On Marc-Andre Fleury
Marc-Andre Fleury is likely done as a Pittsburgh Penguin.
I don’t exactly know why, but I feel like writing a little something about what I feel like he has meant to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If your first thought is “Yeah, but Matt Murray’s save percentage is…..” then this post isn’t for you. I’m not saying that Fleury is better than Matt Murray or that the Penguins should keep him instead of Murray. The league has a salary cap and an expansion draft coming up, so keeping the younger and cheaper goalie makes sense.
However, that doesn’t mean I’m happy to see Fleury go. It’s actually quite the opposite. Yes, sports are about winning (and the Penguins are certainly winning these days) so it probably makes logical sense to say “Well, statistically Marc-Andre Fleury is or isn’t something or other” and then dismiss him. It’s easy to mock people who are sad to see him go as sentimental fools who care more about a “nice guy” than winning and then mention Matt Murray’s save percentage again.
This post isn’t about statistics.
This post is about a feeling. Yes, sports are about winning and losing and numbers, but they’re also about how they make us feel. We cheer because of how we feel. We get dejected when a team loses because of how we feel.
I remember the day Marc-Andre Fleury was drafted. I was two years old when Mario Lemieux was drafted and eight years old when Jaromir Jagr was drafted. I grew up watching those players, but I didn’t have the excitement of paying close attention to their entire careers.
I was 21 when Marc-Andre Fleury was drafted. I remember getting an email from the Penguins’ mailing list that said the team had traded up to pick first overall. I was ecstatic. It was the first thing to really be excited about as a Penguins fan in a while. The Penguins were not good. The “glory days” were gone. Yes, Mario Lemieux was still there, but the team had only 27 wins in the 2002-2003 season. That year they traded away Alexei Kovalev, and Martin Straka had one foot out the door.
I had watched Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Ron Francis lift the Stanley Cup. Now I was watching Rico Fata, Dan Focht, and Kris Beech. It was depressing.
When the Penguins drafted Marc-Andre Fleury, it was the first sign that there might be hope for the future.
And it wasn’t just hope. Marc-Andre Fleury brought consistency. Yes, it sounds weird to use the words “Marc-Andre Fleury” and “consistency” together, but it’s true.
Since Tom Barrasso left the Penguins, I had watched Ron Tugnutt, Johan Hedberg, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Garth Snow, Sebastien Caron, etc. in the Penguins’ net. Yes, some of those players were quite good and some had some success in Pittsburgh, but none of them were around for long. When Fleury was drafted I knew that the team would finally have a goalie who would be there for a while.
He was there for over a decade. He won more than any Penguins goalie in history. And yes, a lot of that had to do with the team in front of him, but a lot of it had to do with him too.
There were certainly ups and downs. Yes, he sat on the puck and pushed it into the net with his butt, he slipped and fell running onto the ice, he bobbled the puck a million times behind the net, he “played” against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, and he lost his starting job to Tomas Vokoun in the 2013 playoffs.
But he also stopped Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway in 2009 and dove to keep the puck out of the net to win the Penguins the Cup that same year. He made 46 saves in his very first game with the Penguins (and lost). And, just this year, he stepped in for the injured Matt Murray and was vital to eliminating Columbus and Washington.
Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t the greatest goalie in history. But he’s not the worst, either. The people who attack him over-exaggerate his flaws, which causes his supporters to over-exaggerate his strengths. But, again, that’s not what this post is about.
Before Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, there was Marc-Andre Fleury playing behind Konstantin Koltsov, Matt Murley, and Mike Eastwood. He gave people a reason to believe. Those bright yellow pads were a beacon of hope.
I’m glad he got to play during this playoff run. I’m glad he got to raise the Cup with pride, instead of sheepishly holding it for a few seconds like he did in 2016. I’m glad Pittsburgh got to say goodbye to him at the parade.
And I’ll be cheering for him in Vegas or wherever he goes. Hopefully it’s not Winnipeg.