If he plays, Marc-Andre Fleury would transform Blackhawks’ goaltending
With Fleury contemplating whether to uproot or leave his family for one year in Chicago, his agent says there “should be some clarity soon.”
As the Blackhawks’ 2021 goaltending duo, Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban held their own far better than expected.
But if Marc-Andre Fleury joins Lankinen as half of the 2021-22 duo, the Hawks wouldn’t just enjoy surprisingly competent goaltending. They’d boast one of the best goaltending units in the NHL.
Whether or not the 36-year-old reigning Vezina Trophy winner will do that remains to be seen. The Hawks acquired Fleury and his $7 million cap hit last week for essentially nothing, aware of the possibility Fleury could choose to retire (and forgo his cap hit) rather than uproot or leave his Las Vegas-based family for a year in Chicago.
The Hawks have yet to receive a definitive answer, although the odds of Fleury playing for them do seem more promising than they initially did. Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, said Saturday there “should be some clarity soon.”
Update: Per multiple reports Sunday, Fleury has informed the Hawks he will play for them in 2021-22.
Despite the cap casualties it probably would cause, including trading at least one of Calvin de Haan or Dylan Strome, the Hawks would love to hear a “yes” from Fleury. One quick look at the data shows why.
After declining somewhat in 2018-19 and 2019-20 — albeit understandably, given his age — the three-time Stanley Cup champion delivered one of the best performances of his career in 2021. His 26-10-0 record, alongside ex-Hawks goalie Robin Lehner’s 13-4-2 mark, helped an already-stacked Golden Knights team win the William Jennings Trophy (fewest goals allowed) and nearly claim the Presidents’ Trophy.
Detailed statistics further demonstrate Fleury’s dominance. At even strength, he ranked eighth (among 67 goalies) in overall save percentage and 10th in save percentage against high-danger shots. Lankinen ranked 17th and 24th, respectively, and Subban 57th and 63rd.
For a more holistic analysis, consider goals saved above average (GSAA), which compares a goalie’s performance with how an average goalie would have performed against the same quantity and quality of shots.
At even strength, Fleury ranked fifth in GSAA at plus-13.0, part of an elite group of six goalies — including the Predators’ Juuse Saros, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov, Hurricanes’ Alex Nedeljkovic, Panthers’ Chris Driedger and himself — to finish in double digits. Lankinen finished 11th at plus-7.3 and Subban 53rd at minus-5.8.
Fleury was just as dominant on the penalty kill, ranking ninth in save percentage and sixth in GSAA. By comparison, Lankinen struggled mightily on the penalty kill (ranking 56th and 58th, respectively), while Subban finished near the middle (19th and 22nd).
The Hawks’ previously porous, now reconstructed defense probably won’t give Fleury quite the same protection he enjoyed with Vegas, which — combined with his advancing age — probably will equate to some regression toward the mean. Even factoring that in, though, the Hawks still could expect Fleury to deliver top-10 overall results.
He also would be able to mentor Lankinen, sharing the lessons of 17 NHL seasons while keeping Lankinen’s workload — which tired out the young Finn in the final month of last season — manageable over an 82-game schedule.
But it all depends on Fleury’s willingness to come. As tantalizing as it is to imagine Fleury’s tremendous impact on the Hawks, it’s equally easy to picture a situation unfolding like Corey Crawford’s ill-fated Devils stint, which didn’t survive one week of training camp.
For now, Fleury’s mindset remains a mystery.