Confession: I have not been a fan of Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury since his days in the AHL.
In 2004, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were competing in the Calder Cup playoffs, and then-head coach Michel Therrien had no choice but to put him on the bench.
Enter a goalie who was not as well known as Fleury. This goalie came without the No. 1 overall draft pick status and the hype around him to be one of the best goalies in the world some day. He played lights out and gained cult hero status among Little Penguins fans, all while Fleury watched from the sidelines.
Six years later, I still believe Fleury is not worth the hype he comes with or his huge paycheck. In fact, I believe he is one of the most overrated goalies in the league.
There are several reasons why I believe this, so let's go over them.
First of all, Fleury should have learned from his mistakes by now, but instead, he continues making the same mistakes that ail rookies in their first year in the NHL.
Fleury continues to give up soft goals when the Penguins cannot afford them. You don't have to look far back to find an example. He gave up two goals in a very short period of time on Saturday night when the Penguins had a 2-1 lead against Montreal. Montreal ended up winning the game 3-2.
Last season, Fleury was pulled 14 times in 67 games played. That comes out to about 21 percent of his starts when Brent Johnson had to replace him. That is simply an unacceptable rate of failure for a starting goalie.
People like to say that Fleury is "young" and "still learning" or "he will be great someday", but I can't buy into that.
With all due respect, Fleury is now in his seventh season in the NHL. He has been in the league a long time and yet has improved little; by now, he should have found his way. What should he have left to learn?
The time for Fleury to start playing like a No. 1 overall draft pick is right now. It shouldn't be in five years from now.
Another problem I have with Fleury is that, despite people claiming he is "clutch", he really isn't.
Fleury apologists like to point at the 2008 and 2009 playoff runs to show that Fleury is a big-time goalie, but in the 2010 playoffs, he was anything but.
They failed to do so, and Fleury was part of the reason. He gave up a goal to Mike Cammalleri 1:13 into the game and allowed two goals less than three minutes apart in the second period.
The loss was hard, but Penguins fans came into Game Seven believing the Canadiens had no chance, and Fleury was part of the reason why.
In the closing game of the series, however, Fleury choked again. He gave up a power play goal to Brian Gionta 32 seconds into the game and never recovered.
Montreal was up 4-0 by the time coach Dan Bylsma replaced Fleury with Brent Johnson, but it was already too late for the Penguins. They lost 5-2 and were shockingly eliminated from the postseason.
I'm not trying to take anything away from Fleury's run in 2008 and 2009. However, given his performance in the most recent playoffs, how can fans continue to sit there and say Fleury always comes up big for the Penguins? Those two games against Montreal prove that he failed them when he was supposed to be clutch.
If anyone thinks Fleury came through for the team last year, they need their heads examined.
I also have a dislike of Fleury because of his fanbase, who always give him a free pass and find a way to blame someone else for the goals he gives up.
Why is Fleury NEVER at fault? I am curious. Why is it always the defense, Bylsma, the referees, or the offense not scoring enough? It seems like when he has a bad night, everyone is quick to give an excuse for why it shouldn't be his fault.
This goes back to my point about Fleury's experience in the league. For someone who has been in the league as long as he has, he should no longer be safe from criticism when the Penguins drop a game. He needs to share at least some of the blame rather than fans and the media saying it's everyone else's fault but his own.
Fleury's stats in the regular season do not scream "elite goaltender" to me. In 2007-2008, he had his best season yet, posting a .921 save percentage and 2.33 GAA.
However, despite the fact that he won more than 30 games the next two years, his statistics are not good. In 2008-2009, he regressed and had a .912 save percentage with a 2.67 GAA. Last season, it was a .905 save percentage with a 2.65 GAA.
This year, he is starting off slow. He has yet to find a win, and he has a .889 save percentage with a 3.08 GAA.
His performances during the regular season are mediocre. It does no good to cling to one Stanley Cup when he is just not that good all year. He needs to be reliable throughout the season, and not just a few games at a time, for the Pens to truly be a serious contender.
Finally, I feel a little annoyed by the fact that Fleury is virtually irreplaceable. He has a no-trade clause in his contract, and the Penguins are stuck with him for the future. He also makes $5.5 million a year.
I do not feel that Fleury is worth his contract. His struggles would be a little easier to take if he made less money, but he does not show he deserves over five million dollars a year. In my opinion, his play has not justified him being kept safe from ever being traded. No player should be that indispensable.
Hey, even the great Wayne Gretzky got traded.
In my opinion, Marc-Andre Fleury is vastly overrated, and I don't think he will ever be a great goalie. It is long time for Penguins fans to stop clinging to 2009 to defend him and hold him responsible for some of the team's problems.
Fleury needs to step up and come through on more than one occasion every few months. Until that happens, my opinion won't change.
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