Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
One of the things people said constantly throughout the Pittsburgh Penguins' six-game series victory over the New York Islanders was that their play was well below the expected level of quality.
In fact, the most common refrain was that this particular brand of awful play -- rife with defensive irresponsibility and baffling lack of execution for a team that was pretty much incredible from start to finish this year -- was probably only good enough to get them past a try-hard pretender like the Islanders.
Against a real team, it was generally agreed, this kind of play would result in them losing the series in short order, probably pretty badly.
But that kind of talk ignores two things. First, we were told repeatedly by just about everyone that if there was any team the Penguins, not exactly fleet-of-foot, didn't want to take on in the playoffs, it was these New York Islanders. And yeah, they had their hands full throughout, but still never really looked to be in all that much trouble; the scores were close, yes, but they still only needed six games to put these guys out of their misery.
Second, and more important, is that — lo and behold — the second they took Marc-Andre Fleury out of the crease, they won both games. That's not to say that Tomas Vokoun really won them either game, because he didn't. He posted a shutout in Game 5 because almost any goaltender in the world (with at least one notable exception) would have, but he was also victimized on occasion by the bad defensive work that didn't help Fleury much either.
But the fact of the matter is that if you have pretensions of winning a Stanley Cup, your goaltender has to at least be league-average. The Penguins, with their galaxy of stars and excellent coach and top-quality GM, have that goal. They do not have that goaltender. People will argue that Fleury is a winner, insofar as he won a Stanley Cup. Four years ago. Since that postseason, when he posted just a .908 save percentage and a not-good 2.61 GAA, his save percentage has crept above .899 precisely zero times. This year, when he gave up 14 goals on 128 shots in four games before Bylsma dead-bolted the door to the doghouse from the outside.
Or at least, he should; there's only so many times an entire team can roll its eyes and think, "Oh no, not again," like a pot of petunias, before it's the only reasonable course of action.
I don't know how much longer we need to suffer through the narrative that Fleury is any good at all before it crumbles to sand and is scattered by the wind. That is, if it hasn't done so already behind save attempts like this and this and most notably this.
I mean, look, the fact of the matter is that apart from one good playoff run five years ago in which he fell a game short of winning the Stanley Cup for that not-quite-ready Penguins team, he has always been sub-average, and now things are getting markedly worse.
Fortunately for Ray Shero and the entire Penguins organization, the new collective bargaining agreement is affording them a wonderful opportunity to get out from under the remaining two years of Fleury's contract, which comes with the hilarious cap hit of $5 million. While normally you would think that a player like Fleury might fetch, you know, anything worth having on the trade market, you have to wonder who would be willing to take on that deal given his recent performances.
His regular seasons have actually been half-decent, but you have to wonder how much of that is Bylsma's system, because Vokoun's numbers were comparable this season, as were Brent Johnson's two seasons ago and the year before that. But in the playoffs, hoo boy.
At some point you have to just cut bait, right?
How many howlers does he have to allow in a six-game stretch before you just give up the ghost and say the guy couldn't save a beach ball shot at him by a child with osteogenesis imperfect?
It's actually gotten to the point of embarrassment in a lot of ways; embarrassment that he melts down this crazily, embarrassment at individual goals allowed, embarrassment that he's allowed to continue playing, embarrassment that he's making what he is.
There are a lot of bad contracts in the NHL these days, of course. If you go look at the "Most Popular Buyouts" feature on Capgeek, you see a couple of them: Roberto Luongo's, Ilya Bryzgalov's, Vinny Lecavalier's, Rick DiPietro's. Way down at the bottom, as of Sunday afternoon, was Fleury's at No. 10. That really should be higher, shouldn't it? And because these are cap compliance buyouts, it essentially allows the team to spend that money on an actual league-average goaltender who can stop a respectable number of shots.
If Vokoun can play even mediocre hockey behind the Pens' defense as it is currently playing, then it seems like just about any goalie not named Marc-Andre Fleury (and perhaps Evgeni Nabokov) could as well. It just seems like the only course of action for a team that wants to succeed in the postseason is to get rid of the guy who is the worst in the world in the postseason. Vokoun was, we were told, brought in as a way to push Fleury to be better, not to serve as a stopgap when the latter's brain ceases to function once the regular season ends.
That he has to is frankly sad.
You can't go on hoping for a turnaround. It's never coming. Shero's job here is pretty simple: Trade him if you can (you can't), or buy him out if you have to (you have to), but by all means get him the hell away from your team.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: How did all that big Game 7 experience work out for the Red Wings last night? Oh, right.
Boston Bruins: I know this is from Thursday and he's been absolutely great in this series, but any article making the argument that David Krejci is the best player in the world deserves all the ridicule it can get.
Buffalo Sabres: Though they got much bigger roles this season, Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson would appear to still be works in progress. Hodgson was 665th in goals against per 60 minutes this season. Oof.
Calgary Flames: Jay Feaster has said that there's no way they do anything with the No. 6 overall pick except try to move up, so what, exactly, would they have to give up to move into the top four?
Carolina Hurricanes: Lots of good quotes here from the 'Canes about their support for You Can Play. I love seeing this stuff.
Chicago Blackhawks: Wait, if the Blackhawks weren't "sharp" in their series with Minnesota, what are they going to do if they get to that point? They outscored the Wild 17-7 in five games.
Colorado Avalanche: If the Avs want to win they should hire a college coach who has never coached a pro game in his life, writes a columnist who doesn't know anything about hockey. Y'know, ahead of Dave Tippet, who turned the Coyotes around in one season all by himself.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Don't go putting a timetable on the potential Sergei Bobrovsky contract, except that it will happen. Anyone else get the feeling it will both look and turn out like the deal Steve Mason got a million years ago?
Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak has been dominant for Dallas' AHL team and should be in the NHL next season. Given that he's 6-foot-7 and 254 pounds, they might want to clear out two stalls in the dressing room for him.
Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Yup, Justin Abdelkader overcomes the NHL conspiracy against him to score a shorthanded breakaway five-hole goal in Game 7.