Monday, June 30, 2008

They Say That Cat Fleury Is A Bad MAFer...

Flux capacitor... fluxing

Fire up the flux capacitor, The Flower Shop is taking a trip back… back to, well, the past. 2003, to be exact.
The cast of Dead Like Me, which, ironically, was the theme of the Penguins 2002-03 season

For most people, 2003 was a pretty awesome year. The thumping beats of Outkast's Hey Ya! were everywhere, Martha Stewart got indicted for insider trading, Dead Like Me premiered on Showtime, Pirates of the Carribean and Return of the King were playing in theaters. Good times.
Martha Stewart: Having a better 2003 than Uday and Qusay Hussein

If you were Penguins fan, however, 2003 sucked for you. The Devils won The Cup, you probably had SARS, the Pens finished only four points above the last place Hurricanes, the team was made up of young prospects, has-beens and never-weres. Before the end of the season two of the most recognizable names were gone. Alex Kovalev went to the Rangers for Rico Fata, Richard Lintner, Joel Bouchard and Mikeal Samuelsson. Jan Hrdina went to the Coyotes for Dan Foct and Ramzi Abid. (NOTE: If anyone has a Fata or Abid jersey, we want pics.)
SARS. More fun that realizing you spent money on a Rico Fata jersey

The 2002-03 season was a fire sale designed to cut costs. The flightless birds were not competitive on the ice and they were floundering financially… again. Their future in Pittsburgh was not secure and they only won 27 games. We at The Flower Shop remember. It was almost better to be a Pirates fan. Almost.

Some of the building blocks for what was to come were there that season. Brooks Orpik started handing out free candy in 2002-03 when he made his NHL debut and played in six games for the Pens. Did we say "building blocks"? We meant building block. The only person on the 2007-08 roster that was on the 2002-03 roster is Brooks Orpik. It hurts to think about that time but you've got to remember, the Penguins don't get where they are now without the black hole that was 2001-2006. It is possible that he could play for another team next season but I know all the black and gold faithful will forever remember, "The Shift."

In 2003 the Penguins goaltending situation was full of more no-names than last week's party at Christian Slater's house. Someone within the Penguins organization had bellied up to the bar and ordered a double shot of Sebastian. Jean-Sebastian Aubin and Sebastian Caron. And just like what happens when you order a double shot of Wild Turkey, it didn't sit too well in our collective stomachs. The two Sebastians won only 16 games. A man named "Moose" won another 14 games for the black and gold. Granted, not all of the loses can be blamed on the goalies when you've got such crack D-men as Patrick Boileau and Ross Lupaschuck on the ice.
Christian Slater should have stopped making films after True Romance

The process of rebuilding started with a skinny, 18 year-old netminder with a hyphenated first name from just outside of Montreal. The Penguins got the first overall pick of the draft from the Panthers, along with the seventy-third pick. They used that pick to make Marc-Andre Fleury only the second goaltender to be picked first overall (the other one being, of course, Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders.) Things were a little rough at first with contract negotiations breaking down somewhat when finally a past-his-prime Craig Patrick was able to sign Fleury to a contract saying, "In the end, there certainly was pressure that he could become an unrestricted flee agent," Patrick says. "I'm not proud of myself Personally I wanted to get him in here at a reasonable number. But I had to go with the DiPietro model."
Craig Patrick's chin had it's own time zone

Patrick wasn't happy with the deal and neither was Eddie Olczyk, who seems to blame "The Fleury Situation" on his early departure from behind the Penguins bench. Anyone who has watched a Penguins game on Versus knows that. Still, the fact cannot be argued that the Penguins needed a franchise goaltender at any price and Patrick, ever the consummate GM, got it done.

If there were any doubts about Fleury's skill, they were put to rest as soon as he took the ice. He played very well for a rookie and, even though his record the first season wasn't impressive, Penguins fans rejoiced because it seemed our franchise goaltender had been found and we dared to dream.

Our faith was rewarded.

2006-07 saw Fleury win 40 games and the Penguins advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2000-01. The Pens lost in the first round to Ottawa, of course, managing to only win one game of the series but they learned much and would be back the next season.

Anyone's lingering doubt's about Fleury or the possibility that the Penguins blew the first overall pick for a goaltender were quickly put to rest in 2007-08. He was injured for much of the season with a high ankle sprain but came back strong to backstop the Penguins into the playoffs, past the Senators, past the Rangers, past the Flyers and through six games with the Red Wings.

Marc-Andre Fleury is the Penguins fanchise goaltender and Ray Shero will sign him to a long term deal this off-season. When that happens, there will be much rejoicing at The Flower Shop.


In a side note, we here at The Flower Shop would like to say, "Godspeed," to Gary Roberts. Good luck in Tampa Bay.
WWGRD forever.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Riding The Learning Curve

Marc-Andre Fleury may be just 23 years of age, but there can be little doubt that he has put himself up with the best goalies in the game with his play this spring. Since returning to the Penguins lineup in late February MAF was arguably the best goalie in the NHL until the clock hit all zeros at the end of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

With that in mind, I thought I would compare Fleury's performance up to this point in his career to other current goalies in the NHL to see how he compared to what they had accomplished by age 23. Below you will see a statistical breakdown for most of the NHL's current top netminders at age 23:

