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Puck Lists: Marc-Andre Fleury and five potential destinations for him

(As the NCAA hockey season is done, our own Ryan Lambert needed something on which to opine. Say hello to a special Tuesday series from yer boy RL, PUCK LISTS, in which he arbitrarily lists hockey things.)

The problem with needing to unload a contract is that you need to find a willing party to take it off your hands. In the NHL these days, that's not always easy. And when that contract is for a 31-year-old goaltender with three years left on a deal paying him $5.75 million in AAV, it gets even harder to find a buyer.

But that's the problem Marc-Andre Fleury now poses to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Conventional wisdom says that he'll be moved at some point in the next week or two, as the newly minted Cup champions are already over the likely salary cap next year (somewhere in the $73 million range). That's with a few RFAs to re-sign, and a few pending UFAs to replace.

It's not an enviable situation. So of course, the trade rumors are flying. But the thing with the NHL these days is that you look at most teams and say to yourself, “Well, they have their goalie situation figured out.” Go down the list: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, Caroline, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, Detroit, Edmonton, Florida, LA, Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville, New Jersey, both New York teams, Philadelphia, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa, Vancouver, Washington, and Winnipeg are all locked in on goalies (for good or ill) both short- and long-term.

That, by my count, leaves five possible landing spots for Fleury. And here's another problem for the Pens: It's not exactly a sellers' market. Between free agency and decent goaltenders who would likely be available in trade, the idea of trading for a guy who admittedly has been quite good the last few years (when healthy) and probably should have a Conn Smythe in his pocket from 2007-08 potentially seems like it's not a very good idea.

And the other thing to consider here is that the Teravainen/Bickell trade between Chicago and Carolina kinda sets an ugly precedent as far as Jim Rutherford is concerned: If a team is helping you out money-wise, you're gonna have to sweeten the pot with something. The teams below, rebuilding as they are (mostly), may be quite interested in what that something would be.

But we must nonetheless examine the five teams that seem most likely to employ Fleury next season:

5. Toronto Maple Leafs

This will, flatly, not be happening.

Toronto had money to spend on a goalie (though not as much as some might have thought if the Stamkos signing actually happens) and a noteworthy hole at the goaltenders' position.

Or at least, it did until yesterday. The team traded for Frederik Andersen from Anaheim instead, who's a slightly younger and better version Jonathan Bernier. Bernier, of course, wasn't a realistic option for them. He was .908 last season, which is actively bad. He was .912 the year before that, which is not good. He was .922 the year before that, which is very good. Altogether in his time with the Leafs, Bernier is a .915 goalie, but clearly trending down. Andersen was .918 over the same span. Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.

Regardless of what happens this coming season (Toronto has to be banking on not-making the playoffs regardless of Stamkos signing there, right?) the question was whether this was a team that wants to tie itself to an early-30s goaltender with recent concussion problems for all of the first three years of Auston Matthews' NHL career. Clearly, in the end, it was not.

They probably still want to move Jonathan Bernier, somewhere, for something. The odds that that something is Marc-Andre Fleury are small, unless Pittsburgh reallllllllllllllllly sweetens the deal.

4. Ottawa Senators

Of all the teams where there's an obvious goaltending issue in the long-term, Ottawa seems like the least likely to take him on. This is a team with some important RFAs to re-sign in the next two or three years, and they don't need a guy like Fleury messing with their cap situation (especially because it's not like Eugene Melnyk will be looking to spend even more money on the team than he already does).

Besides, Craig Anderson — despite the general lack of faith the organization seems to have in him on an ongoing basis — still has two more years left on his deal at $4.2 million. Seems like the Sens would have to find a buyer for that deal, or the Penguins would have to take it back in trade, reducing their cap savings by a potentially significant amount.

Also, Fleury has a 12-team no-trade clause, and god, if I were him I'd have Ottawa double-underlined and maybe even circled on that list.

Tough to see it as a realistic fit.

3. Dallas Stars

This one is only slightly more realistic. Dallas already has an untenable goaltending situation, both because their goalies aren't very good and because they collectively cost way too much money. Consequently, it is difficult to envision that Jim Nill will attempt to get rid of one of the two guys he already has, and take on more money, to get Fleury.

Again, Fleury has been well above average in recent seasons, but he's coming off a long-term injury and he's signed at $5.75 million until he's 34. There is also some speculation that Dallas gives up more high-quality chances than do most other teams — and certainly more than Pittsburgh —  but whether that's true or whether the goaltenders are just bad is certainly up for debate (though I bet you can guess the answer to that on your own).

Would Fleury waive a no-trade to play behind a team of that caliber, even as it potentially loses some good defenseman? It's probably better than being a well-compensated backup.

But would Dallas do it? Like Ottawa, probably not without Pittsburgh taking a contract back. So would Pittsburgh do that? Ehhh, it's iffy. I wouldn't want Antti Niemi as a $4.5 million backup for the next two seasons. The cap relief just isn't there.

2. Calgary Flames

Now this is a team in real and actual need of a goaltender. Their netminding was poor last year (though Bob Hartley's, ahem, “system” likely didn't help at all), and with Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller on their way out of town, and Joni Ortio clearly not ready, this team has some questions in the crease.

Whether Fleury is the answer to those questions, well, I dunno.

The organization really likes Jon Gillies, even if he missed most of last year due to injury. Otherwise he has all the makings of a No. 1 NHL goaltender, and he just turned 22 in January. He's the goalie of the future, and maybe the Flames think Fleury would provide a useful, albeit expensive, stopgap in the meantime.

But again, if I'm Calgary it would take some incentivizing on Pittsburgh's part to make it happen. There are plenty of options out there (someone a team is actively looking to trade, James Reimer as a UFA, etc.) who aren't a recently double-concussed netminder on the wrong side of 30, who costs the team a ton of money at a time when they need to re-sign Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Jakub Nakladal, Sam Bennett, and more in the next two offseasons.

Not really sure how the Penguins make Calgary that interested in this guy when potentially better and almost certainly cheaper options will be out there this summer. It's unlikely Pittsburgh would be desperate enough to retain salary on this contract, right?

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

It seems to me the most likely outcome is that Fleury guts out another season in Pittsburgh, probably going 1a/1b with Matt Murray, or at least acting as insurance if the younger guy falters after taking his spot.

Then next summer, maybe he waives his no-move to get into the expansion draft. Regardless of whether it happens exactly that way, there's no chance the Penguins — who only get to protect one goalie — are going to allow Fleury's NMC to supersede their desire to protect Murray instead.

This might just be a grin-and-bear-it thing for the Pens, but there's probably no really good answer here.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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