It shouldn’t be a surprise, either.
After all, controversy tends to follow the rare goalies who get picked high in the first round, especially at No. 1 like Fleury. When you think of the headline-grabbing guys (at least the netminders who don’t skip White House visits), it’s often those fellows, whether it be Hall of Famer-caliber stoppers like Roberto Luongo (fourth overall, 1997) or sad stories such as Rick DiPietro (first overall, 2000).*
For many, it’s not acceptable for Fleury to rank somewhere between average and good. Sports narratives demand Hollywood-level heroics and Shakespearean tragic-lows.
Dramatists should be psyched, then, as 2013-14 represents a fork-in-the-road moment in Fleury’s career. With Tomas Vokoun sidelined for months - if not the entire season - “The Flower” gets a little room to bloom. Even so, the moment of truth is coming soon: Penguins management will eventually need to decide if he’s the franchise goalie they want him to be or if he’s trading block fodder.
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Vokoun’s injury is a bummer for hockey stats nerds in particular, as the Czech-born goalie stands, in many ways, as the polar opposite of Fleury. Fleury was the first selection of one of the most loaded drafts in NHL history; Vokoun was a ninth-round pick back in 1994. While MAF enjoyed significant “run support” in Pittsburgh, Vokoun often wallowed in obscurity, putting up impressive numbers for naught in places like Florida.
That could’ve changed when Vokoun signed with Washington, but instead, the last two seasons (first with Washington, then with Pittsburgh) probably earn an “Incomplete” grade. He was frequently competent-to-strong in both places, yet each visit was marred by injuries, making it tough not to wonder if it will all end with the question: “What if?”
Regardless, Vokoun’s loss is Fleury’s gain. But can MAF really cash in on this golden opportunity?
When you look at the numbers, it’s fair to say that Fleury is a step or two behind the elite, but his critics seem to weigh the meltdowns more heavily than the breakthroughs (like a hockey Tony Romo, minus the dimples but plus a championship ring).
To little surprise, he shines brightest in the team-centric wins category, which probably explains some of the derision. He already has 249 career regular season wins (47th all-time), peaking with 42 in 2010-12, good for second in the NHL that year. That wasn’t a fluke; Fleury finished in the top 10 - actually eighth or better - in wins six times in his career. Not bad for a guy who’s just 28-years-old.
If you look at save percentage alone, he's had four rough seasons, but only one in the last six (a .905 save percentage in 2009-10, when he still managed 37 wins). Sure, one could argue that he's only had one or two superb seasons save-percentage wise (.921 in 2007-08, maybe .918 in 2010-11), but his individual work looks pretty dependable - if unspectacular - since he really settled in as a go-to goalie.
Ultimately, that .910 career save percentage might set expectations a little too low, as he’s generated at least a .913 save percentage the past three seasons.
SOARING UP THE CHARTS
Now, if you want to argue that his percentages would be “even lower” on a lesser team, go ahead. But don’t forget to apply the same standards to goalies who benefit from rigid defense and/or great support such as Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith. You can play that nature vs. nurture game with a ton of goalies, and really sports figures in general.
For now, it’s more than reasonable to say that Fleury’s place as an elite fantasy goalie has been restored, which is what you should really care about. His current backup Jeff Zatkoff has zero games of NHL experience, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Fleury flirts with 40 wins and 65-70 GP.
At that point, will you really care if he isn’t putting up Henrik Lundqvist-level save percentage numbers? If so, you might be a little greedy.
After the jump: Game notes, injuries and more.
* - Kari Lehtonen (second overall, 2002) is a bizarre exception, as injuries and poor supporting casts mix with occasional brilliance to make him good enough not to be considered a bust, yet flawed enough to fly relatively low under the radar.
(I think he’s really good, for what it’s worth.)
COLORADO 6, ANAHEIM 1
To some surprise, the Ducks started Viktor Fasth instead of Jonas Hiller last night and watched him allow six goals on 29 shots. Whatever the context, that statline pretty much assures Hiller the next start. Still, bad luck seems to follow Hiller, who has shown flashes of being near the elite level before. Whether you dig their style or not, context screams “stay away” from both.
Sleeper favorite Steve Downie scored a goal and an assist, but what was really exciting was that he seemed to skate with Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly much for the night. Will Patrick Roy separate P. A. Parenteau and Duchene for long, though?
I’ve always had a soft spot for Semyon Varlamov, as frustrating as his injury history can be. If Colorado can play half-decently in front of him, he could be a nice second or tremendous third goalie.
