Ryan Wilson is a contributor to Hockey Prospectus and the Hockey Prospectus Annual book. He can be found on Hockeyhurts.com, Hockey Buzz and twitter @gunnerstaal
The topic of goaltending is one of the more controversial ones in hockey. It isn’t an exact science and those in the analytics community are consistently working hard towards improving our understanding.
Puck possession has become more widely accepted as one of the driving factors for a team’s success, but it isn’t the only factor. One factor that can derail a quality puck possession team is bad goaltending. Average goaltending will usually not sink the ship, but below average goaltending will.
Given that Marc-Andre Fleury is in a contract year and his current GM has given some lip service that the team may be interested in retaining his services, I wanted to dive into what kind of value Fleury has given the Penguins, specifically the playoffs.
I will be using Rob Vollman’s quality starts metric:
In order to record a Quality Start, the starting goalie must stop at least a league average number of shots (typically 91.3% prior to 2009-10, and 91.7% since), or play at least as well as a replacement level goalie (88.5%) while allowing two goals or fewer.
What makes for a good Quality Starts percentage?
Per Rob Vollman:
Obviously, a quality start percentage (QS%) below 50% is quite poor, anything over 60% will be among the league leaders, and the average for an NHL regular is 53.4%.
The following data is from playoff games.
Marc Andre Fleury Quality Starts: 14/20 (70%)
Pittsburgh Fenclose%: 46.26%
Marc Andre Fleury had his career year this season and he literally carried the Penguins to the Cup Final. Despite having Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marian Hossa in their primes Michael Therrien’s system did not breed proper puck possession.
Marc Andre Fleury Quality Starts: 12/24 (50%)
Pittsburgh Fenclose%: 52.72%
The Penguins won the Stanley Cup this year. Their possession numbers were much better under Bylsma, but Fleury was slightly below average. The Stanley Cup is what most people will point to when forming an argument in favor of Fleury but his actual play was not great during this run. Isolated moments of brilliance for sure, but not an overall stellar run and certainly not a driving factor for his team’s success.
Marc Andre Fleury Quality Starts: 4/13 (31%)
Pittsburgh Fenclose%: 56.99%
Pittsburgh was an excellent possession team while trying to defend their Stanley Cup. Their goaltending was way below average and sunk them.
Marc Andre Fleury Quality Starts: 4/7 (57%)
Pittsburgh Fenclose%: 58.49%
This was the year that Crosby and Malkin were out for the year. The Penguins had a 3-1 series lead vs. Tampa Bay. In the three losses before playing well in Game 7 Fleury posted save percentages of .810%, .714%, and .810%.
Marc Andre Fleury Quality Starts: 1/6 (16%)
Pittsburgh Fenclose%: 57.64%
This famous series vs the Flyers was known for the heated moments of passion between both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia players, but it should be known as the Penguins best roster since winning the Cup being derailed by awful goaltending.
Marc Andre Fleury Quality Starts: 1/4 (25%)
Tomas Vokoun Quality Starts: 7/11 (64%)
Pittsburgh Fenclose%: 51.22%
You see that Pittsburgh has the lowest Fenclose percentage since the below average Michael Therrien led team in 2008, however the Penguins made the Conference Finals because they actually received competent goaltending from Vokoun.
Marc Andre Fleury Quality Starts: 4/13 (31%)
Pittsburgh Fenclose%: 56.74%
Pittsburgh’s 56.74% Fenclose was the best in the playoffs. Once again, they do not receive an acceptable level of Quality Starts from Marc-Andre Fleury.
The best laid plans can be ruined by below average goaltending. Dan Bylsma certainly had his flaws but I think his stubbornness at the goaltending position was what cost him most. His possession rich teams were sunk by the goaltending position.
Since Fleury’s excellent 2007-08 season (which is an anomaly) Fleury’s Quality Starts percentage in the playoffs is 39%, totally unacceptable for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Even when you add in his Conn Smythe caliber 2008 playoff run he is still only at 45.9%. Remember anything under 50% is considered “quite poor”.
Then there is the narrative that Fleury is a really good goalie in the regular season.
Here is some data from Rob Vollman’s 2014 edition of Hockey Abstract that can help put things into perspective.
From 2011-14 Marc-Andre Fleury ranks 31st among goalies who have started at least 50 games. His Quality Starts percentage is 54.1%, league average is 53.4%.
Fleury is average in the regular season while playing behind one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. He is not doing anything that many other goalies could accomplish if given the chance in the same environment.
To put things into perspective Thomas Greiss has a Quality Starts percentage of 60% for his career in 53 career starts.
The Penguins might already have their answer to the goaltending position on their roster and it isn’t Fleury.
These are just some things for Jim Rutherford to ponder when trying to make his final evaluation of Marc-Andre Fleury and any potential extension.