Fleury’s boom-or-bust season makes Golden Knights total wild card

4 Comments

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was named the NHL’s No. 1 star of the week on Monday after recording back-to-back shutouts in his past two starts, bringing his season total to a league-leading eight shutouts. It is an impressive number when you consider nobody else in the league has more than six, and only one player (Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy) has more than five.

When combined with his league-leading win total, as well as the fact he plays for a prominent team in the Western Conference playoff race, one that was just in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, there is almost certainly going to be some kind of a Vezina Trophy push for him.

But the NHL’s general managers, who are tasked with voting for the Vezina, have not typically given Fleury much attention throughout his career. What stands out about his 2018-19 season so far is that it is in a lot of ways a perfect representation of his career as a whole.

It has featured some incredible highs, and also some incredible lows.

The simplest way to put it is like this — your opinion of Fleury as a Vezina candidate says a lot about what you look for in a goalie; or perhaps more accurately, the way you evaluate a goaltender’s performance in the NHL.

Fleury has always been a goalie that tends to appeal to a large group of fans and analysts because his game has flash to it. You don’t need to understand the finer points or the technical details of the position to appreciate watching him play. He will make the saves and make the plays that show up on highlight reels because he is a freakish athlete, has incredible quickness, and is never truly “out” of any play. He can make any save on any shot.

When everything clicks together at the same time he is capable of looking unbeatable.

When it does not all work together, it can look ugly. Very ugly.

With Fleury’s 2018-19 performance you see a lot of wins, and that will no doubt appeal to the “wins are the only thing that matters” subset of the hockey community.

But folks, it is 2019. We should be well beyond using wins to evaluate goaltending play because a lot of it (not all of it, but a lot of it) is team dependent.

That win total for Fleury is mostly the result of playing for a pretty good team that gives him some decent goal support, and also appearing in more games than any other goalie in the league.

Even if you go with the mindset that “winning is the only stat the matters,” his winning percentage of .571 is tied for fifth among goalies who have appeared in at least 40 games. If you dig down to goalies that have appeared in at least 30 games, it drops down to a tie for eighth.

Again: The current win total is about volume, not necessarily about consistent, dominant play.

But then you see the eight shutouts and probably of think that as an example of the dominance. And to a point, it is. Eight shutouts in a season is a lot. It is even more impressive when it happens in only 56 games, and it shows just how good he is capable of being when he is at his best.

What should stand out about that number, however, is the fact that he has eight shutouts and still only has a .911 save percentage for the season, a mark that is just barely above the league average. It is, quite literally, the middle of the pack among NHL goalies. It almost seems impossible to believe that a goalie with eight shutouts in a season can only have a league average season percentage. You would think they would be dominant.

Of the eight goalies who have recorded at least four shutouts this season, five of them have a save percentage of at least .924. The only three that do not are Fleury, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Mikko Koskinen. Going back even further, in the history of the league there have only been eight instances where a goalie had at least eight shutouts in a season and still finished with a save percentage of .911 or worse, and a few of those came during eras where goal-scoring was significantly higher and save percentages were routinely lower than they are today.

What this should tell us is that while Fleury has been prone to the occasional dominant performance this season, he has also had several games where it just has not been there for him and he his play has totally collapsed on itself. Look no further than the fact he has already had 20 games this season where he has faced at least 15 shots and recorded a save percentage of .890 or worse.

That is tied (with Bobrovsky) for the most in the league. Now, that total (like the win total) is also largely due to the number of games he has actually played. More games means more opportunity to mess up. But that is still close to 36 percent of his starts where he has pretty much given his team no chance to win. The league average for that number is around 29 percent, and if you look at that goalies that have a higher percentage it is a list of goalies that are having pretty awful years. 

(Keep in mind, when goalies face at least 15 shots and have a save percentage of .890 or less this season their teams have only won 15 percent of those games.)

All of this means that on any given night Vegas is either getting one of the best goalies in league, or one of the worst. There is very rarely any sort of middle ground with him.

This is what makes Vegas a total mystery when it comes to the playoffs, because their success will depend almost entirely on which version of Marc-Andre Fleury they get over any best-of-seven series. If it is the one that has the eight shutouts, they could beat any team. If it is the one that has self destructed and in more than 35 percent of his starts they will be done in round one.

