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Mark Madden

Mark Madden: Vegas' amazing story or not, Penguins made right call on Marc-Andre Fleury

| Tuesday, May 22, 2018, 6:39 p.m.
WINNIPEG, MB - MAY 20:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights reacts after defeating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals to advance to the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Bell MTS Place on May 20, 2018 in Winnipeg, Canada.  (Photo by Jason Halstead/Getty Images)
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WINNIPEG, MB - MAY 20: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights reacts after defeating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals to advance to the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Bell MTS Place on May 20, 2018 in Winnipeg, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead/Getty Images)
Vegas Golden Knights players congratulate goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) after defeating the Winnipeg Jets in NHL Western Conference final.
Vegas Golden Knights players congratulate goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) after defeating the Winnipeg Jets in NHL Western Conference final.

Vegas is in the Stanley Cup Final.

It's an amazing story and won't be repeated.

The NHL's next expansion franchise could put together a roster using the same rules, and likely will. Why would that team settle for anything less?

But the NHL's GMs won't make the same mistakes. For example, Florida gave Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas upon condition of also taking Reilly Smith, thereby assembling two-thirds of the Golden Knights' first line. That trio was completed when Columbus gave Vegas a first- and second-round pick to take William Karlsson, who promptly netted 43 goals.

Columbus also foisted the contract of injured forward David Clarkson onto the Golden Knights. Clarkson currently coaches high school hockey in Ohio. He will not receive a Stanley Cup ring if Vegas wins.

Or perhaps he will. Heck, the Penguins give 'em to Zamboni drivers.

General manager George McPhee did a brilliant job of assembly. Gerard Gallant should not only win coach of the year, the award should be named after him.

But the main reason the Vegas story is a one-off is because of Marc-Andre Fleury. Not many Hall-of-Fame goaltenders still in some stage of their prime are available in expansion drafts.

Fleury posted career bests in goals-against average and save percentage during the regular season. He leads the playoffs in all significant goaltending categories, and is the clear front-runner for postseason MVP. Barring his utter collapse in the Final, Fleury gets the Conn Smythe Trophy win or lose.

Fleury was very likely to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame had his career played out via the trajectory established.

This season with Vegas has made Fleury an absolute lock.

But despite relentless whining and moaning by a fraction of Yinzer Nation, the Penguins still did right by keeping Matt Murray instead of Fleury. Not one GM in NHL history would have done anything different.

That's not disputing Fleury is having a better season than Murray. Numbers don't lie, and Fleury is in the Stanley Cup Final.

But Fleury is 33, Murray 23. Murray makes $2 million less per season. Murray won the last two Stanley Cups — though Fleury contributed mightily in 2017, winning nine playoff games to Murray's seven.

The expansion draft meant that keeping both was not an option. Anyway, Fleury wanted to be the starting goaltender somewhere. For Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, it was an easy decision.

Penguins fans mostly backed it. Until Fleury started standing on his head this spring, that is. Then history got revised.

People say how much Fleury helped "in the room." Without having ever been in the room. People say Fleury is a great guy. He is, but most haven't met him. A good portion of Pittsburgh tried to run Fleury out of town from 2012-15, after Fleury stumbled in the '12 and '13 playoffs. (But Fleury was never booed at home. The paying customers always treated him reverentially.)

Fleury did well in the '14 and '15 playoffs, and during the '15-16 season when he posted his best goals-against average and save percentage as a Penguin.

But, to critics, Fleury wasn't allowed to redeem himself until he left. Now he's gone, and they want him back. Fleury's brilliance has made Murray a scapegoat. Murray's perceived weaknesses are picked at like scabs. Murray winning two Stanley Cups before his rookie season was complete is ignored.

That's stupid. But that's social media.

I'm rooting for Fleury, but not because it proves the Penguins wrong. Keeping the goaltender that put rings on your fingers in each of the previous two seasons simply can't be proven wrong.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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