Wednesday November 5th, 2014

If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to capture another Stanley Cup during the Sidney Crosby years, they'll have to find a way to do it with Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes.

That's the nerve-wracking reality Pittsburgh fans are facing today after the team came to terms with the veteran goaltender on a four-year, $23 million contract extension.

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Starting next season, Fleury, 29, will count $5.75 million against the cap, up slightly from the $5 million he's making in the final year of his current deal.

“I believe in Marc-Andre Fleury, as the team does,” said general manager Jim Rutherford. “He’s won before and he will win again. We’re very pleased to have him signed long term.”

The deal marked an abrupt but perfectly defensible change of course for Rutherford, who over the summer made it clear that he was in no hurry to sign the pending UFA to a new deal.

While Fleury is off to a terrific start—a 7-2 record backed up by a sterling 1.89 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage—it wasn't his play over the first month that led to the flip-flop

It was the recognition that the team had no real alternative.

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Would the Pens have preferred an upgrade between the pipes? I have no doubt. But the Rangers aren't dealing Henrik Lundqvist. The Habs are holding on to Carey Price. Jonathan Quick will have grandkids before he leaves Los Angeles.

With Antti Niemi and Viktor Fasth headlining the Class of 2015 and Cam Ward and Jonas Hiller the top names in 2016, there was no help on the horizon via free agency.

And even if they could pry a top prospect like Andrei Vasilevskiy from the Lightning or Malcolm Subban from the Bruins, there's no guarantee that player would develop into an upgrade over their current keeper.

That's key because the Pens are operating with a very tight window in mind. Crosby is 27. Evgeni Malkin is 28. They remain game-breaking stars but, statistically, both are moving out of their prime years. And the chances that these two generational talents will only team up for one Cup are growing with each passing season.

Fleury's given little indication that he can change that. Sure, he's been a decent regular season goalie over his career (a .914 save percentage) but that career has been defined by a string of disastrous playoff meltdowns and a miserable .897 save percentage since the Pens last won the Cup in 2009.

Not exactly a record that inspires confidence. But this much is clear: his teammates believe in him. That's worth something.

So Rutherford doubled down on Fleury, the devil he knows, and has to hope for the best.

What other choice did he have?

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