Based on the way this season — and almost his entire career to this point — has gone it is going to be anybody’s guess as to which version shows up.

PHT Power Rankings: The NHL’s best under-the-radar performances

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Trade: Penguins send Olli Maatta to Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun and draft pick

Getty
2 Comments

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford made it clear that changes were coming to his team this offseason.

On Saturday evening he made his first one.

The Penguins announced that they have traded defender Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round draft pick that originally belonged to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is a trade that accomplishes quite a bit for both teams.

First, from the Pittsburgh side, it clears up a log-jam the team had on its blue line with as many as eight NHL defenders either under contract or under team control (Marcus Pettersson is a restricted free agent) for this season. That alone made it seem likely that someone was going to be on the move, and especially after the team’s defensive play regressed again this past season and had a particularly brutal playoff run against the New York Islanders. By trading Maatta, it not only clears a roster spot but also sheds more than $3 million in salary cap space given that Kahun is still on an entry-level contract and counts only $925,000 against the cap for the 2019-20 season.

It also gives them some much-needed youth at forward.

Even after Maatta’s departure the Penguins still have a lot of questions to deal with on defense, where Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson are still taking up more than $7 million in salary cap space over the next few seasons (not ideal!), while Justin Schultz is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Will more players be on the move to address that position? Or does this just make it more likely the returning players take on bigger roles and are more set in the lineup? Based on what we have seen the past few seasons more changes are going to be needed.

The 23-year-old Kahun scored 13 goals and added 24 assists for the Blackhawks in 82 games this past season, his first full year in the NHL.

The addition of the draft pick also gives the Penguins six picks in this year’s draft: A first, a fourth, two fifths, and two sevenths.

As for Chicago, Maatta joins a defense that has needed an overhaul for a few years now and provides a fresher, younger face in the lineup. Even though Maatta has six years of NHL experience under his belt he will still only be 25 years old when the 2019-20 season begins. His career has gone through some extreme ups and downs. When he made his debut during the 2013-14 season he looked like a player that had legitimate top-pairing potential in the NHL could be on his way to becoming a cornerstone player in Pittsburgh. But in the years that followed he had to overcome cancer and an extensive list of injuries that sidetracked his career and led to some pretty significant regressions across the board. Injuries have still been an issue before him in recent seasons, but he seems to have understood his limitations and adjusted to the sort of game he has to play to make a positive impact.

He is not going to bring much speed to the Blackhawks’ blue line, and he tends to play a more conservative game when it comes to defending entries at the blue line, but he is a sound player in his own end and while he lacks top-end speed, is still very good with the puck on his stick. When he is at his best, he plays a clean, quiet game that will not get noticed (and there is nothing wrong with that; not everyone is going to be Erik Karlsson).

The problem is he is still prone to getting beat by faster forwards and when it happens it can at times look bad, which then leads to criticism.

He appeared in 60 games for the Penguins in 2018-19, scoring one goal and 14 total points. He averages around five goals and 25 total points over 82 games.

He has three years remaining on a contract that carries a salary cap hit of just over $4 million per season. He alone is not going to fix all of the Blackhawks’ shortcomings on defense, but he is not a bad addition, either.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues parade Stanley Cup down streets of downtown St. Louis

AP Photo
5 Comments

Rain or shine, as they say. And the rain wasn’t going to put a damper on this parade.

And while the wet stuff poured down prior to the parade proper in St. Louis on Saturday, it let up as to allow quite the sight, one a half-century in the making.

St. Louis fans lined Market Street just days after their Blues hoisted their first Cup in franchise history after defeating the Boston Bruins 4-1 in the Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The parade route began at the intersection of 18th and Market, went down past Enterprise Center — the home of the Blues — and ended at Broadway and Market, a couple blocks from the famed Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River.

The celebrations continued as players, coaches and alumni led a ceremony under the Arch.

“This is incredible,” Craig Berube said. “I knew that there was going to be a lot of support out here today. People are excited and happy and deserving because they love the game of hockey here. The fans are unbelievable. And they finally got a championship.

