It goes without saying that when an organization infuses the type of star power that the Chicago Blackhawks have this past offseason, progress should follow. They’ve revised their roster from top to bottom, forcing the narrative away from being referred to as a mere rebuild. While those who have jumped aboard have to accept that a collective effort in Chicago’s favour is the priority, that doesn’t mean individual success should be neglected along the way. Good thing, too, as Marc-André Fleury is poised to reach new heights of superstardom in 2021-22.
Acquiring a proven veteran goaltender, fresh off of a Vezina Trophy-winning campaign, the Blackhawks are justified in assuming that the club will soon see more winning as a result. Perhaps less obvious, however, is that the franchise is about to witness the all-star achieve more milestones of his own in the process.
It goes beyond the type of accolade that can be extracted from one strong season. Fleury continues to climb a number of all-time lists, further illustrating his impact and importance in the NHL. Even if he isn’t yet in a position to completely take over a record from its current owner, the fact that he’s forced his way into a crowd of legends makes every one of his performances from here on out worthy of the hockey world’s attention.
Making NHL History From the Start
Fleury has been etching his name in the NHL’s record books since his rookie season of 2003-04. He collected his first victory at 18 years, 324 days old and currently sits in sixth on the list of youngest to achieve the feat. He hasn’t looked back since.
The former first overall pick is one of only three goalies to have been selected that early during any NHL Entry Draft. Fleury is also, far and above, the most successful of his counterparts in that respect.
Factor in that Fleury has three Stanley Cups, a Vezina, a Jennings Trophy, and has led his country to multiple podium finishes, and it’s clear that he has already solidified his post-retirement invitation into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Yet, he’s still going strong.
While he can’t rewind time, in hopes of turning pro any sooner to then become the youngest goalie to capture their first victory, what he can focus on is what his future holds. And there are some major accomplishments that await.
Entering his 18th season in the NHL, and considering the success he’s already earned, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Fleury’s name appear across countless all-time categories. In an effort to mirror the status that he has maintained after all these years, the focus here will be on the more prestigious lists he’s nearing the top of.
Total Games Played
Following his draft year of 2003, Fleury broke into the NHL and has been a regular ever since. He spent 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, four years as a Vegas Golden Knight, and is now entering his first campaign with the Blackhawks.
Throughout the 17 regular seasons already accounted for on his resume, Fleury has made it into 883 contests. Good for 10th most throughout league history. That puts him in the company of greats like Tony Esposito (886), Henrik Lundqvist (887), Glenn Hall (906), Curtis Joseph (943), Ed Belfour (963), Terry Sawchuk (971), Patrick Roy (1,029), Roberto Luongo (1,044), and Martin Brodeur (1,266).
The fact that Chicago brought him in to be their go-to starter means that his totals are set to see a significant boost. For the sake of predicting Fleury’s year-end stat line, from this point forward let’s assume that he’ll get into 50 games throughout 2021-22 and play the majority of any postseason minutes the club sees.
Realistic Year-End Results
If that easy to accomplish presumption holds up, he’ll end the season with a games count of 933. Meaning, he’ll bypass Esposito, Lundqvist, and Hall, taking sole possession of the sixth spot on that list. He’d then need only 11 more starts to bump Joseph out of fifth, which he could easily count on accomplishing if he plays at least one more year.
Regulation & Shootout Wins
Getting into the action is one thing, but making those opportunities count is a whole other challenge. That said, without having achieved as Fleury has throughout his career, he wouldn’t be experiencing such longevity in the NHL.
Fleury currently sits in third on the all-time wins list, with 492. Ahead of him are Roy (551) and Brodeur (691). Although we won’t see Fleury move up an actual ranking in this regard through 2021-22, what we will witness is his 500th career victory. A major milestone, in and of itself, which will make him only the third goaltender to hit that mark.
Accounted for within that win column are successful shootouts, of which Fleury has 58. Ranked third at the moment, this is a list he can realistically expect to climb as he’s right behind Ryan Miller (60) and Lundqvist (61).
Realistic Year-End Results
The last time Fleury ended any season with a losing record was back in 2005-06. Although he won’t secure the same type of stats with a Blackhawks team hoping to progress as he did with a proven Vegas club, it’s not an overreach to expect that he’ll at least break even. Adding 25 wins to his total means he’ll be at 517 and only 34 away from tying Roy for second all-time.
Additionally, the Blackhawks averaged one shootout per 14 games last season. Even an improved squad can anticipate the same type of pattern, with the difference being that they’ll win more of them. As such, if Fleury gets into five or six of those situations through 2021-22, he’ll better his opponents at least four times and end the year atop that list.
