There are two ways to look at the situation Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is in.
At 28 and with nine NHL seasons to his credit, the man from Quebec should be right in the middle of his prime years. Fleury should be flush with optimism about the future, as he has two seasons left on his contract with the Penguins, one of the league’s perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
Instead, everything surrounding Fleury’s professional life is up in the air. Despite putting together four straight average-to-above average regular seasons, his last four playoff performances have spanned from so-so (2010, 2011) to disastrous (2012, 2013). For two years running, Fleury has been on the bench when the Penguins were eliminated, not the ideal spot for a $5 million-a-year goaltender.
On top of all that, Fleury was left off Hockey Canada’s Olympic orientation camp roster, with such non-luminaries as Mike Smith and Braden Holtby among the five goalies included. Needless to say, it would be easy for Fleury to dwell on the negatives as he contemplates his status with the Penguins – and as a starting NHL goalie.
Or, Fleury could choose to consider the alternative: he has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
That approach would get the approval of the sports psychologist Fleury is seeing this summer. According to Penguins general manager Ray Shero, former troubled winger Matt Cooke went through a similar process to change his headhunting ways. While Fleury’s problems are more self-inflicted than Cooke’s, a professional exploration of the psyche can only benefit the beleaguered netminder.
Since Fleury’s postseason failings have been more about handling pressure than technical issues, choosing to look at his predicament as an opportunity could do him a world of good.
Admittedly, Fleury could put together his best regular season ever in 2013-14 and it still won’t mean a thing once the playoffs start. That’s a difficult place to be in. On the other hand, operating free of expectations can be liberating. It would be wise for Fleury to change his perspective to best suit his potential performance.
Sometimes fooling oneself is the best option. Maybe, with the help of psychology, Fleury can play worry-free between the pipes next season and carry those positive thought patterns into the playoffs.
If he doesn’t, Tomas Vokoun has shown that he is more than capable of handling the big situations for the Penguins, at least for the near future. Fleury can choose to view that as a burden, or as a fresh chance to be the best goalie he can be.
As I’m sure his psychologist has told him by now, it’s all in his head.
The Penguins announced Wednesday afternoon that they’ve come to terms with 24-year-old defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, thus avoiding salary arbitration. The 6-foot-4 Bortuzzo will earn $600,000 per year over the next two seasons.
The Pens now have eight blueliners under contract. Bortuzzo’s signing puts Pittsburgh a little more than $1 million over the 2013-14 salary cap, opening the possibility of further roster moves to get under it by opening night in early October.