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Crash The Net - Pens Q&A

by Bob Grove / Pittsburgh Penguins
Crash the Net is a weekly web Q&A on Click here to submit a question. Crash The Net is also available as a Podcast 

QUESTION: I honestly don't see the brilliance that everyone seems to see in Fluery. His save percentage last year was ranked 24th in the NHL. His GAA was ranked 26th. He let multiple shots get by him that most goalies in the NHL would have stopped. His style often gets him in trouble (either out of position or lying on the ice). He doesn't play the puck well. He gets caught behind the cage by the opposing team at least once per game. I just don't see why the Pens continue to push this guy as a premiere player when he's just an average goalie who can't seem to put a consistent game together. Please don't respond with the typical media response. . . he won 40 games (third in the league), he's the future netminder for the Pens, he's had a brilliant junior career, and he's still developing into an NHL premiere goalie, etc. I'm sick of hearing the hype about this guy.

-Jason in Indianapolis, IN

Marc-Andre Fleury (AP Photo/Tom Hanson,CP)
Wow, Jason. I'm not sure where to start.

First, there is no such a thing as a "typical media response," given the fact there were multiple stories near the end of training camp last fall pointing out how uneven Fleury's performance had been and suggesting the Penguins may be considering sending him to the AHL to start the season. There was plenty of coverage given to Michel Therrien's criticism of Fleury last season and plenty of rehashing of Fleury's lackluster playoff performances at various points in his career. So you're trying to make a case that the media here is unduly rhapsodic about Fleury, and the case doesn't stick.

Secondly, let's remember that Fleury was drafted first overall by Craig Patrick, who's in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and that Fleury's status as a "franchise goaltender" is supported by current GM Ray Shero. I'm going to go way out on a limb here and say those two guys know a little more about judging hockey talent than you or I.

The kid is 22 and has played one full season in the NHL, and in that full season (2006-07) he made huge strides in consistency, positioning and responding to the pressure of being a No. 1 NHL goaltender. It's unfortunate that he didn't put up 82 shutouts, but hey, there's always next season.

If you can cite statistics to support your contention that he's "just an average goalie," why can't I cite his 40 wins and five shutouts (only five goalies had more) as proof that he's not? That said, statistics don't tell the whole story. Of goaltenders playing at least 45 games, Tom Barrasso ranked 16th in goals-against average in 1990-91 and 14th in 1991-92, yet won the Cup in both years. Since reaching the NHL, Fleury has yet to play behind a team that could be considered among the NHL's better defensive clubs, so his statistics are going to suffer. Every goal that gets deposited behind him is not his fault.

I agree with your contention that Fleury's style can get him in trouble, but that is where most people saw major improvements in his game last season: he was much more about economy of motion. He wasn't perfect, but much, much better. I also agree that puck-handling is a weakness in his game, but few 22-year-olds can say they have nothing to work on. And he does not get caught behind the net once a game.

Fleury has had to deal with a lot of adversity and criticism in his young career, and yet when he desperately needed to make a big step forward last season, he did so. If you did not see last season as a major improvement for Fleury, that's your opinion. But you're in the minority. Fleury has incredible quickness and refuses to give up on shots, and he appears to be learning about positioning and controlling rebounds. That said, he needs to continue showing improvement next season, and yes, he needs to get it done in the post-season.

QUESTION: I was wondering what ever happened to players like Nils Ekman, Aleksey Morozov, Milan Kraft and Alain Nasreddine?
-Rob in Blairstown, NJ

BOB GROVE: Ekman, Morozov and Nasreddine are all unrestricted free agents. They are free to sign with any team they like, and the Penguins have no right to match offers they may get. To date, none has signed with an NHL team.

We've continued for several years to get questions about Morozov's possible return to the Penguins, but the bottom line is that, so far, he has priced himself out of the budgets of NHL teams. It wouldn't surprise me if he remained in the Russian Super League, where he has had great success.

Milan Kraft, because he was given a qualifying offer from the Penguins before returning to Europe, is a restricted free agent. The Penguins have the right to match any NHL offers he would receive. Next summer, he will be an unrestricted free agent.

