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 the 19-year-old 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.
“It’s not the bonus. I never really had much money. When I played junior, I had 35 bucks a week. I was happy with that, too, so it’s not really a question of money,” Fleury said after Pittsburgh lost at Tampa Bay 5-1.
“My dream always has been to be in the NHL and now I’m going back, but I’m very grateful to the Penguins. They gave me a chance to be part of the team for a while,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had lots of fun, though. I had a very good time.”
Jean-Sebastien Aubin played in goal for the Penguins against the Lightning. Tampa Bay scored three times on its first seven shots.
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.
“He exceeded all expectations because obviously the billing was very, very high,” coach Eddie Olczyk said. “Like any other player, you have ups and downs. But the majority of them were ups and he did a heck of a job for us this year.”
This will be Fleury’s fourth season with Cape Breton; he was 17-24-6 with a 3.36 goals-against average last season.
“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.”
Owner Mario Lemieux, Patrick and Olczyk have talked for several weeks about what to do with Fleury. 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.”
PHT: The Penguins' win in Game 4 shoved the Senators to the brink of elimination, but Ottawa has vowed to bring a better effort tonight (Coverage at 6:30 p.m. ET; Live Extra, NBCSN).
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