While everything seemed to come crashing down for Marc-Andre Fleury during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, fantasy owners would be wise not to hold his postseason struggles against him when they're looking for goaltending this season.
Fleury got a vote of confidence from Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma in June, which indicates he'll be in position to reclaim the team's starting job. If that's the case, he certainly deserves top-10 consideration among fantasy goalies heading into 2013-14 -- despite the negative perception surrounding his value these days.
Didn't backup Tomas Vokoun clearly outplay Fleury in the playoffs? Doesn't the fact that Fleury has struggled in each of the past four postseasons hurt his fantasy value?
With the League's highest-scoring offense in front of him and a history of responding well after past postseason struggles, Marc-Andre Fleury deserves to be in the top-10 fantasy goalie conversation. (Photo: Gregory Shamus/NHLI)
There's no question that Vokoun was a big reason the Penguins survived a scare from the New York Islanders and rolled past the Ottawa Senators before being swept by the Boston Bruins. Vokoun allowed three goals or fewer in all 11 of his playoff appearances and surrendered only nine goals in Boston's four-game series sweep of Pittsburgh. If the Penguins' offense had churned out more than a measly two goals in that series, Vokoun might have taken his team to the Stanley Cup Final.
As for Fleury, his performance during the four postseasons since he led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009 has left something to be desired -- but he hasn't let his postseason struggles affect his regular-season win totals. In the 31 postseason games he's played from 2010-13, Fleury has allowed four or more goals 15 times. But during the past three regular seasons, no goaltender has more regular-season wins than Fleury's 101.
Fleury's combined goals-against average (2.35) and save percentage (.916) during those last three seasons have gotten the job done from a fantasy standpoint as well. Fleury is also the only goalie under 30 years old who's among the top 10 active goaltenders in victories. If he finishes in the top-10 in wins yet again next season with similar numbers across the board, he will surprise fantasy owners who no longer consider him top-20 material at his position.
Fleury won 23 times last season, one short of the League lead, despite sitting out 15 of his team's 48 games. The only goalies to win more games last season were Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Niemi and Niklas Backstrom, all of whom started 40 or more times.
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Vokoun is far from the Penguins goalie of the future at 37 years old. He was one of the NHL's most productive backups last season (13-4-0, .919 save percentage, 3 SO) and certainly holds some short-term value after a strong playoff run, but Vokoun posted those numbers during a shortened season and is not likely usurp Fleury as the starter in 2013-14.
He's the less-proven fantasy goalie in this comparison, and Bylsma's comments back in June make it clear that getting Fleury's confidence back in order will be at the top of the team's agenda. After all, the Penguins sport a talented enough offense -- one that has led the NHL in goals per game in each of the past two seasons -- for Fleury to post 35-plus wins if he plays 60-plus games.
Make no mistake: Fleury's lapses and overall play in the postseason should concern the Penguins moving forward -- considering they enter the upcoming season as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. But from a fantasy standpoint, it's all about the regular season -- when few have been better than Fleury in recent years.
Vokoun should still be one of the better backup goalies in the NHL, and he proved by his playoff performance that he should be part of the equation in net for the Penguins. That being said, Fleury is still worth drafting in fantasy leagues once top-tier workhorse starters start going off the board.
If Fleury rebounds after his latest disappointing postseason, it will be the latest example of why -- regardless of his playoff stats -- he remains a perennial top-10 fantasy netminder.