Saves & Shutouts
Although there are a number of contributing factors when it comes to the collective effort required to attain success in a team sport, it goes without saying that a netminder’s efficacy is as critical a component as any. Simply stated, making saves is a must.
Only 14 goalies have ever reached 20,000 saves. Fleury’s current count of 22,827, which ranks him seventh among them, means he’s averaged over 25 stops per game for nearly two decades. The six stars ahead of him are exactly who you’d expect, including Lundqvist (23,509), Joseph (24,279), Esposito (24,761), Roy (25,800), Luongo (28,409), and Brodeur (28,928).
All those saves throughout the years have also earned Fleury 67 shutouts to date, which has him tied for 10th all-time. Not an overly impressive ranking at the moment, yet another Vezina-worthy type of year could see him shoot up the line and pass legends like Roy Worters (67), Harry Lumley (71), and Lorne Chabot (71).
Realistic Year-End Results
Chicago allowed over 33 shots against per game last year, but an improved lineup will ease the workload of those controlling their crease. However, it’s fair to assume the league average will maintain at around 30. Therefore, Fleury will have the chance to continue his trend of stopping at least 25 pucks every time he plays.
He’ll end the year having made 1,250 saves, for a count of 24,077 as he leapfrogs Lundqvist for sixth.
When it comes to shutouts, it’s fair to predict that having Fleury between the pipes means more are in the Blackhawks’ future. With a lesser lineup in Chicago having notched four in 2020-21’s shortened season, Fleury will accumulate at least five through a more complete campaign in 2021-22. That will put him at 72, moving up to sole possession of ninth and with Belfour (76) in his sights.
All Things Playoffs
While making the postseason goes beyond any one player’s individual impact, Chicago will surely be counting on Fleury to do his part in helping them find their way back to being contenders. The organization pulled out all the stops this past offseason, so a playoff appearance is certainly the goal.
Let’s assume they get into the First Round, without putting too much emphasis on what could potentially happen next. In the meantime, it is relevant to point out that this is not a franchise known to buckle under pressure, regardless of its positioning. Through 11 postseason appearances since 2001-02, they’ve only been swept once.
Fleury is no stranger to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as evidenced by his 15 appearances to date. That currently ranks him third, with Andy Moog (16), Jacques Plante (16), Brodeur (17), and Roy (17) within arm’s reach.
What’s more, is that he’s done so in consecutive years and now owns that particular record all to himself. No other active goalie is even close to catching up, while names like Esposito (14), Hall (13), Billy Smith (13), Moog (13), Brodeur (13), and Plante (11) never will.
If that wasn’t enough, Fleury has already accumulated 90 postseason wins. Only three others have seen more victories in the playoffs – Grant Fuhr (92), Brodeur (113), and Roy (151).
While Fleury’s 16 playoff shutouts have him tied with Joseph (16) for third, Roy (23) and Brodeur (24) maintain their stranglehold on postseason dominance. It will take a few more deep runs before he can find his way to the top of every respective ladder, but continuing his climb seems more than plausible.
Realistic Year-End Results
Again, assuming the Blackhawks experience the type of progress they’ve planned for, a First Round berth will come to fruition. Extending the campaign that far in his 16th straight year will mean Fleury moves further ahead with his own league-wide record while also putting him one back from tying the all-time appearances mark, as well.
Factor in that Fleury will steal at least two games and that aligns him with Fuhr, as both would then be tied for third in playoff wins. He’ll also achieve at least one shutout, pushing him past Joseph and into third all to himself in that regard.
The Fleury Effect
Is there a foolproof way to accurately predict how Fleury’s presence will influence the 2021-22 Blackhawks, let alone how the play of his teammates will affect Fleury’s personal stat line? Of course not. Let’s face it, only after the season gets underway will we know what this roster is actually capable of.
With that said, though, Fleury having maintained such consistency within his performances over the past two decades certainly offers a sense of confidence when it comes to what we should expect out of his individual contributions.
With conservative estimates in mind, it’s more than fair to assume a few things. Such as the fact that he’ll get into a minimum of 50 games and win at least half of them. Four of which will be via shootout. He’ll also easily average over 25 saves per contest, which will guide him towards five shutouts along the way.
That level of impact will lead the Blackhawks back into the postseason. A whole new world to navigate, it’s next to impossible to predict what will happen throughout that tournament in any given year. Yet, it’s safe to bet on the Blackhawks winning at least a couple of games once there.
Meanwhile, Fleury has already reached milestones throughout his career that most can only dream of. Where he ranks in many categories won’t soon be beaten, if at all. And he still has time to achieve even more.
All it will take is a modest level of success, presumed under realistic circumstances, for Blackhawks fans to witness Fleury reach an even higher level of greatness. It’s not merely wishful thinking – it’s a fact.
Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.