Marc-Andre Fleury

  • Regular Season: 173 GP, 76-67-19, 2.95 GAA, .905 SV%, 11 SO
  • Playoffs: 25 GP, 15-10, 2.30 GAA, .922 SV%, 3 SO
Martin Brodeur
  • Regular Season: 168 GP, 82-53-26, 2.40 GAA, .910 SV%, 12 SO
  • Playoffs: 38 GP, 24-14, 1.86 GAA, .926 SV%, 4 SO
Roberto Luongo
  • Regular Season: 194 GP, 55-105-19, 2.73 GAA, .916 SV%, 16 SO
  • Playoffs: none
J.S. Giguere
  • Regular Season: 64 GP, 19-31-7, 2.86 GAA, .904 SV%, 4 SO
  • Playoffs: none
Rick DiPietro
  • Regular Season: 80 GP, 28-38-8, 2.71 GAA, .900 SV%, 5 SO
  • Playoffs: 6 GP, 1-4, 2.08 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO
Ryan Miller
  • Regular Season: 18 GP, 6-11-1, 3.03 GAA, .886 SV%, 1 SO
  • Playoffs: none
Henrik Lundqvist
  • Regular Season: 53 GP, 30-12-9, 2.24 GAA, .922 SV%, 2 SO
  • Playoffs: 3 GP, 0-3, 4.41 GAA, .835 SV%
Note: I was going to include Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco, and Mikka Kiprusoff in this comparison, but none of them had made an NHL appearance by age 23.

There were a few interesting observations I made while putting these numbers together. Some of them are quite obvious, but others are a little more subtle. Of all the players above, Martin Brodeur is the only one to have won a Stanley Cup by age 23. At the same time, Marc-Andre Fleury is the only one of the players looked at to have a 40-win season to his credit by age 23. Fleury and Brodeur are also the only two to have won at least one playoff round by age 23. It bears noting though that Rick DiPietro's playoff stats suggest that he was hardly to blame for his team's failure to advance in the post-season in 2003-04.

So what does this all mean? To me these numbers validate the thought that Marc-Andre Fleury is on the verge of establishing himself as one of the best goalies in the NHL for many years to come. His number compare very favorably to those of Brodeur and Roberto Luongo and I think most people would agree that they have both turned out to be pretty solid players in their own right. MAF's goals against average (GAA) may not be up to the standard of those two early in their careers, but you have to take into account the teams they were playing behind to put those numbers in perspective. Brodeur inherited the net for a veteran Devils team that was primed to become one of the powers in the NHL for many years to come, and Luongo played on some teams that while not that great still had some talent and play defensive oriented systems. Fleury on the other hand played behind Penguins teams that were downright awful, especially defensively, for most of his career. MAF never really had the luxury of playing behind a good defensive team until just this past season.

There are all kinds of variables that need to be taken into account here. For instance, Brodeur would likely have a few more wins to his name had the OT shootout been in place at the start of his career, but at the same time the style of hockey in the NHL at that time was much more favorable to goaltenders that what we see today. While I'm sure 100 people could look at these numbers and walk away with 100 different conclusions, I continue to have the overwhelming sense that Marc-Andre Fleury's future is incredibly bright. When you take into account the talent around him in Pittsburgh and the improvements he has made to his game MAF could be in a position to make a run at the NHL record for career wins before all is said and done. Regardless of lofty goals like that, it is clear that Fleury is ahead of the curve compared to most of his peers and the Penguins should be set in goal for quite a long time once they get MAF signed to a new contract.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Arbitration Situation

Pittsburgh is reporting that the Pens have filed for salary arbitration with Marc-Andre Fleury.

Essentially this gives Ray Shero more time to negotiate with Fleury and he won't become a free agent on July 1, 2008.

For more on NHL salary arbitration, please see this article.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Nice Way To Kill 3 Hours

I know things are still a bit sparse around here. I'm still waiting for my new partner in crime to arrive on the scene and really I personally am in a bit of a holding pattern until MAF re-signs with the Pittsburgh Penguins. So what does that leave for us in the meantime? Well, here is Marc-Andre Fleury in all of his glory as he puts on the show of a lifetime in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

This Flower Has Officially Bloomed!

I'm still working on getting this blog "up and running" the way I want to, but there is no way I could not comment on the legendary performance MAF put on in Detroit last night. If there was any doubt before, Marc-Andre Fleury has officially arrived as an elite NHL goalie. The Legend of MAF has started to form, and what better stage for the opening chapter than a must-win Game 5 in the Stanley Cup Finals.

People everywhere are heaping praise on The Flower and going on and on about how this was the best game of his life. I'm going to take that one step further... this was the best goaltending performance in Pittsburgh Penguins history! There is not even any doubt in my mind about that when you consider how MAF played and the magnitude of the game. The only games I can think of that I would even put in the discussion would be Tom Barrasso's 1-0 shutout in Game 3 of the Finals against Chicago and Ken Wregget's performance in the 4 OT classic against the Capitals. MAF was a stud all game long and then took his game to a whole new level to stop all 24 shots that Detroit threw at him in overtime. MAF was on the biggest stage a person in his profession can be on, and he delivered in the biggest way possible.

Here is what some of Fleury's teammates and coaches had to say:

"It's the greatest game I've ever seen him play."
-Max Talbot

"He was outstanding tonight, he was outstanding in overtime and while both goalies played well, it was probably his most important win in his career."
-Michel Therrien

"He was awesome. He was the MVP of the game, he made huge saves in the end, in the middle - everywhere."
-Rob Scuderi

"If it wasn't for him, there's no way we'd have gotten to the point we're at now. He's carried us through the latter part of the season and the playoffs."
-Ryan Whitney
And finally, I'll just leave you with this: