 2021. In the first round of this year’s playoffs, Jarry would post the worst numbers of any playoff goaltender since 2014. Adding insult to injury, Jarry finished things off by handing the puck right to Islander Josh Bailey for the Game 5 double OT game-winner.

Over in Vegas Marc-Andre Fleury has won 22 playoff games with the Golden Knights, made 1 Stanley Cup Finals appearance, is now 3rd on the NHL careers win list, and is playing Vezina-winning caliber hockey. The Penguins have won 9 total playoff games and 1 series in that same time.

Again incentivizing Vegas to take Fleury in the 2017 Expansion Draft was 110% the right move. But ain’t that something?

What Happens Now?

Well, lucky for you, I have what no other Armchair GM has. A plan! I’m not going to beat around the bush either. The idea is to trade for Marc-Andre Fleury. But, he’s playing some of the best hockey in his career and why would Vegas yadda yadda? I know. But last year the Golden Knights named Robin Lehner the starter in the playoffs. In October, they signed Lehner to a 5-year, $25 million contract, and this season shared starts with Fleury, until Fleury was named the Game 1 starter vs Minnesota. In fact, it seems as if the Penguins kicked the tires on reacquiring Fleury just earlier this year. Of course, this was done before Ron Hextall was brought on board as GM.

My point is that having two starting-caliber netminders as Vegas has now is all fine and good. It’s how the Penguins rolled in 2017. The difference with Vegas’ situation is that they are on the hook for $5 million for Lehner and $7 million for Fleury. That’s $12 million for two keepers. While they could afford it, with the expansion draft set again for 2021, they may look to deal one of their goalies and get something of value, rather than lose one to the Kraken for nothing.

A new goaltender in Pittsburgh is likely

The Penguins can’t start 2021/22 season with Jarry as their starter. Perhaps he would do well to sit behind a vet in a backup role or the Penguins move on entirely. I’m not against “mortgaging the future” dealing away prospects or picks. After the Crosby/Malkin era, it’s going to be rough going for a bit. If they can get someone like Petr Mrazek, or James Remier, another goalie tandem that could be broken up in the off-season then I’m down with that too. But reacquiring Marc-Andre Fleury is a very real option. He has stated that he wishes to end his career where it began. And while it’s still a long shot. How often do you literally get a “do-over” in sports? Pittsburgh’s fans have been through the wringer this year. We need something to get excited about.

Here’s what happened in the most recent Steelers game…

Here’s what happened in the most recent Penguins game…

And here is what happened in one of the most recent Pirates games…

We need something good, something decent, something pure.

Christian is husband, father and video editor working in New York City. Originally from the Greater Pittsburgh Area he is a life long fan The Steelers, Penguins and Pirates as well as Professional Wrestling.

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