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Past Fantasy Outlooks
After losing his job to Matt Murray (twice, really), Fleury saw his decade-plus in Pittsburgh come to an end on a high note, with another Stanley Cup, before he got claimed by Vegas in the expansion draft. In his new home, Fleury will once more be a No. 1 netminder with a fighting chance at 60-plus appearances. Of course, the Golden Knights are a team with both eyes on the future rather than 2017-18, and it remains to be seen how they'll gel in their inaugural season -- hence the risk of using Fleury as an everyday fantasy starter. Owners should also keep in mind that the puck-playing keeper likes to patrol outside the crease, which figures to induce as many head-scratching moments as jaw-dropping saves. With his track record, Fleury is capable of carrying Vegas to a respectable season, but the 30-win mark is likely his ceiling with the nascent franchise.
Among goalies with at least 40 starts last year, Fleury ranked eighth in GAA (2.29) and ninth in save percentage (.921). But those numbers ended up being moot following his second concussion of the season, suffered March 31 against the Predators. Rookie Matt Murray took over in goal (with an assist to Jeff Zatkoff) and never looked back, effectively replacing the Flower. In the playoffs – a part of the season where the veteran has often struggled – coach Mike Sullivan showed loyalty to Murray, sticking with the young netminder from his AHL coaching days while Fleury rode the bench for all but one start and one relief appearance. Given Sullivan’s history with Murray, it isn’t too difficult projecting Fleury in a backup or timeshare situation until an injury or trade materializes. As 2003’s first overall pick enters his 13th year, he deserves better, but Fleury may have to find a new team before regaining his status as a No. 1 goalie.
Although he didn't reach his old 40-win level, last season was perhaps the finest one of Fleury's career. He posted his highest save percentage (.920) in a full season, and this time, his play didn't flag in the playoffs -- "The Flower" delivered a .927 save mark in five postseason games, only to see the Penguins bounced due to a quiet offensive performance. Fortunately, they've brought in help on that front, while Fleury will hope an offseason of healing leaves him with a mostly intact blue line this season, as Pittsburgh's top defensemen have fallen to a myriad of injuries in past years. Following last season's contract extension, Fleury will remain a Penguin into his mid-30s, and he returns once again as the team's top netminder, with 60-plus starts and a likely improvement over last year's 34 wins on tap.
Despite Fleury's well-documented postseason struggles, the goalie has put up remarkably consistent regular season numbers. Over the last four campaigns, the netminder has posted GAAs between 2.32 and 2.39, with save percentages between .914 and .918. "The Flower" has also served as Pittsburgh's primary starter, but he may not see as huge of a workload with a new management regime in place. With one year remaining on a five-year, $25 million contract, Fleury will be playing for a new deal. Frankly, it wouldn't be surprising to see new GM Jim Rutherford move the goalie in an effort to further distance the organization from past postseason failures.
The biggest commodity Fleury has offered over the past several seasons -- wins -- is in jeopardy. The Pittsburgh netminder has averaged 38 victories in the last four full seasons and went 23-8 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 2012-13. He's rebounded from disastrous playoff performances before without missing a regular season beat, but this time things feel differently. Tomas Vokoun, who saved the Pens from yet another early postseason exit, will compete with Fleury for playing time. Vokoun is 37 years of age, however. The Pens might need to keep him healthy for the postseason, limiting his regular-season ice time. Fleury worked with a sports psychologist in the summer to improve his focus. It wouldn't be surprising to see him put up decent regular season numbers -- he could be a fantasy steal if he slips in drafts, but there's also a risk he gets traded or sees a downtick in playing time. He's signed with Pittsburgh for two more seasons at $5 million annually. His future with the Pens has never been more cloudy.
Visions of Vezina Trophy Finalist danced through Fleury's mind before a late-season slump doused any such thought. The Flower strung together a 22-2-2 run which ended in late March. The Penguins and their goalie never seemed to recover from back-to-back Islanders losses in which Fleury gave up nine goals before actually playing worse in the postseason. The Pittsburgh netminder won a career-high 42 games and his 2.36 goals-against average was significantly better than his career mark (2.68). The Pens brought in Tomas Vokoun to cover for the Flower during rough patches, something that could actually benefit his peripheral numbers in 2012-13.