The good for Nathan MacKinnon: two assists, played with some competent linemates. The not-so-good: just one second of his 15:31 time on ice came on the power play (juxtaposed somewhat hilariously by Paul Stastny, who had 2:56 of his 13:38 on the man advantage). Still, the “remember, this is supposed to be fun” rule applies: if you really want a guy who’s a leading Calder candidate, pick him up. Worst case scenario, the DD will try to direct you to a better option if he struggles.
The Avs quietly made a steal of a trade by bringing back Alex Tanguay for inconsistent sniper David Jones. Still, his three-assist night might be a little misleading; he didn’t get a single SOG and only played 13:38. I wouldn’t add him, but I’d monitor his work.
Don’t go hog wild on Colorado yet, although I’ll say this: they’ll probably score a ton and allow a ton, so picking up one player might be worth it just to have an excuse to watch them on Center Ice/Game Center.
TORONTO 3, PHILADELPHIA 1
So far, so very, very good for Jonathan Bernier, who stopped 31 out of 32 shots (and all 19 even-strength attempts) against the Philadelphia Flyers, not exactly a punchless squad. The biggest criticism of the Leafs grabbing Bernier - beyond it being kind of a harsh way to treat James Reimer - was that the much-hyped first-rounder carried a sparse resume with him to Toronto. Maybe he's carrying that fantastic relief work from his final season with the Kings (9-3-1, .922 save percentage) along with him?
Speaking of platoons, the Flyers did their Flyering thing and started Steve Mason over Ray Emery. Look, I’m fairly certain Chicago boosted Emery’s numbers substantially but … his competition is Steve Mason. I can’t complain, though, because Philly provides us all with so much entertainment … both intentionally and unintentionally.
Kudos to Dave Bolland for those two goals, but I’d be reluctant to jump on that bandwagon. He’s never eclipsed the 20-goal or 50-point mark despite being on some high-flying Blackhawks teams.
Uh oh, do you hear that? It’s the sound of the Vincent Lecavalier Siren Call, strong as ever. The lure is understandable: his nifty assist showed why his skills are alluring and the Flyers’ system - at least as long as Peter Laviolette is employed - often boosts scorers’ stats. Lecavalier soaked up a hearty 19:26 time on ice, including an eye-popping 6:19 of power-play time. Maybe he really will pan out this time ...
Speaking of crazy TOI, Claude Giroux logged an Ilya Kovalchukian 26:02 for Philly on Wednesday. Are they just trying to make sure he’s too tired to golf?
DETROIT 2, BUFFALO 1
People who picked the Sabres to be the worst team in the NHL probably felt empowered last night. Despite getting seven power plays, the Sabres scored one goal all night and only fired 20 SOG on Jimmy Howard.
On that note, let’s hope Ryan Miller hasn’t gotten tired of the review: “Miller was basically the lone bright spot for the Sabres tonight …”
Daniel Alfredsson received slightly more power play reps (four minutes) than Pavel Datsyuk (3:43) and Henrik Zetterberg (3:38). That's a good sign for Alf owners, though I'd probably give those other two more man advantage shifts if I were Mike Babcock.
Let’s hope Alfredsson’s linemates stay healthy. Johan Franzen ranks as a stouter (and Sweder) Martin Havlat while Stephen Weiss wasn’t a sure-thing to play. I’m concerned that Weiss might continue his low-shooting trend from his disastrous final season with Florida; he only had one SOG last night.
Is this the season Howard gets some well-deserved consideration as an elite goalie? He could log some big early-season minutes with Jonas Gustavsson on the shelf.
INJURIES (full list) and QUICK HITS
James Neal might miss tonight’s opener for Pittsburgh. He’s easily one of fantasy’s best power forwards so hopefully he can stay healthy … Maybe the Devils will be more reasonable than I expected: Cory Schneider is penciled in to start in the team’s season opener. I’d hope for 50 GP for him and 32 for Martin Brodeur, if not more for Schneider. We’ll see, though … Mikhail Grabovski went from 29 percent owned in the last Daily Dose to 45 percent. Hump Day + four points = people waking up. Grab him if you still can, slackers … Ryan O’Reilly’s numbers from 2013 look funky because of that ugly holdout. He should be owned in more than 43 percent of leagues, even if fantasy only captures portions of his all-around play … Jamie McGinn is a borderliner, much like last season. More than anything else, he shows off Colorado’s staggering depth and could be intriguing if injuries move him up the totem pole … Ryan Callahan was placed on the IR … Dustin Penner was a healthy scratch last night for Anaheim … It looks like Brenden Morrow probably won’t play for St. Louis tonight because of visa issues … Sean Bergenheim’s groin issue will probably keep him out until about Oct. 11, though these situations can change (usually for the worst, sadly).
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