Rutherford not ruling out Fleury staying with Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford joins Hockey Central at Noon to talk about winning the Stanley Cup and more.

LAS VEGAS – In Jim Rutherford’s eyes, the Pittsburgh Penguins wouldn’t have won the Stanley Cup without having goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray on the roster.

That’s why he won’t rule out the possibility that both will remain in Pittsburgh at the start of next season.

“We have a lot of respect for both of our goalies,” Rutherford said Tuesday. “Murray came in and took us to the Cup through the playoffs, (third-stringer Jeff) Zatkoff played a key game early on against the Rangers and Fleury got us there. I mean we didn’t play that well the first two months and without him we’re not even in the playoffs.

“All of our goalies contributed, Fleury’s a franchise goalie. You don’t find any better team guy or any better guy than him.”

With an expansion draft looming next June, there has been speculation that Fleury will be moved at some point this summer. Teams will only be able to protect one goaltender in that process and Fleury would be the guy in Pittsburgh because of a no-movement clause in his contract.

Of course, that would leave the 22-year-old Murray unprotected for the Las Vegas team – something Rutherford obviously won’t let happen.

In the past, teams have gotten around this kind of scenario by sending picks or prospects to the expansion team as part of an arrangement not to select a specific player. That could be an option available to the Penguins.

What is clear is that Rutherford is approaching the situation with an open mind and doesn’t seem to be in any hurry.

“I want to see what the guidelines are for expansion – of course that changes the dynamic for every team,” he said. “We might have to make a decision at some point. I’m not aggressively doing anything. But if we start the season with both of those guys we’ll certainly have our goaltending covered.”

Should Fleury be made available, the Calgary Flames are the most logical landing spot for him. They badly need a No. 1 goaltender and are believed to have reached out to the Penguins already to express interest.

The 31-year-old has spent his entire career in Pittsburgh and was usurped by Murray for that team’s starting role after suffering a concussion on March 31. The rookie won 15 post-season games during the run to a championship while Fleury watched from the bench.

The biggest argument for keeping both is that next year’s schedule will be extremely condensed – the season starts later than usual because of the World Cup and each team has a bye week built in – and Murray has still only appeared in 34 NHL games total.

“We think very highly of him,” said Rutherford. “We believe he’s going to have a very good career, and to this point his pro career’s been great, but he hasn’t played a full season yet and we are a little bit cautious of that.”

Plus Fleury is arguably the most popular member of the Penguins dressing room.

Since lifting the Stanley Cup in San Jose on June 12, Rutherford has sat down with Fleury to discuss his situation. He came away from that meeting believing the goaltender is open to remaining in Pittsburgh.

“He’s handled himself so well,” said Rutherford. “When you’re talking about a 50-50 split (of playing time between Fleury and Murray), I think guys can buy into that. But if you get into the season and one guy takes over (from) the other, does that work for both guys? I don’t know.

“So there’s a lot of things to think about right now.”

There hasn’t exactly been a lot of time to contemplate the future.

The Penguins are only a little more than a week removed the culmination of a two-month playoff run and will be thrown right into the entry draft this weekend and the opening of free agency shortly after.

As for Rutherford, he was looking forward to a round of golf on Tuesday afternoon. He’s up for the GM of the year award on Wednesday against Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals and Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars, but wasn’t too concerned about how that will turn out.

“I got the prize I wanted,” said Rutherford. “I’m not really thinking about this.”