Fleury enters his eighth NHL season at the ripe old age of 27. After a miserable start to 2010-11, the Penguins netminder rebounded to set single-season bests in goals-against average (2.32) and save percentage (.918). He lost six of his first seven decisions, but then strung together a 14-game unbeaten streak that included 11 straight wins. An improved defensive corps and the loss of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin saw Pittsburgh change its strategy. Fleury came up big, rewarding the team with the most consistent regular-season tending of his career. Backup goalie Brent Johnson played nearly as well in goal, giving the Pens an opportunity keep Fleury fresh with an occasional night off. Pittsburgh looks to add a healthy Crosby and Malkin in 2011-12, meaning more wins for the Flower -- he had 36 last year -- and a bit more of a wide open game in front of him. He's just entering the prime of his career.
No player on the Penguins figures to benefit more than Fleury does following the free agent signings of defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin. Fleury was hung out to dry more than wet laundry last year. Make no mistake, Fleury brought on many of his own problems. He won 37 games – eighth best in the NHL, but his peripheral numbers were nothing special. Fleury’s 2.65 GAA ranked 22nd among qualified goaltenders while a .905 save percentage put him 32nd among goalies. Heading into his seventh season, it’s easy to forget that Fleury is still just 24 years of age. He’s had issues staying healthy the last several campaigns, but the Pittsburgh netminder might be undervalued in fantasy circles heading into 2010-11. Fantasy owners that find Fleury falling their way would be wise to consider him as a buy-low value.
It remains to be seen if there's a more good-natured, ah shucks kind of guy in the NHL than Fleury. Throughout his career, Fleury has overcome yo-yo trips to Wilkes-Barre, embarrassing gaffes of international play and ever-present whispers that he's not the big time goalie he's supposed to be, only to hoist the Stanley Cup at the tender age of 24. Fleury has missed significant portions of time with groin and ankle injuries the last two seasons, but has come back strong both times. The Penguins picked up Brent Johnson to back up the Flower, but there's no reason to think the Pittsburgh starter can't tend at least 60 games again. If you're looking for wins, then Fleury's your guy. If you need elite goals-against and save percentage numbers, however, there are better goalies available. Pittsburgh's defense probably won't be as good as it was last year and that will hurt Fleury's peripherals.
The Pittsburgh netminder finally got on the roll many expected from him when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2003, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Penguins. Following a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for two months until late February, Fleury ran off of 10-2-1 mark to close out the regular season and then played better in the postseason. He saved 55 shots in a Game 5 overtime win against Detroit in the Cup finals, finding his signature game while showing that he can be a big-time goaltender. Of course Fleury let in a couple of questionable goals in the Cup-deciding Game 6 loss, but there’s no disputing his improved quality of play. Pittsburgh extended his contract seven years in the offseason. If he doesn’t post 40 wins then it will come as a surprise.
Coach Michel Therrien nearly sent Fleury packing to the AHL after a poor preseason last year. He probably saved his job by not sending him back. Despite a short history of failing to live up to expectations, Fleury responded to the challenge and turned in a season that helped Pittsburgh reach the postseason for the first time since 2000-01. He still relies on athleticism more than positioning, but he continues to improve on a team that commonly leaves him out to dry. Fleury has no real challenger (other than Dany Sabourin) because Jocelyn Thibault signed with Buffalo, so he figures to be a workhorse. He'll likely approach the 40-win level once again.
Fleury, 21, overcame Pittsburgh's penny-pinching incentive contract clauses to put together a decent 2005 season that offers hope for a promising upcoming campaign. With an overall record of 13-27-6, the Penguins' No. 1 goalie didn't threaten for the Vezina. However, upon closer inspection, Fleury posted a 6-7-2 mark following the Olympics. His 3.25 GAA and .898 save percentage indicate plenty of room for improvement, but there's much more to it for the young netminder than simply numbers. Fleury struggled to make the big third-period save on numerous occasions. He'll have a better defense in front of him from the season's start and Therrien is a defense-first coach. With that in mind, Fleury is probably not a yet a No. 1 fantasy goalie, but he's worth picking up at the end of a draft.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft, Fleury hasn't played well anywhere in any of the numerous stops he's made. He was yanked during the AHL playoffs for the second straight year, with fellow goalie Andy Chiodo coming in to save the day and win a couple of playoff rounds for the Baby Pens. Fleury was 63rd among goalies the AHL with a .901 save percentage, and 23rd with a 2.52 GAA. Scouts remain in love with his talent, however, and he's still just 20 years old. In other words, it's way too early to be writing his obituary. Sitting behind Jocelyn Thibault might actually accelerate his progress. The signing of Thibault in and of itself shows that Pittsburgh acknowledges Fleury isn't ready.