Ron Cook: Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is building a Hall of Fame resume
January 29, 2016 12:00 AM
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury a future Hall of Famer?
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
We are pretty fortunate in this town. Our three pro sports teams are competitive every year, now that the Pirates have rejoined the party after disappearing for two decades. None of the teams has missed the playoffs since the Steelers in 2013. The Pirates have been in the postseason three years in a row, the Penguins nine consecutive years, the Steelers 16 times in the past 24 years. During those seasons, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Steelers the Super Bowl after the 2005 and 2008 seasons.
The good times are even better because we are watching great players in all three sports. I count six who are building Hall of Fame-caliber careers: Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown with the Steelers, Andrew McCutchen with the Pirates and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury with the Penguins. All still have work to do to be Hall-worthy, although Roethlisberger seems like a lock. But all should be strong candidates by the time they are done.
Perhaps you don’t think Fleury belongs in that group.
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I’m here today to tell you that you are wrong.
I understand why Fleury gets the least respect of the six. He’s a goaltender, the final line of defense before an opposing goal. It’s easy to blame him for goals and losses even if many aren’t his fault.
Many people jumped on Fleury after the Penguins were eliminated in the first round of the 2012 playoffs by the Philadelphia Flyers. He wasn’t good in that series, but none of his teammates was, either. The Flyers converted 12 of 23 power-play chances.
A lot more people questioned Fleury as a big-game goaltender when he was benched for Tomas Vokoun during the 2013 playoffs. Crosby, among many on the team, rushed to his defense, saying the blame belonged on the other players because they played so poorly in front of Fleury.
The Penguins sent Fleury to a sports psychologist after the 2013 season and made Mike Bales their goaltending coach at around the same time. It’s hard to say how much the two moves helped Fleury, but this much is certain: He was really good in 2013-14, was the Penguins’ MVP and an NHL All-Star in 2014-15 and is their best player this season.
Crosby and Kris Letang have picked up their game considerably under new coach Mike Sullivan and have the Penguins, suddenly, looking like a playoff team. But it was Fleury and Malkin who kept the team from getting buried in the standings under former coach Mike Johnston. Fleury has been especially strong from day one.
The game Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils was fairly typical of Fleury’s season. He was impenetrable in the first period when the Devils threatened to take control of the game. His save on Kyle Palmieri at the end of a two-on-one was one of the best saves of the season. The Penguins played better after that rough start and went on to win, 2-0, their third win in a row going into the All-Star break.
The shutout was the 42nd of Fleury’s career, putting him 32nd on the NHL’s all-time list. His career regular-season record is 341-200-58, his wins ranking 20th in NHL history. Yes, wins are easier to come by now that shootouts have eliminated tied games. But Fleury still ranks third among active NHL goaltenders behind only Roberto Luongo (423) and Henrik Lundqvist (362).
Perhaps most significant, Fleury’s name is on the Stanley Cup, something Luongo and Lundqvist can’t claim. The Penguins won the championship in 2009 after going to the final in 2008.
Fleury turned 31 on Nov. 28. He still is early in his prime. It’s not hard to imagine him approaching 500 career wins and climbing into the top 5 on the NHL list. It’s also nice to think he will win another Cup, maybe two.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford realizes Fleury’s value. Rutherford was on the job for just a few months in November, 2014, when he gave Fleury a four-year, $23 million contract extension through the 2018-19 season.
“I believe in Marc-Andre Fleury, as the team does,” Rutherford said at the time.
Nothing has changed.
The Fleury signing just might be Rutherford’s best move.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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