BREAKING NEWS

BREAKING NEWS

It was time for Fleury, Pens to part ways

Commentary

PITTSBURGH — That’s it. Marc-Andre Fleury plays for another team now.

He was a wonderful guy, a very good goalie and a universally-liked teammate. He served the Penguins well through 13 seasons and leaves town as the busiest and winningest goalie in franchise history.

He departs as a three-time Stanley Cup champion and with a well-deserved reputation as one of the truly good guys in Pittsburgh sports.

He never threw a teammate under the bus, even when he had ample reason to do so. He was the one player who would consistently stop on his way out of the players’ parking lot to sign autographs.

He smiled all the time, so that made him a wickedly effective practical joker. His sneakiness was both admired and secretly feared by the other players.

The long goodbye got a little sticky. Fleury didn’t die. He isn’t ill. He’s just moving on to a new team because that’s where the opportunity is for him.

He wants to be a No. 1 goalie again, and Matt Murray has that job with the Penguins. It isn’t practical for the Penguins to keep a backup who represents a $6 million salary cap hit.

So it’s time to go. It was emotional for him to pack his gear and leave the Penguins’ locker room. It probably felt strange when he pulled on the ugly Vegas jersey.

But he’ll adapt, and so will the Penguins. The first move is always the hardest.

During the run-up to the 1992 Cup, GM Craig Patrick made a chemistry-jarring trade that sent Mark Recchi to Philadelphia. Recchi was crushed. The Penguins had been the only organization he had known. He hid after the trade was announced because he didn’t want anybody to see him crying.

Two days later there was a TV clip of a smiling Recchi saying what a great bunch of guys the Flyers were and how he was looking forward to getting power play time that hadn’t been available to him with the Penguins.

Players adapt. Fleury’s storybook ending with the Penguins masks the reality that it wasn’t always sunshine and roses here.

He had a playoff meltdown so profound that the organization hired a sports psychologist to work with him.

On balance, though, it was good, and Fleury will always get a warm greeting as an opponent.

It was just time to move on, for both parties.

Bullpen puzzle

So here’s Clint Hurdle’s dilemma — he has one relief pitcher he trusts in Felipe Rivero and one he sort of trusts with Juan Nicasio.

That might be OK for the eighth and ninth innings, but it can’t work every day. There’s also the problem of filling that gap from the starter’s departure to the late innings.

That’s where the jumble that includes Tony Watson, Daniel Hudson and Wade LeBlanc comes in. How exactly do those pieces fit to get to Rivero?

Former major league general manager Jack Zduriencik, who works on the pre- and postgame radio shows, had a good idea. He suggested converting hard-throwing Chad Kuhl to the bullpen. Kuhl is stretched out as a starter, so he can handle multiple innings.

The Pirates may want to consider Steven Brault to take a spot in the rotation, which could expedite a new role for Kuhl. Kuhl’s consistently short starts are one reason the bullpen is getting overworked.

Catch him later?

The Pirates’ other lineup dilemma is at catcher, where it’s starting to look like Elias Diaz is the team’s best option.

Francisco Cervelli gets hurt a lot. Moving him is not a realistic goal, given that he has $22 million remaining on his contract and he’s 31. The Pirates hold an 2018 option on Chris Stewart, which they will likely decline.

The future is a combination of Diaz and Cervelli. The question is whether that happens this season or waits until next year.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com.

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