PITTSBURGH – When Marc-Andre Fleury takes his seat on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bench Monday night for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, it will likely mark the beginning of the end of the goaltender’s time with the organization.
With the expansion draft on the horizon, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford can only protect one of his netminders. And with Matt Murray the clear present and future in net, and Fleury holding a modified no-trade clause where he can choose 18 teams he’d welcome a move to, the first overall pick from the 2003 NHL Draft will have a new address next season.
An injury late last season derailed Fleury’s chances to help the Penguins on another Cup run and opened the door for Murray’s coming out party. This April, it was a Murray injury that allowed Fleury to guide the team once again, which he did to the Eastern Conference Final. But coming off a 1-0 shutout, he was pulled after allowing four goals in 13 minutes in Game 3.
It’s been Murray’s net ever since, and Fleury is doing his best not to really explain how he’s feeling.
“I don’t think I want to get into it really,” Fleury said. “I was having a lot of fun playing some games. It’s the coach’s decision and I have to respect that.”
A hand injury to Murray allowed Fleury to start the 2016-17 regular season as the Penguins No. 1 goalie. But when Murray returned, he regained his starting position and Fleury was back on the bench. While there’s healthy competition, it was clear at the end of last season just how much influence the veteran has had on the rookie.
“He’s been unbelievable. I don’t know where I would be without Fleury’s mentorship, his advice,” Murray said after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year. “There was a couple of times where I was struggling throughout the playoffs and even during the season and I think that’s normal for a rookie. This is my first time in the league and first time going through this.
“Of course I had some ups and some downs. He was there all the way through to help me through the downs. I’ll remember our friendship forever.”
If this is Fleury’s last ride, he’ll go out with at least two Stanley Cups and 14 years with an organization that grew up as much as he did over that time.
“Those are memories I’ll always keep; the support from the fans, the atmosphere in the building and the fun I had winning those games,” Fleury said. “Another championship would be even better, though.”
For now, the future can wait and the focus is one final championship in Pittsburgh.
“I try not to [think about it]. I try to live day-by-day, go with that,” Fleury said. “We’ll see at the end of the season.”
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