By Wes Herrmann (@Wes_Herrm)
Philadelphia Flyers fans hate the Pittsburgh Penguins more than anything. Watching them win the Stanley Cup again was agonizing for each and every Philadelphia fan. The team has undeniable talent in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, but the youngsters have even stepped up for the Pens including Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel and goalie Matt Murray.
Murray’s rise to prominence in net presents issues for Pittsburgh, though. The team can only protect one goalie in the upcoming expansion draft and veteran Marc-Andre Fleury has a no movement clause, but has agreed to waive it according to Renaud Lavoie.
Fleury has long been a thorn in the Flyers’ side. He backstopped the Penguins to playoff wins over Philly in the 2008 and ’09 playoffs and while he’s slowed down lately, the Quebec native possesses a 27-17-2 career record against the Flyers.
And he’s the perfect goalie for the Flyers.
That comment will probably cause a lot of unrest among Philadelphia fans. Fleury is as true a Penguin as much as Crosby and Malkin are. He’s been in Pittsburgh his entire career, which has spanned parts of 13 seasons.
But with general manager Ron Hextall saying he’d like to bring in a veteran netminder so the Flyers don’t have a Michal Neuvirth/Anthony Stolarz platoon, Fleury shoots right up the Philadelphia wish list.
First off, most of Fleury’s struggles lately are overblown. Yes, Murray took over the starting role from him, but Fluery still had an 18-10-1 record this season before leading the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals. The number one overall pick in 2003 had one bad game in that series and has been riding the bench since.
In the 2015-16 season, Fleury posted a .921 save percentage and 2.29 goals-against-average. The save percentage deflated and the GAA inflated this past year to .909 and 3.02, respectively, but that could have been due to not playing in his regular starting role. His save percentage improved to .924 in the playoffs when he played about every other night.
Fleury is better than any upcoming goalie UFA and his contract would fit nicely within the Flyers’ future plans. He can easily play 60 games a year, much more than he played with Murray and the Penguins this past year.
The netminder also has just two years left on his deal at a $5.75 million cap hit. A tad pricey, but Philly will have some cap space to soak it in.
The two years is really the attractive part, though. Hextall doesn’t want to sign a goalie to a long-term deal with all of his prospects, including Stolarz, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom, on the way. Two years gives those prospects a couple more years to develop with little pressure.
But the difficult part hasn’t been figured out yet. The Flyers and Penguins don’t make trades with each other. The last player-for-player deal between the teams was Kent Manderville for Billy Tibbets in 2002. However, there is a way Fleury could come to Philly without a Pittsburgh connection.
If the Vegas Golden Knights are smart, they will select Fleury for his trade value alone when he’s left unprotected in the expansion draft. The Flyers could then work out a deal with the Knights to acquire Fleury, who could still be traded to another team.
The expansion draft could actually help things in that regard. Philadelphia could leave Michael Raffl exposed, a 15-goal winger, and then send Vegas Scott Laughton and Neuvirth to the team in a deal — or some iteration of that trade and exposure. That gives the Golden Knights a middle-six winger, a player with former first-round potential and a strong backup that can push whoever is the starter in Vegas.
But things aren’t completely solved then. Although Fleury would waive his NMC for the expansion draft, he would still hold onto it afterwards. It seems completely feasible that he wouldn’t be interested in a move to Philly after battling with the Flyers for over a decade.
The Flyers, themselves, aren’t in a position to contend for a Stanley Cup over the next two seasons. Logically, Hextall wouldn’t want to spend too many future assets on acquiring a stop-gap goalie — no matter how perfectly Fleury fits in to the Flyers’ current situation.
Laughton, though only 23-years-old, has become expandable due to Mike Vecchione and the Flyers winning the second overall pick in this year’s draft. But adding more to him may scare Hextall off. Even a second-round pick for two years of Fleury may be too much. And Fleury figures to be a hot commodity with teams like the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets also looking for a starting goalie, which could start a bidding war.
There’s a way that the Flyers can acquire Fleury without going through the Penguins. That hurdle can at least be jumped. But there are several more waiting for the Flyers once that one’s cleared.
Photo Credit: NHL.com