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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Happy Trails to MAF by @chrisrbarron

I am not a Marc Andre Fleury hater, indeed I defended Fleury after last year’s disastrous round 1 performance against the Flyers.  I made the case that as bad as the Pens D was in that series that it wouldn’t have mattered who was in net for the Penguins – no goalie could have survived that onslaught. 

I didn’t necessarily take Shero’s trade and signing of Vokoun in the offseason as a sign that the Pens had lost confidence in MAF.  Indeed, I admit to buying into the “maybe Fleury was over-worked during the regular season” line of thinking.  While $2 million is steep for a backup goal-tender, I never imagined a scenario where MAF wouldn’t be the Pens number one goalie.

Well welcome to the unimaginable.  After four disastrous games against the 8th seeded Islanders, which saw Fleury post an .891 save percentage while allowing almost 3 and half goals per game, Dan Bylsma replaced Fleury with Tomas Vokoun.  Since making the move, the Pens are 6 – 1.

Fleury’s numbers are actually even worse than they appear to be, factored into those disastrous numbers was an actual shut out by Fleury.  Remove that shut out and you are looking at numbers that look an awful lot like the horrendous numbers against the Flyers last year. 

Most players get better in the playoffs with more playoff experience.  This has been the exact opposite for MAF.  Fleury’s best post-season numbers were posted very early in his career.  In back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances (one ending with the Pens hoisting the Cup in 09), Fleury posted spectacular numbers.  During the 07-08 year MAF led the league with 14 post-season wins, posted a .933 save percentage, and a 1.97 goals against average.  In the year the Pens won the cup (08-09) Fleury had another solid post-season, leading the league with 16 post-season wins, posting a .908 save percentage and a 2.67 goals against average.  Since those two back-to-back Cup runs, Fleury has never again posted a post-season save percentage above .900.

Why has Fleury been so good in the regular season and so bad in the post-season the last two years in particular?  I don’t know why.  Has he lost his confidence?  Has he lost the confidence of his teammates?  I don’t know the answer and am not particularly sure it matters at this point, because MAF has lost the confidence of the only person who matters – the guy who sets the lineups – Dan Blysma. 

Bylsma didn’t bench MAF for just a game, he didn’t give the job back to Fleury at the start of the Senators series, and I can’t imagine a scenario where Vokoun doesn’t start in net in game 1 against the Bruins. 

The reality is that there is a new sheriff in town:  Tomas Vokoun is the Pens #1 goalie.  And he should be.  Marc Andre Fleury is also a #1 goalie, but just not in Pittsburgh.  I think bringing back MAF next is untenable if the Pens ride Vokoun for the rest of the playoffs, especially if the Pens hoist the Cup.  Fleury deserves better than that, Vokoun deserves better than that, and the team deserves better than that.

Whether the Pens are able to deal Fleury (something I am skeptical of given the Canucks inability to move Luongo this season) or whether the team exercises a buyout of the last 2 years of his contract (at $5 million/year) it is time for Fleury and the team to move on.

It brings me no joy to say this but given the unbelievable cap constraints the Pens are already facing and the need to re-sign Pascal Dupuis and extend Malkin and Letang, its simply not tenable to carry a $5 million backup goalie.  And even if the Pens were to give Fleury back his starting job, how short do you think his leash would be?  How much pressure would be on him with the specter of Vokoun lurking in the background?  And quite frankly, why shouldn’t Vokoun go into next year as the #1 goalie?

I think MAF is a great goalie and maybe a fresh start is exactly what he needs.  I also know that Vokoun – at his age – isn’t the long term answer in net for the Pens.  Vokoun, however, will provide the Pens with a couple of years stop gap that should allow Shero and company to groom the next franchise goalie.

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