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.


Some guy in Oregon said...

Good analysis. However to suggest that Luongo played behind some "defensive oriented" teams is quite a reach. Those Florida teams in 2000-01 and 2001-02 were horrid. Luongo kept them in the games (look at the save percentage), but nothing could have saved those squads.

Loser Chris said...

I'm not saying they were good teams Luongo was playing behind in Florida. They were however more defensive oriented than the horrid Pittsburgh teams Fleury broke into the league with. Not that that is saying much.

Corey said...

Fluery is incredible, but I cannot honestly ever see anyone breaking the win record ever again, the style of play that has been adopted over the past few years will hold most records intact because the abuse put on a goaltenders body will no longer allow them to have such lenghty careers!! Good blog & props on the comparisons.

ogre39666 said...

I've been saying stuff like this for a while so it's real nice to hear it coming from somebody else's mouth. People always conveniently forget he's so young and really has only just completed his 3rd season as a starter (and this one was interrupted by injury), so actually, he recorded a 40 win season in only his second year as a starter; that's incredible. Most goalies take around 3-4 seasons, not to mention the age of 26-27, to really establish themselves at an elite level (with Brodeur and Roy as notable exceptions).