Sober Second Thoughts; Fleury’s New Contract

We’ve all had a fair amount of time to digest the contract extension the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Marc-Andre Fleury to last week. Reactions are varied and by large very polarized. Depending upon which side of the fence you lay claim to, he’s the anchor upon which the Penguins playoff hopes are latched to or an average goaltender that’s getting paid an average goaltender’s salary. I can see truths in both sides of the endless argument, but can’t help but be swayed to the former of them.

It would be so much easier to label this contract were the term lengthier or the dollars more exorbitant. At four-years and $23 million though, this one is difficult to put a thumb on. There are just so many variables. There are good aspects, bad ones and maybe even alternatives to this contract that are all worth exploring. Lets do just that, shall we?

The Good

Even Fleury’s most ardent critics would be willing enough to describe him as a league average starter. Fleury can’t necessarily do the job exceedingly well, but he can do the job. There’s also been a remarkable uptick in his performance this season. He’s posting a .931 SV% on a team that is rolling through the Eastern Conference. Whether we can ascribe this to the new system employed by first-year bench boss, Mike Johntson or a new found commitment to the finer aspects of goaltending, as taught by his new goaltending coach, is difficult to say. Whatever the case, his results are encouraging.

Fleury might be an average goaltender at best, but that leaves little room for complaints as far as his new contract goes. Largely, because he’s paid like a league average goaltender. While the AAV on his contract increases, it’s worth noting that the percentage of his team’s cap space that Fleury is accountable for is decreasing. And that’s just in the first year. Imagine the extent of that decrease by year three or five. Should be sizable. There’s also an apparent lack of alternatives that made this deal a priority in Pittbsurgh.

The Bad

If a league average starter is the best that the Penguins can hope to get from Fleury, then why attach $5.75 million to those hopes? That’s a lot of money for a goaltender that they hope will be average. His career sv% of .911 doesn’t even qualify for that middling descriptor, although much of this can be attributed to his being shelled in the early goings of his career. This doesn’t even touch on his playoff performance. Last season, Fleury’s .915 was considered a return to form. Just a season prior, Fleury lost his job to the remains of Tomas Vokoun after a horrible performance in the first round against the New York Islanders. Here’s where things get quite hairy, though. In the four seasons before losing his job in the playoffs to Vokoun, Fleury posted .834, .899, .891 and .908 sv%. His career sv% in the post-season is .905. Not even close to touching on average.

Which is what makes this contract so peculiar. The Penguins have two generational talents in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their primes. For the first time since their Stanley Cup in the 2008-09 season, they’ve done a relatively good job of supplementing them with depth players. This is a team that should compete for a Stanley Cup almost annually. It seems likely that they could, too. With even a reliable and consistently average goaltender – on a lower salary, presumably – this club could wreak havoc in spring on an annual basis. Instead they’ve invested nearly $6 million with just a sliver of a hope that they will get this from their netminder. This contract represents a huge investment in a relative unknown.

The Alternatives

Words can not describe my lament for the “well, what alternatives were there?” excuse. Get creative. General managers are paid quite handsomely to build hockey teams. Every year there are scrap heap findings that turn to gold. Especially in net, because goaltenders are voodoo. As a matter of fact Penguins general manager, Jim Rutherford, found one such goaltender last season in Anton Khudobin! This year, I would argue he’s found one with similar upside in Thomas Greiss. Greiss was fourth in even-strength sv% last season on a fragile Arizona Coyotes team and has a remarkably effective track record thus far in his young career. I can understand Rutherford’s reticence to go all-in on Greiss, as he’s never started more than 25 games in an NHL season. He’s also yet to pass the 3000 shot test, for discovering a goaltenders true talent level.

Thomas Greiss Coyotes
Is Thomas Greiss ready for the show? (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

That represents just one option, though. Antti Niemi is another option they could have explored, either through trade or free agency. The cost in either resources to acquire him or funds to sign him would be considerably more than the “Flower”, but this makes sense considering Niemi is vastly better. What of James Reimer, who demanded a trade from Toronto this off-season? He has a much better recent track record than Fleury, playing on a team that is shelled on an almost nightly basis in terms of shots. Or perhaps it’s worth looking into Martin Jones’ availability in Los Angeles? Eddie Lack has essentially lost his starting job in Vancouver for now and the foreseeable future. Might have been worth looking into his availability. If the Penguins were willing to take a risk, they could have explored other options. Lest we forget, nothing about signing Fleury is safe.


