The Curious Case of Marc-Andre Fleury

fleury-smiling

You knew it was coming, what you probably don’t know is the conclusion that is still percolating in my brain as I begin this piece. By this point both Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero have weighed in on Fleury’s future and it certainly seems like he will play out at least the remainder of his current contract in Pittsburgh. And that is probably for the best.

You could blame me for being easily susceptible to suggestion but after reading the following two articles my hardline stance on Fleury is changing. We start with the master Mike Colligan, as usual he stepped up with a far better piece than anyone else could write about what happened to the Penguins and what the franchise should look to do now moving forward. One line really sticks out:

At age 37, Vokoun won’t be able to handle the demands of a full 82-game season and should be the backup — even if the over-the-top comments from Bylsma were a little out of line.

I don’t know, I’ve ignored that excuse in the past, and maybe it is just because of my unhealthy appreciation for Colligan, but his comments triggered for me something that former contributor Andrew pointed out to me over the weekend: Vokoun’s starts have been decreasing for 4 straight years.

vokoun-seasons

Good goalies tend to be able to play into their very late 30s or early 40s at a high rate, and Vokoun, once and for all and long overdo, has proven himself a good goaltender, but even with that said, in the best of circumstances he would need to platoon his games, you can’t call on him to make 70 appearances next year, and if the Penguins don’t have a proven NHLer to back him up, it is impossible to predict what would happen.

The second piece that has influenced my thinking on Fleury comes from Seth Rorabaugh, he summed up the role of Vokoun and Fleury playing together as such:

The Penguins platooned Vokoun and Fleury this past season over a shortened 48-game schedule. That resulted in them merely being the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. (Emphasis is his)

Maybe, just maybe, the Penguins actually do need Marc-Andre Fleury. They need a proven commodity to shoulder the weight of the regular season. I do not view the Penguins goaltending situation as particularly dire: I’m interested in seeing what Jeff Zatkoff really has at the NHL level and Eric Hartzell could prove to be a quality long-range project, if he comes back to the organization. But those guys aren’t ready to make crucial starts against division rivals for a team that has expectations of winning their division, winning the conference, and more.

Since Fleury’s seeming demotion before Game 5 of the Conference Quarterfinals the excuse I have given for trading him is that so many teams need a goaltender that can merely get them into the playoffs that they would take Fleury without worrying about whether he can play IN the playoffs or not. And maybe that’s what the Penguins need to do as well. We as fans need to accept that Fleury has never let us down in the regular season. We need a guy that can make 50-60 starts a year, finish 95% of the games he starts and be a team player. I have no doubt that MAF would be able to fulfill that better than most players.

Now with that said, it would still be completely unacceptable for the Penguins to ignore what Tomas Vokoun has done for them over the past year. It’s one thing to say that Vokoun merely outplayed Fleury in net during the playoffs. It’s another to say that he was the Penguins’ best player, which in most games he really was. You have to give him the opportunity to succeed and compete for his playing time. But as it stands, there’s not too much I can say that will be sufficiently different from this piece I wrote just before the playoffs started.

At this time Vokoun is absolutely the more well-known commodity. He’s going to play well, regardless of the circumstance. What we also know about him though is that he has a history of injuries, he’s 37, and he understands what his role is with the Penguins. Given those considerations maybe MAF is a little more valuable to the Penguins than we give him credit for.

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