QUESTION: Why did the Penguins sign Recchi and Roberts to one-year deals instead of giving a longer term contract to someone like Paul Kariya? ALso, are the rumours about Jaormir Jagr wanting to finish his career in a Penguin uniform true?
-Tim in Bethel Park, PA

BOB GROVE: I haven't heard or read any rumors about Jagr, and he will not be coming back to Pittsburgh.

By all indications, the Penguins did make inquiries about Kariya but simply couldn't match the $6 million average salary given him by St. Louis. The Penguins' ability to land the big salary players is compromised by the fact they have to leave themselves enough money to re-sign their best young players: Crosby, Whitney, Malkin, Staal and Fleury. The latter three all need contracts in the next two years. Remember, too, that Gonchar has three seasons left on a contract that averages $5 million a season.

The point in signing Roberts and Recchi is that management sees them as critical veterans on a very young team. Roberts proved his value down the stretch and in the playoffs as a physical forechecker and leader by example, and Recchi was the team's third-leading scorer last season and was fourth in goals.

QUESTION: Just wondering what is going to happen to Georges Laraque this season?
-Ben in Melbourne

BOB GROVE: Laraque is under contract for the 2007-08 season for $1.3 million, and he is beyond the deadline for a buyout offer. So he's staying with the Penguins unless traded, and he did little in his brief time with the Penguins last spring to suggest teams will be lining up to get him.

That said, remember that Laraque played for Michel Therrien at Granby of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when they won the Memorial Cup in 1996, so perhaps a full training camp and season with Therrien will result in Laraque finding his niche with the team.

QUESTION: Would the Penguins consider young guys like Ryan Stone, Jonathan Filewich, Tim Brent, or even Angelo Esposito for the opening day roster if they are not going to play on the top two lines, or would the rather let them continue to develop with the Baby Pens? Also, how confident are the Pens that Dany Sabourin can be the guy between the pipes when Fleury needs a night off or if he goes down with an injury?
-Connor in Robinson

BOB GROVE: Esposito cannot play in the AHL next season, as he still has junior eligibility. His future is as a top six forward when he's ready to play in the NHL, although that is highly unlikely to be this season. The Penguins will not use a young player on the fourth line unless his style of play fits the fourth line, and likewise they're not going to give a skilled young guy six to eight minutes of playing time per night here when he could be getting 20 minutes a night in the AHL.

Filewich is a goal-scorer and would project as a top six forward when he reaches the NHL. Either Stone or Brent, however, could be a good fit as a third-line player. This is shaping up as an important season for Filewich and Stone, as both are in the final year of their contract and both seem close to reaching the NHL.

The Penguins have plenty of confidence in Sabourin, as he has been tabbed as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup despite having played just 14 NHL games. Sabourin, lost to Vancouver on waivers after a brilliant 2005-06 AHL season and a strong performance in camp last fall, still has a lot to prove. He has a career goals-against average of 3.14 and a save percentage of .885. He was drafted nine years ago, so it's been a slow process for Sabourin just to reach the NHL as a backup. He figures to play more games this season than he ever has before, so we'll know a lot more about him by next spring.


A note of thanks to Nick in Pleasant Hills and Phil in Harrison City, both of whom pointed out that I incorrectly listed Alex Goligoski as a right-handed shooting defenseman in a recent Crash The Net. He was listed as such on draft day in 2004 and in various subsequent publications, but he is, in fact, a left-handed shot.


Last week we asked you to submit your preferred line combinations for the upcoming season. Here are two of them:

Gregory in Durham, NC:
Armstrong    Crosby        Sykora
Roberts        Malkin        Recchi
Malone        Staal        Laraque/Filewich
Ruutu        Talbot            Brent/Christensen

Tim in North Haledon, NJ

Malkin/Staal   Crosby               Recchi
Roberts        Staal/Malkin         Sykora
Malone         Talbot/Christensen   Armstrong
Rutuu          Christensen/Talbot   Laraque

Crash the Net is a weekly web Q&A on Click here to submit a question.
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