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Starkey: Fleury deserves competition

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Thursday, June 7, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
 

If the Penguins' only rationale for giving Tomas Vokoun a $4 million contract had been to provide Marc-Andre Fleury a mentor and more rest, well, that wouldn't have been good enough.

Fleury doesn't need a mentor.

Contrary to popular belief, he doesn't need more rest, either.

Fleury played in precisely 86 games in 2009 — including playoffs — and, if memory serves, looked pretty fresh in the last two games of the Stanley Cup Final. He's only 27, a year older than fabulous Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.

People are freaking out that Fleury played in 67 games this season? Quick played in 69. It doesn't seem to have hampered him on the Kings' run toward a championship.

So, yes, there was more to the Vokoun acquisition. You don't bring in a goalie with No. 1 talent — his career save percentage (.917) is eight points higher than Fleury's — and pay him $2 million a year to baby-sit.

You bring him in as a viable option in case your starter stinks in the playoffs again.

Three straight years is enough.

As a card-carrying member of The Fleury Apologist Society, I have defended the man since the moment he walked into the dressing room as an 18-year-old. My defense has been the same one I use for Ben Roethlisberger: Even if Fleury's numbers are pedestrian, he finds a way to win and does his best work in the biggest games.

The latter simply isn't true anymore.

How could the Penguins live with themselves if they were to watch Fleury flop again next spring without giving themselves an alternative?

Sorry, but Fleury cannot live off that terrific 2009 run forever. Yes, he has a Cup on his resume. So does Antti Niemi. So do J-S Giguere and Cam Ward. The Cup does not buy a goalie permanent playoff impunity.

Fleury is the starter, of course. General manager Ray Shero has said as much, and Fleury has earned that. He is coming off another excellent regular season. But these are his past three postseason save percentages:

2010: .891 (this was the year he kept giving up questionable early goals against Montreal, was pulled from Game 7 and was told in no uncertain terms to get his stuff together for 2011).

2011: .899 (this was the year he played well in Game 7 but with chances to clinch in Games 5 and 6 allowed eight goals on 35 shots).

2012: .834 (this was the year he was lit up like a pinball machine, allowing 26 goals in six games, tied for third-most all-time in a six-game series, behind only Arturs Irbe in 1995 and Gump Worsley in 1958. Worsley played without a mask).

I asked Shero on Tuesday if Vokoun provides the team a legitimate postseason option should Fleury falter again.

“Yeah,” Shero said. “It depends on how Tomas is playing, certainly, but with a guy like Vokoun, the last five or six years his save percentage is amongst the best in the league, and that's playing lots of games.

“Internal competition is good. I hope it's going to (bring out) the best in Marc. And the same thing with Tomas. He's got a guy like Marc who's going to push him for the net. That's what we're looking for.”

Sounds good to me. Given that kind of rationale, the acquisition makes all the sense in the world.

Shero said he first learned of Vokoun's availability in a talk with agent Allan Walsh, who represents Vokoun and Fleury. The question they broached: “How can we help Marc-Andre get better?”

Some might say the best answer to that question would be to, you know, play defense, and those people would have a legitimate point.

Fleury has been far from the only reason for the Penguins' early playoff departures. But he's been a reason.

With the signing of Vokoun, the Penguins became just the fifth team in the NHL to have as much as $7 million invested in their goaltenders.

That's a ton of money.

One way or another, they need a better return on their investment next spring.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

 

 

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