Potential bonus looms in cash-poor Pittsburgh
The Penguins will lend goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to the Canadian national junior team for the world championships, general manager Craig Patrick announced Sunday night during the broadcast of Pittsburgh's game at Calgary.
Fleury was the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft and has been anything but a disappointment. He is 4-9-2 with a 3.15 goals-against average for the struggling team.
Fleury, expected to make his 15th NHL start Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks can become eligible for lucrative bonus money once he starts for the 25th time. He could earn an additional $4 million on top of his $1.24 million base salary.
"I'm not too worried about the business side," Fleury said. "I just want to play and enjoy my time here because it's like a dream."
Fleury will receive $400,000 if he reaches any of the following: 20 victories; a 3.25 goals-against average; an .890 save percentage; 1,800 minutes played; four shutouts over the term of the contract; and a top-three finish in rookie of the year balloting.
If Fleury achieves two of those incentives this season, he would get a $4 million bonus. He would need to reach three in his second year and four in the third to get the $4 million bonus in those seasons.
Pittsburgh recently revealed that it expects to lose $5 million this season, and the team has made no secret of its reluctance to add to the deficit by paying the goaltender his bonus.
"We think it's best for Marc-Andre and ourselves long-term," Patrick said.
Patrick said on Sunday that money wasn't a factor in the decision to send Fleury away. He will receive his NHL salary during his time with the Canadian team.
"It really was not a tough decision at all," he said. "We've always encouraged our players to be involved with the world championships and the Olympics."
Letting Fleury play for Canada in the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 event in Helsinki, Finland, would give the team's management another month to figure out what to do with him, but Patrick vowed that Fleury will return to the NHL club when the tournament is over.
"They just told me today that I'm going there and to work hard and try to win some games there," Fleury said. "For sure, it is a great tournament, just got to learn from it."
Patrick said that Fleury would report to Kitchener, Ontario, on Thursday for the start of the junior team's training camp. He led Canada to a silver medal last year, earning a 1.57 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
"He's expected to be the man," Patrick said. "He's going to benefit an awful lot from the pressure."
Fleury has indicated a strong preference for staying in the NHL, so strong that he has talked about forgoing the bonus to stay on the Pens' roster.
"So far, there wasn't any talk about what they will do with me," Fleury told Canadian Press last week. "I don't know, so ... maybe when they will do something, we'll see if we can talk [about the bonus]. "Because I don't want to leave. I just want to stay here. We'll see what will happen."
Also last week, Penguins president Ken Sawyer said: "We have to make tough decisions along the way, which we have. I don't know if Fleury's going to spend the rest of the season here or go back to juniors. We haven't made that decision yet. But, in part, it will be a financial issue."
The NHL Players Association likely would oppose the renegotiation of Fleury's contract.
"He's made it pretty clear through the coach that he wanted to stay with us, but sometimes other people make decisions that will benefit you the most," Patrick said. "I think he'll look back on this three months from now, six months from now, two years from now, and agree this was the best thing for him to do."
Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.