Brayden Schenn called it the best day of his life. Schenn wore a firefighter hat, honoring his father who is one and was on the back of one of the fire truck floats.

Rookie sensation Jordan Binnington called the moment surreal, and hardly looked nervous as he let loose and soaked the whole experience in.

Ryan O'Reilly, meanwhile, grabbed the Cup and took it down the street near the thousands of fans lined up, allowing those close enough to touch it as he went by.

Former Blues great Brett Hull, who has two Stanley Cup wins to his name, but never with St. Louis, labelled Saturday as the greatest day in the history of the city.

Hull was one of the first people on stage. Not sober, Hull wanted to change the chant from, ‘Let’s go Blues’ to ‘We went Blues’.

“We don’t have to say, ‘Let’s go’ anymore because we already did it,” Hull said.

Of course, the Blues parade wouldn’t be complete without Laila Anderson, a part of the team’s inspiration during their run to the Cup.

Anderson was surprised with Game 7 tickets and got to watch the Blues hoist Lord Stanley. She told Fox Sports Midwest that she thought her mom was pulling a prank on her when she said she was getting to go and be part of the championship parade.

“I’m just glad I could help them,” she said. ” I don’t know what I do but I’m just glad the whole city supports me so much.

Yesterday, the Blues took the Cup to OB. Clark’s, a neighbourhood sports bar and restaurant.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kings buy out Dion Phaneuf

Getty Images
7 Comments

Dion Phaneuf‘s time with the Los Angeles Kings has come to an end.

The team announced that they were buying out the 34-year-old’s contract on Saturday afternoon, the first day of the buyout window that lasts until June 30.

[RELATED: Buyout Frenzy: Five candidates to have contracts nixed from the books]

Phaneuf’s name had been circulating in buyout discussions for a while, so it’s hardly surprising that the Kings have elected to do so.

Phaneuf is a shade of the player he used to be and is on the back nine of his career. He’s got two years remaining on a deal and the Kings will save $2,833 million over the course of the buyout, including shedding over $4 million of cap space next year.

Phaneuf’s cap hit over four years will $8.375 million, with the Ottawa Senators retaining 25 percent or $2.791 million per the transaction the two teams made in 2018.

Trading Phaneuf was never likely. He had six points in 67 games last year and the Kings, who were dreadful, healthy-scratched Phaneuf down the stretch.

The Kings acquired Phaneuf prior to the trade deadline in 2018. He’d appear in 93 games over the past two seasons, recording 16 points.

Phaneuf, a first-round pick in 2003, played his 1,000th game during this past season. He’s six points shy of 500 for his NHL career.

The Kings have 10 picks in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft, including the 5th overall selection in the first round.

MORE: Flyers waive MacDonald, set to buy him out


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Flyers waive MacDonald, set to buy him out

Getty Images
2 Comments

Well, that didn’t take long.

The Philadelphia Flyers put defenseman Andrew MacDonald on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out, according to the club on Saturday. The Flyers can buy MacDonald out on Sunday after he clears waivers.

Today marks the opening of the buyout window where teams can shed bad contracts (for the most part) and save a little money when it comes to the salary cap. MacDonald’s name was written on the wall on Friday, however, after the Flyers and Washington Capitals swapped Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen, a defenseman.

[RELATED: Buyout Frenzy: Five candidates to have contracts nixed from the books]

MacDonald had a year remaining on his six-year-, $30 million contract he signed prior to the 2014-15 season. The Flyers will save $3.833 million next year, reducing the cap hit from $5 million to just $1.66 million.

“It was a difficult decision,” Flyers GM Cliff Fletcher said. “It was solely cap related…This guys is a constant professional. He did whatever we asked him to do…He’s just a quality person & a guy who played an effective two-way game for our team.”

MacDonald’s play has tanked in recent times and his minutes followed. He had no goals and nine assists last year in 47 games where he averaged around 16 minutes a night, six less than when he was acquired by the Flyers in 2014 from the New York Islanders.

A shortened season became commonplace for MacDonald, often through injury as well as being healthy scratched. He’s never played a full 82-game schedule in his 10-year NHL career.

MacDonald’s buyout is the first foot to fall.

There are several more candidates who could follow the same path over the next two weeks.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck