And, yet, Fleury's future with the Pens remains very much in doubt. With a single year left on his deal, the emergence of a new regime on the horizon and a tumultuous summer bearing down like a freight train, there's no telling how much longer the affable but oft-maligned goaltender will suit up for a franchise that made him the first overall pick of the 2003 draft.
So, the question becomes, once that new regime takes over, will the Penguins hold on to Fleury?
The Grass isn't Always GreenerOne could make the argument that Fleury isn't worth his cap hit, that the goaltender's numbers don't warrant his salary. And, for a cap strapped team like the Penguins, it might be prudent to pursue an alternative in net.
To an extent, that's fair; Fleury's numbers are rather pedestrian. He ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of GAA and in the bottom third of the league with regards to save percentage. Not great stats for a guy pulling in $5 million a year.
Look, however, at the (potentially) available goaltenders available this summer. Sure, some intriguing options could be out there but, with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott recently locked up, the group has already started to dwindle.
So, who really stands out as a significant upgrade? Who's going to accomplish what Fleury couldn't recreate in the last five years?
Ryan Miller? The Blues' deadline acquisition who was supposed to complete the puzzle and deliver St. Louis the franchise's first Stanley Cup? Well, after the star goaltender wilted in the first round and helped squander a 2-0 series lead, can the Penguins legitimately place their faith in Miller as a significant upgrade? If so, can they even afford him?
What if the Pens just want to save some money? After all, there are those that believe almost anyone could win playing behind these skilled Penguins.
It could prove an exciting experiment. Ditch Fleury and just roll the dice on an Al Montoya, a James Reimer or an aging Tim Thomas. In reality, several cheaper options could replace Fleury but would such an acquisition allow the Pens to look in the mirror and really consider themselves better equipped to capture the club's elusive fourth championship?
After all, Fleury might not be perfect but he does provide the Pens with their best shot to hoist another Cup in the immediate future. While his numbers don't often sparkle, time and time again, Fleury displays a flair for making the kind of save the Pens need to either stay in a game or maintain a lead.
No, Fleury hasn't helped the Penguins achieve their ultimate goal since 2009. But, only four individuals have successfully backstopped a team to a championship since then.
Ultimately, giving up on Fleury now won't likely get us any closer to adding a fifth name to that list.
The Flower Belongs in PittsburghIn Fleury, the Penguins employ a nearly automatic goaltender when it comes to producing 35-40 win efforts. In fact, outside of an injury-shortened 2007-'08 campaign and the abbreviated 2012-'13 season, Fleury registered at least 35 wins in each of the last eight years. And, while regular season wins don't capture Stanley Cups, it's hard to ignore the consistency Fleury displays on a yearly basis.
Of course, with ownership deeming the status quo no longer acceptable, regular season success alone won't keep Fleury in Pittsburgh. Even more damning, The Flower has frequently found himself battered by a storm of disappointment swirling around a club struggling to live up to expectations. Since the '09 Cup run, multiple postseason meltdowns have threatened Fleury's tenure with the Pens and, with the arrival of new management, that threat could transform into reality.
But after spending some well-documented time with a psychologist and working with new goalie coach, Mike Bales, Fleury rebounded from the temporary loss of his job in the 2013 playoffs.
Playing a more sound, controlled game, Fleury enjoyed another spectacular regular season. Clearly, that was nothing new but it was his performance in the playoffs that indicated The Flower may have finally exorcised some demons.
Were his numbers great? Perhaps, not. What's more, he admittedly surrendered some soft goals and suffered an in-game meltdown that cost Pittsburgh a game against Columbus.
But Fleury performed as consistently as any Penguin in the 2014 postseason, giving the club an opportunity to win virtually every night. His squad may have fallen too early in the eyes of some but it's tough to pin this latest postseason disappointment on Fleury.
After another embarrassing end to their season, the Penguins find themselves in store for a change, in need of a shake-up. With the club facing depth issues up front and potential (short-term) issues along the blue line, though, Fleury represents the least of Pittsburgh's problems and, despite the emergence of several potential successors, still provides the Penguins with their best chance to win now.