13 thoughts on “Sober Second Thoughts; Fleury’s New Contract”

  1. Perhaps, this whole time, it’s been more of a system issue hampering MAF’s play. Johnston has implemented a completely new defensive strategy when it comes to puck retrieval and breakouts. The result (so far)? FAR less defensive breakdowns, less odd-man rushes, and hey, guess what? A suddenly elite status for MAF. There is no reason to believe these two things aren’t connected.

  2. I read this and took the time to research a few things.

    Interestingly enough, last year Flower out-performed all of the mentioned goalies above in the regular season last year in Save %, Goals Against, Saves, Minutes & Wins (Niemi tied him with 39).

    But the talent-laden Pens need to keep an eye on the cap while looking at make Stanley Cup runs NOW while the talent is here. So let’s look at JD’s suggestions.

    Eddie Lack… Who the hell is that?? He’s played a whopping 47 games and never been to the play-offs.

    James Reimer has never played more than 36 games in a season. Where does JD get off stating he has a better track record…there is no record!!! He’s been to the play-offs ONCE…last year.

    Martin Jones…ahh yes…the savior…made a total of 7 play-off saves…and has appeared in a mind-blowing 23 NHL regular season games.

    Antii Niemi…thank god JD brought up someone who might bring something to the Pens NOW. His career regular season stats are slightly above Fleury’s (Sv% .916 vs .911; GAA 2.36 vs 2.60) he has an impressive 28 shut-outs (vs 32 for Fleury) in almost 1/2 less games. There could be arguments as to the style of play/system each team runs & where their perspective teams were at the starts of their NHL careers..but for this, we’ll just call it in Niemi’s favor.

    But this is about the play-offs. This is about winning Cups. Let’s compare –

    Niemi is 35-26; .907 Sv %; 2.74 GAA.; 2 Shut-outs; Cup Finals – 1; Cups – 1
    Fleury is 52-40; .905 Sv%; 2.68 GAA.; 8 Shut-outs; Cup Finals – 2; Cups – 1

    With the exception of Shut Outs (huge in Fleury’s favor), the numbers are a sliver.

    So the question is this…at what cost?? Niemi is in the last year of his contract. What will be his asking price?? Do you risk to go out and get Niemi just to get the same performance?? Does Niemi thrive or fall under the Pens current system? How does the team react to his style?? Bottomline…what are you getting for the buck and what risk are you taking by doing that??

    The Pens have a known quantity and good quality at goalie now at a reasonable price. They can win cups with him if the skaters do their jobs.This second guessing is ridiculous.

  3. I want to thank all of the Fleury haters for your constantly shoving two bad playoff years in the guy’s face constantly, for driving his cap hit lower so the Pens can sign him for less! I notice for the most part that even though those 2 yrs he took more than his fair share of the blame, it’s still shoved in our faces today! Apparently the last playoff year where Fleury was the last reason the Pens lost, was not watched or absorbed by the masterminds that cover the NHL, nor the fact that the guy back stopped the pens to the finals twice and is a stanley cup champion. Let me assure you, in five yrs the haters will all be embarrassed to talk about how stupid they were, constantly bashing a stanley cup champion goaltender in the NHL to the point of making themselves look like school yard bullies with a chip on their shoulder. Fleury is only 29 yrs old and is still improving his game. It is a great signing at a good cap hit. The pens, their management and fans (that know anything about goaltending) know exactly what we have in Fleury. Let me assure you he is far from easily replaceable. We’ve got a goalie that can compete with all of the “elite” goalies in the NHL who make 1-5 mil per more than flower. I can’t wait it the near future to rub all the haters nose in it.

  4. Cont’d from bottom….ESPECIALLY at that cap hit! Then there’s the fact that he is actually improving as a tendu and he’s still only 29…based on what I’ve seen (he frustrates the hell out of me with his terrible puck handling decisions of course!) he is definitely an elite goalie in the NHL right now – no question. Asides from the Fleury bashers being way off base- I want to thank them all for helping the pens keep and sign Fleury for a nice lower cap hit then all the “better” goalies making 1-5 million more LMFAO- I know what the pens have in net- and so do they. In 5 yrs you morons won’t even talk about how wrong and off base you are!

