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Let’s talk about Marc-André Fleury

It’s talk season for another few days, and the talk is about Fleury right now.

NHL: JUN 14 Penguins Victory Parade Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

UPDATE:

Pop the popcorn and wait to find out.

Oh, no, looks like Weekes got led astray!

Talk season in the NHL seems to never end, but its two big peaks are prior to the trade deadline and right now leading up to July 13. Both times the Leafs have been linked to Marc-André Fleury, and not in the specious way they keep getting linked to Matt Murray, but he’s going to play a role in this conversation eventually.

As I understand it from the various tweets, articles and radio and podcast talk since the trade deadline, the Leafs tried seriously hard to get Fleury at the deadline, and they might be trying again. I smell smoke, haven’t seen fire yet, but is it warm in here? I think it might be.

The concept for trading for Fleury at the deadline involved sending Petr Mrázek the other way to Chicago. The concept now seems to involve doing that as well. Reports from both sides — Chicago and Toronto — indicate that Chicago is willing to take Mrázek, presumably not out of the goodness of their hearts, or maybe they will get Matt Murray. The difference to them is likely not all that large. Pierre Dorion doesn’t have the reputation of a hard bargainer, and he’s no longer under extreme pressure not to spend actual money, so he could be talked into retaining on Murray.

At 50% retention Murray is $3.125 million AAV for two years and $2 million and $3 million in cash salary (Chicago cares as much about real money as Toronto does, but that’s not so horrible for the Sens on the other side). At no retention Mrázek is $3.8 million AAV for two years and $4.2 million in salary each year.

If Dorion is suddenly unwilling to bend over backwards to make deals and refuses to retain, Murray is a lot of cap hit. Chicago has a lot of imaginary cap space right now ($20 million on CapFriendly) but they also have zero NHL goalies under contract and a raft of important RFAs to re-sign. They likely need more than four defenders too. $20 million just doesn’t go that far these days.

What’s this got to do with Fleury, though, he doesn’t play for Chicago anymore?

I don’t think a man with the jewelry and the fame of Fleury is going to sign for a nice cheap deal, even at going on for 38 years old. He just came off a deal that paid him $7 million per year, and I’m going to dip into the Evolving Hockey contract simulator — a paid feature — and see what their model predicts for Fleury. I’ll caveat this in advance and say that the data for goalie contracts is necessarily much smaller, and the market depends on supply more dramatically than for skaters, so who really knows. However, they predict $4 to $6 million, depending on term.

Yikes! right?

But the following goalies are predicted to get paid more: Darcy Kuemper, Jack Campbell, Vitek Vanecek, Ville Husso and Jake Oettinger.

If the starter is costing nearly Jack Campbell money, even if it’s not Jack Campbell, then the Leafs have to pay someone to take Mrázek, and Chicago is actually in the market. It’s the Leafs bad luck that Ottawa also signed a bad gamble contract on a goalie who went sproing. Competition just helps Chicago here.

There’s competition on the other end of things too. Toronto is not the only team that wants a starter of quality. However, Fleury is said to want a contender and those are fewer in number. Assume the Avs re-up Kuemper and ask him if he can maybe be good in the playoffs as they try to re-peat. The Lightning don’t need a goalie; the Panthers are trying to offload Bobrovsky; the Rangers are good. Carolina is — well, who knows, while the Flames are set; the Wild can’t pay; St. Louis has too many, and that mostly leaves Toronto and Edmonton. If the Habs were better, we all know where he’d be going to finish his career, but why not Toronto?

I can buy that he would agree for the right price which is yikes-ian to me for any goalie that age. That leaves one question: is he actually a goalie of quality or is he just famous?

I want to preface this by saying that Fleury is one of the best people in the game. Stories abound of his quality in that respect. Everything from running for ice cream trucks like a kid to showing great depth of caring to his teammates. It gives me no pleasure to cast any aspersions on his playing.

I’ve never quite bought in on his prowess in net. And now comes what I’ve been very much avoiding. Talking about a goalie’s past performance. Evolving Hockey applies their Goals above Replacement model to goalies, and you get absurdist numbers because goalies prevent a lot of goals. But starting there and aggregating the last five years, the order of glory is:

  1. Connor Hellebuyck
  2. Frederik Andersen
  3. Juuse Saros
  4. John Gibson
  5. Andrei Vasilevskiy
  6. Darcy Kuemper
  7. Marc-André Fleury

Igor Shesterkin is already 12th and he’s only got 100 games.

Andersen was a hell of a teacher about goalie performance, the kind of consistency you can expect, and what happens if you spend all your cap space on one guy and then he and the other guy both get injured. Well, you remember. You aren’t less likely to be injured at 38 than 28.

Disaggregating those five seasons puts Shesterkin on top for this season, the same way he is by other measures like Goals Saved Above Expected. And Fleury? He’s 23rd, right behind Andersen’s glorious 2017-2018 campaign with the Leafs. Fleury set that mark last year, which is encouraging, but less encouraging is that it was a surprise to everyone when he nearly stole the net out from under Robin Lehner in Vegas. Fleury’s next best is his hot 2017-2018 season.

Okay. Here’s what I think. Everyone is just doing this goalie thing wrong. It’s exactly like arguments about “Best Player Available” at the draft outside the top 10 or so. It’s nonsense. You can’t make that distinction because you have 10 or so players (goalies) who are all just as probable as each other to develop into an NHLer (lay down a good save %).

But GMs have to make decisions, and we all make decisions based on picking the one out of a group. We never say: whichever is cheapest, or pick at random. We make mountains out of molehill differences and pretend we are masters of fate, not slaves to it.

If you look at past results, the Mrázek deal was reasonable. Andersen was a smart get for the Canes, Fleury was unlikely to save the Wild from their “no scoring allowed” style and the chance of Fleury being better than Jack Campbell now? hmmm.... ah, uh, well... It’s even a toss up as to who is the nicest person.

In the regular season this year, Fleury was actually worse than Jack Campbell in Goals Saved Above Expected and he only played seven more games.

I think this is a mistake, and I don’t want the Leafs to do it because I don’t want to learn to dislike Fleury. It was hard enough spending two seasons not believing in Jack Campbell. If you have to draft outside the top 10 or if you have to have goalies in the good-but-not-great tier, find the guy with the better injury history, or barring that, just younger with some growth potential.

I’m not saying that Fleury will be bad. I’m not doing one of those “I can see the future and it’s always bad” hot takes that are the staple of the negative narrative about the Leafs. I’m saying it’s a gamble, and paying $5 million to roll the dice after coming up snake eyes on $3.8 million makes you the kind of gambler making casinos rich. If there’s no choice but to pay that much, if that really is the cost of every single goalie in this tier, then maybe I am making a mountain out of the molehill of his age.

And you know. His GSAx for his last five years is 14, the five years before that it’s 13 and the five years before that it’s -14. Is he ageing in reverse like that guy in that movie?

No matter where he plays next season, his results will likely fall somewhere in the range of his career norms which are bracketed by 20 GSAx last season and -14 the year before that. On the same team, with fairly similar number of games played. So you tell me if he’s any different to Frederik Andersen or Jack Campbell or John Gibson or any of 10 other guys.

Poll

Would you gamble on Fleury?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Why not stick with the nice man we already have?
    (253 votes)
  • 9%
    Yes! Cups, cups, cups.
    (71 votes)
  • 31%
    38, so no.
    (250 votes)
  • 9%
    No because I believe passionately in some other practitioner of the dark arts of variance.
    (76 votes)
  • 17%
    Yes, this is the kind of goalie the Leafs need.
    (134 votes)
784 votes total Vote Now