Marc-Andre Fleury a New Player Under New Goalie Coach

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In the wake of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ somewhat controversial announcement that they had signed Marc-Andre Fleury to a 4-year/$23 million ($5.75 per year) extension, the fallout among the hockey community was both instant and intense.

Responses came in all shapes and sizes and, while there was a noticeably positive response as well, the vast majority of responders decried the Penguins and General Manager Jim Rutherford as mistaken and misguided.

The reasons for such claims are certainly not unknown or unfounded. While Fleury has been one of the most reliable tenders in the league during the regular season, his play has seemed to dip significantly in the playoffs, giving the still-young goaltender the reputation of a netminder who fades when his team needs him most.

Fleury’s save percentage and goals-against-average during the 2014 postseason were his best in over five seasons.

Is this really who Fleury is, though?

It’s hard to to believe the issue is this black and white, that Fleury is simply an outstanding goaltender who is automatically horrendous once the playoffs begin. Other things certainly come into play. Fleury may have shown a propensity to get himself into trouble in the big games, but horrible defense and an all around risky system of play surely did him no favours either.

Through the din of cynicism, however, one commentator chimed in with a very astute point.

As stated by Josh Yohe, of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Fleury’s situation is one that requires a more complex analysis than simply looking at his career numbers and the number of playoff series the Penguins have lost with him in net.

Players change, and grow, and improve at different times depending on a number of different factors. Chris Kunitz was a decent 20-25 goal scorer in the league for much of his career. Now he’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion, an Olympic gold medalist, and, at age 35, undeniably one of the most effective scorers in the NHL.

While Fleury has certainly stumbled in recent years, his play has been trending upwards considerably since the arrival of new goalie coach Mike Bales. GM Rutherford told the Tribune-Review that this growth in Fleury’s play was key to the team re-signing him.

“I really noticed his consistency,” Rutherford told the Tribune-Review. “I know he changed some of his offseason preparation, and it carried through the whole season.”

As pointed out by Yohe, the statistics back up Bale’s positive influence on Fleury, as the Flower has posted 8 shutouts in 73 games under Bales, as opposed to 22 shutouts in his previous 467 games. For a frame of reference, Fleury’s current numbers under Bales would project to almost double the amount of shutouts over those 467 games (51 shutouts to be exact).

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  • While fans and pundits are quick to note Fleury’s declining postseason play over the past several seasons, the statistics say otherwise.

    Fleury’s save percentage during the 2014 postseason (.915) was in fact the best total the young tender had posted in five seasons – and was even better than his total from the Pens’ Stanley Cup championship season in 2009.

    His goals-against-average during the 2014 postseason (2.40) was similarly his best in five seasons, and again better than in the Pens championship season.

    In both categories, Fleury’s 2014 postseason totals ranked as the second-best numbers of his career.

    Think Fleury’s numbers were not championship calibre? The Pens’ netminder posted a better postseason save percentage and goals-against-average than the championship Los Angeles Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick.

    Is Marc-Andre Fleury the best goaltender in the NHL? No. But is he the downfall of the Pittsburgh Penguins, or undeserving a contract that will pay him $5.75 million annually for the next four years? Certainly not.

    Despite his recent troubles and, more importantly, his recent media spotlight, Fleury remains one of the elite tenders in the NHL. At only 29 years old, the young netminder has netted a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal, and has twice placed in the top-10 in votes for the Vezina trophy (for the NHL’s top goaltender) and even the Hart trophy for league MVP.

    That isn’t too shabby for a goaltender who will only be the 15th-highest paid netminder in the NHL next season.

    It’s a reasonable contract for a player who, contrary to popular belief, is actually getting better.

    Marc-Andre Fleury may not be the answer to Pittsburgh’s playoff woes – but he is certainly not the sole reason they exist. As long as the young tender can continue to improve, and the team in front of him can stay on track come playoff time, his contract is sure to seem a steal by the time 2016 rolls around.