It became clearer with each passing game in the 2013 NHL playoffs that Tomas Vokoun was the goaltender the Pittsburgh Penguins would rely on: Marc-Andre Fleury remained relegated to the bench as the Penguins were swept by the Boston Bruins.
So, is it time Pittsburgh looked for a new starting netminder?
Head coach Dan Bylsma certainly doesn’t think so.
According to Chris Adamski of NHL.com, Bylsma made it clear Fleury will be Pittsburgh's No. 1 goalie next season.
Marc-Andre Fleury is going to go back in net and he's going to take the net and he's going to be the No. 1 goalie and he's going to play great. There's no question about that. And he's going to win a lot of hockey games for this team next season and he will have an opportunity in the playoffs again when this team gets there.
There is no doubt Fleury will win plenty of regular season games. But his performance in the last two playoffs left many wondering whether he can lead the Penguins to another Stanley Cup title.
In each of the past three seasons, Fleury has had a save percentage over .912 and a GAA under 2.40. But, his playoff numbers haven’t come anywhere close to that since 2009.
In 2012, the Penguins and Flyers combined to score the most goals ever in the first four games of a playoff series. The Penguins were eliminated in six games and Fleury finished with a .834 save percentage and 4.63 GAA. He was better in five appearances in this year’s playoffs, finishing with a .883 save percentage and 3.52 GAA.
However, that wasn’t good enough to keep his job as the team’s starting goaltender. Tomas Vokoun took over and played well, going 6-5 with a .933 save percentage, 2.01 GAA and one shutout.
The good news for Penguins fans is that Vokoun has a year left on his contract, which has a modest $2 million cap hit. Fleury has two years remaining on a seven-year contract which carries a $5 million cap hit.
It seems likely that the Penguins will start next season with the same goalie tandem. Fleury is a Stanley Cup champion and, as previously mentioned, he’s always had success in the regular season. If he falters down the stretch or in the playoffs, Vokoun has proven to be more than a worthy backup.
With that said, there is always the possibility that a trade opportunity presents itself. Goaltenders such as Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier could be available and if Ray Shero believes a deal would give the team a better shot at the Stanley Cup, he surely will take it.
Expectations will be as high as ever in Pittsburgh, especially after the Penguins abrupt departure from the playoffs this year. It’s possible that anything less than a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 will be unacceptable.
And, if Fleury winds up playing the role of backup, Ray Shero won’t be pleased that $5 million is sitting on the bench—again.
Fleury was brilliant in 2008 and 2009 and seemed poised to become one of the NHL’s most reliable playoff netminders. He’s faltered since and if he can't turn things around in a hurry a change may be necessary.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.