Penguins' New Regime Makes 1st Massive Mistake with Marc-Andre Fleury Extension

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterNovember 5, 2014

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 22:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins warms up during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Consol Energy Center on October 22, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Let's start the insanity.

On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced a four-year, $23 million contract extension for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, a deal that has a salary-cap hit of $5.75 million through the 2018-19 season. Fleury is 29 years old and will be 34 years old when the new contract expires.

You may notice that beautiful infographic is lacking a category for "save percentage," in either the regular season or postseason, so allow me to fill in those blanks for you so as to better illustrate the insanity of the Penguins.

Fleury's career save percentage since entering the league in 2003-04 is .911; out of 20 goaltenders to play in 350 games over that time, Fleury ranks 14th. Two of the goaltenders behind Fleury on that list, Jose Theodore and Nikolai Khabibulin, are no longer active in the NHL.

Since winning a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009, Fleury has been slightly better, delivering a .914 save percentage in 305 games. But relative to his fellow goaltenders who appeared in at least 200 games, Fleury ranks 19th out of 26 netminders, percentage points behind the unemployed Ilya Bryzgalov. 

The best thing anyone can say about Fleury at this stage of his career is that he has been average at his profession during the regular season for a very long time, but really, he's been below average in recent years, even with his .931 save percentage in 12 games this season.

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The real insanity, where it appears in its truest form, is the decision to invest four more years in Fleury despite his comically bad postseasons since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. It's as if general manager Jim Rutherford is still bitter about the Penguins knocking his Hurricanes out of the conference finals on the way to that Stanley Cup and is now actively sabotaging the primes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Since 2010, Fleury has a postseason save percentage of .891, which ranks 21st out of 23 eligible goaltenders, which again includes nearly identical numbers from Bryzgalov. Fleury's year-by-year postseason save percentages since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 are: .891/.899/.834/.883/.915. 

Rutherford, who you have to think is aware of all these numbers, saw this and basically said: "I'm locking this guy up in October for the next four years because we can win a championship with him."

But you can't. Fleury has shown this for five years. He will be 30 years old at the end of his month. His prime is gone. A decline is coming.

Fleury's $5.75 million cap hit for next season is 13th among goaltenders. Remember how Fleury is basically the equal of Bryzgalov the past five seasons? Well, that $5.75 million cap hit has him only a few dollars behind Jonathan Quick, Kari Lehtonen, Semyon Varlamov and Ben Bishop.

Bryzgalov's cap hit for next season is $0 because he doesn't have a contract.

The argument for signing Fleury is the lack of goaltenders who will be available in free agency in July. CapGeek has the complete list, and it's a short one, but it includes Antti Niemi, Michael Neuvirth, Karri Ramo and Jonas Gustavsson. It's not great.

Then again, neither is Fleury. 

But of those four goaltenders, two of them (Niemi and Neuvirth) have better career save percentages than Fleury. It's possible Niemi never reaches free agency and the San Jose Sharks re-sign him, but it's interesting that a fellow Stanley Cup contender (in theory) isn't rushing to sign a much better goaltender to an extension during the season.

Any analysis of a contract like this eventually reaches this point: But how does he do in the playoffs?

That's usually the trump card for any player getting a new contract, as the NHL tends to put a premium on so-so regular-season players who are outstanding in the postseason. Ask Bryan Bickell or Ville Leino about it. No one is saying that's the way to conduct business, but that's usually what happens when someone signs a dubious, expensive deal.

That's clearly not the case here; hence the insanity.

That's why the Penguins needed to do something else after this season, anything else, or at the very least wait and see what Fleury does in the 2015 playoffs before committing to four more years of postseason disaster. 

When something repeatedly isn't working, the onus is on someone, anyone, to attempt something different to make it work.

The only argument for keeping Fleury on a Cup contender is that average goaltending over two months can be good enough to win that Cup. The Kings proved that in June when they won their second Cup in three years with Quick posting a .912 save percentage, one that was lower than Fleury's .915 last spring.

But breaking news: The Penguins aren't the Kings.

Also, to win a Cup with that type of goaltending is quite the rarity. 

The save percentages of the goaltenders who won Stanley Cups between 2010 and 2013 are: .910/.940/.946/.932. The one that sticks out like a sore thumb is the .910, which was posted by the aforementioned Niemi for the Blackhawks in 2010.

Surely Fleury, you're saying to yourself, can post a .910 over two months of the playoffs. Sure he can. There are two big differences to consider, though:

• Niemi's cap hit was $826,875 that season, as he was a rookie, imported backup behind Cristobal Huet for most of the season.

• The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks were a ridiculously loaded team from top to bottom with superstars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on bargain contracts, a team so deep that it had a third line of Andrew Ladd, Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien roaming between forward and defense for a mere $3 million.

The 2010 Blackhawks and, to an extent, the 2014 Kings were able to win championships with below-average goaltending because their 12 forwards and six defensemen were so incredible that all that was required was average goaltending. In the Blackhawks' case specifically, they were able to do it with cheap goaltending.

The Penguins just aren't those teams.

If there was one thing that usurped the Penguins in the playoffs the past two seasons besides Fleury, it was forward depth, a problem that is largely the fault of poor drafting by recently fired general manager Ray Shero. Despite an attempt to address those issues this offseason, the Penguins are still a top-heavy team when it comes to scoring.

The Penguins' top-six forwards in terms of minutes have accounted for 34 of the team's 42 goals from forwards. 

If there's one area where the Penguins look deep, it's on defense, as they have a few young blueliners who seem ready to contribute in the near future. But in Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff, who will be 34 and 33 at the start of next season, respectively, the Penguins have two key UFAs they must re-sign for next season. 

With $54.5 million already dedicated to the cap for next season, keeping just one of those defensemen will have the Penguins at about $60 million with only 14 players signed. Even with an estimated $75 million salary cap for next season, that's not enough money to address the depth issues that are plaguing this team.

Rutherford's play here was to mimic that 2010 Blackhawks team as closely as possible. He instead chose to hitch his wagon to a goaltender that hasn't been anywhere near good enough when it matters most for five straight seasons.

Thomas Greiss, who is currently backing up Fleury on a one-year, $1 million contract, has a career save percentage of .915. Why not try him instead? Because of Fleury's track record? 

In related affairs, the rapidly declining Cam Ward has one more season after this one remaining on a six-year, $37.8 million contract with the Hurricanes. Rutherford signed Ward to that contract in September 2009, one full season before Ward was headed for restricted free agency, nine months before Niemi and the Blackhawks would hoist the Stanley Cup.

It seems that no one is learning from their mistakes.

Insanity.

All statistics via NHL.com, and all salary-cap figures via CapGeek.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.