<
>

Fleury heading back to junior

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the No. 1
pick in the NHL June draft, will return to his junior team in Cape
Breton, Nova Scotia, on Friday.

The move, announced Thursday, came several days after the
Penguins signaled they had no plans to send Fleury back to juniors
in the near future.

With Fleury coming off consecutive well-played games, and
nearing the 25-game mark that would give him the chance to collect
$3 million in bonuses, the Penguins decided to make the move.

"Certainly finances are in the back of our minds all the
time," Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said. "We can't
afford to lose a lot of money, but we just felt for a 19-year-old
kid, it's best for him to get back into his own element with his
peers and try to win some championships, which we think is important
for development."

Fleury was to back up Jean-Sebastien Aubin during Thursday
night's game at Tampa Bay, then join the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey league. This will be
Fleury's fourth season with Cape Breton; he was 17-24-6 with a 3.36
goals-against average last season.

With Pittsburgh, Fleury was 4-14-2 with a 3.64 goals-against
average, an .896 save percentage in 21 games and 11 losses in his
last 12 decisions. He was the NHL's rookie of the month in October,
when he was 2-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average.

"Marc's disappointed; it's his dream to play in the NHL,"
coach Eddie Olczyk said on his pregame radio show. "He's proven he
can play here and deserves to play here. It's a tough decision, but
it's the right decision. He has a chance to go win a Memorial Cup.
The more he plays and the more he learns, the better he's going to
be."

Owner Mario Lemieux, Patrick and Olczyk have talked for several
weeks about what to do with Fleury, and Olczyk indicated last week
he planned to give Fleury a series of starts.

Fleury subsequently played in a 5-3 loss Saturday to Colorado
and 6-2 loss Tuesday to Tampa Bay, responding with his two best
games since October. Four of the Lightning's six goals came on the
power play or with Fleury off the ice.

Before those games, Fleury allowed 10 goals over five periods in
his first two NHL games after returning from his monthlong stay
with the Canadian world junior team, a 4-2 loss to Minnesota and a
6-5 loss to Ottawa.

Those two poor starts came after he inadvertently allowed the
winning goal to score in Canada's 4-3 championship game loss to the
United States. His clearing pass struck a teammate and bounced into
his own net during a decisive three goal U.S. third period.

Despite going back to juniors, Fleury still could earn the
contract bonuses he missed out on this season. His bonuses are
capped at $8 million during the $3.72 million, three-year contract
he signed last year.

To have earned the extra $3 million this season, Fleury needed
to reach two of six standards: a 3.25 goals-against average, .890
save percentage, 20 victories, four shutouts, 1,800 minutes played
and a top-five finish in the Calder Trophy voting.

Except for an .896 save percentage, he was below all of those
with a a 3.64 GAA, four victories, one shutout and 1,154 minutes
played. The Calder Trophy voting has yet to take place.

"He's exceeded our expectations," Patrick said. "He's going
to be a great goaltender for a long time. We thought it was best
for him to back to his junior club, considering our circumstances,
and put him in a situation where he's got a chance to win some
championships."