  5. Also to further add that the 2 “bad” yrs of playoffs will never likely ever be not shoved in Fleury or the Penguins and their fans faces no matter what te guy does. This clueless buffoon who wrote this article – I wouldn’t let him run a pee wee team with his talent evaluation- positively laughable ….were the fleury bashers going to cut the crap about what the Stanley cup winner must “prove in the playoffs” ….of course not, the biased mental illness just continues subjectively along – were any of you idiots watching the playoffs last season- fleury was solid and about the last reason the pens lost! Did the clueless Fleury badgers man up and admit this?! For the most part NO! The pens including 87,71 etc etc know the same thing that I know about fleury – that he is far better than an avg goalie and he’s definitely difficult to replace -ESP

  6. Sad that the bozos that “cover” the NHL look at box scores to evaluate “talent” or a players “worth”. The Fluery hater train never stop rolling from the moment he lost the gold medal for Canada at the World Junior champ. Over 10 yrs ago. Most of these morons never played the position or technically know very little about it – nevermind have a clue what they’re looking at ….sometimes even on replays. Fluery’s entire body of work puts him on the fringe of the small group of what are considered the “elite” goalies of the NHL – and the stats for the most part support this. I have watched every game that Marc has played in the NHL. I’m a firm believer that his awful puck handling decisions have caused two problems over his career: 1.) his puck handling gaff goals have without a doubt cost him about .05 % of career save %age numbers over his entire career 2.) this has lead to a woefully pathetic subjective negative opinion bias by hockey media/fans on how good this guy really is.

    Who is the best break away goalie in the show? Who has taken more blame for awful team play as a goalie in the NHL? The answer is Fluery of course. In all my 30 yrs of being a penguin fan, I honestly don’t think I’ve seen more fluke/lucky/garbage type goals per 1000 shots happen to such a technically good goalie in the NHL than to Fluery. I do believe these bounces even out over time, and over the last stretch of his career I believe my claims will be confirmed. A perfect example of box score watching morons is the 5-0 loss to the rangers- let me assure the biased, clueless morons who watch precious little and judge from afar (or by 2 bad play off years that he took more than his fair share of the blame for as a team), who haven’t a clue about goaltending when they are watching, that Fluery played lights out one of the best games he’s played all year and he’s been FANTASTIC! STFU morons, your only making yourself look stupider than you already have!

  7. Oh lord, how did I *KNOW* an article like this would pop up RIGHT after the Pens lose a game. MAF can’t catch a break. Have 10 great games in a row? “GAH THAT’S A SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!” or “WAIT TILL THE PLAYOFFS”….

    Then he has a bad game, and immediately everyone wants to replace him. I agree that MAF is NOT a top goaltender in the league. But the fact is, the Pens don’t NEED the top goaltender in the league, nor can they afford it. MAF is good enough to backstop the Pens to a cup. The supporting cast in front of him, though….now that’s another story (seemingly, until this year? ***Crosses fingers***)

    Last night’s performance was garbage by the entire team EXCEPT MAF (I was there, so don’t dare argue against this – the entire team left him hanging while he tried to keep them in it).

    You writers have to get off the MAF hater train and realize that yes, he had some performance issues during the playoffs a few years back. But lets be realistic – MAF is on an UPSWING. Don’t believe me? Look at his playoff stats after his consecutive meltdown years (which, the 2011 Flyers series was the entire team’s issue, much like last night’s game). Last season was his SECOND BEST playoff year, statistically speaking, and a big turnaround.

    Using his stats alone over the past 5 playoff years doesn’t tell the story. The Pens have been INCREDIBLY soft since the Staal line was dismantled. Let’s hope that was resolved.

  8. Wow 3 shutouts already this year behind a teams that is 90% offensive minded first and this is what we’re going to have to read all year. Looking at goaltenders salaries. He makes the average. With all those goaltenders that were named. Start naming guys with more cups… Does he let it a bad bounce every once in a while. Yes. Can we go out and get a 7-8 million dollar goalie and hear the pens fans cry we don’t have any wingers. Yes. Would it be the smart move. No. Please tell me again how many cups “King Henry” THE GREATEST GOALIE TO EVER WALK THE FACE OF THE EARTH have? Thank you.

  9. I whole-heartedly agree with this article. It would cost less to use Greiss and another random player to replicate Fleury’s production for significantly less money.

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