Don’t think of a green apple. Whatever you do, don’t picture a green apple in your head.
What are you thinking of right now ? Probably a green apple.
This psychological ploy is essentially what’s going on with a subset of Penguins fans right now, in regards to Marc-Andre Fleury. His absolutely resurgent season, especially with taking Vegas to the Stanley Cup Finals, has started this mini-groundswell of sentiment that Fleury has put himself on the path to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
By counting stats and hardware, a case could be made. Fleury is currently sitting in 11th all-time with 404 regular season wins. It’s not inconceivable that he’ll finish in 3rd or 4th by the time his career wraps up. He has three Stanley Cups on his resume (two of which he played a significant part in obtaining), with a chance for a fourth one pending.
But to me, Fleury is more of a compiler of stats by virtue of being around for now 14 NHL seasons, rather than a transcendent talent. His athleticism at the position was (and still is) unparalleled, but I never thought that Fleury was consistently one of the two or three best goalies in the NHL. He’s never even sniffed a Vezina Trophy, garnering votes for it just twice in his career (a 7th and 8th place finish).
Is Ryan Miller a HOF goalie for you ? Miller has 370 career wins, a 2.59 GAA, and a .915 career save percentage. That’s pretty similar to Fleury’s 404 wins, 2.56 GAA, and a .913 save percentage. The difference, besides Miller’s lack of Cups, is that Miller won a Vezina and finished 4th in the Hart the same year. Miller absolutely did not play on teams as strong as Fleury, which should factor into thinking, but I don’t think of him as an automatic HOF goalie at this point.
The comparison that gets tossed out a lot for Fleury is Chris Osgood — a very good goalie that played for a lot of very good Detroit Red Wing teams, primarily. I’m not entirely sure that’s a great comparison, as Osgood job-shared the net for large chunks of his career. But there’s his 401 wins and his 2nd place in the Vezina and I don’t see him getting the call to the Hall.
Rather, I’d point to the career of Curtis Joseph, currently 5th all-time with 454 wins. Joseph was consistently an excellent goalie that traveled around the league. He placed on eight different Vezina ballots, with a 2nd and 3rd place finish to his name. Using the Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) stat to compare peers, Joseph was an absolutely eye-popping +57.42 in 1992-93, meaning that’s how many goals he saved above an average goalie. Now consider that his save percentage that year was a now-pedestrian .911 and his GAA was 3.02! To put that in some perspective, that same year Tom Barrasso’s GSAA was +30.94 and he was backstopping the team that should have absolutely won their 3rd Cup in a row. Joseph last played in 2009, so his candidacy for the HOF has ripened and probably expired. But…no Cups.
By raw statistics, this 2017-18 season was Marc-Andre Fleury’s finest year at age 32. His .927 save percentage, 2.24 GAA, and +20.77 GSAA all represent career highs. If he played more than 46 games, due to his concussions, he would probably have been a lock to make the final three of the Vezina. He’s the face of a franchise that is reaching unparalleled heights in its first year and had to shoulder the civic tragedy of the mass shooting in the city right before the first game of the year. And in the playoffs, his .947 save percentage, 1.68 GAA, and +16.83 GSAA (to this point) all have him tracking as a lock for the Conn Smythe if Vegas wins the whole thing. Through it all, there has been Fleury’s ever-present smile and his work in the community.
And that’s where the “I think” part of this article’s title comes in. While I believe that Vegas is in for serious regression next year due to all their key guys having career years at the same time, what if Fleury has found a mini Fountain of Youth out in the desert. If seasons like this one can continue for the next few years, Fleury could not only pad his counting stats, but also raise his profile in the eyes of Hall of Fame voters. Maybe they’ll be willing to overlook his horrific stretch in the playoffs from 2010 to 2013 where he was a key reason (but not the only one) that the Penguins squandered chances to add more Cups. Maybe they’ll overlook that he was never really considered in the same breath as Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Pekka Rinne, Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas and other contemporaries.
The question of how much does a Cup matter for a Hall of Fame place is a philosophical one across all sports. Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl, but is widely regarded as a top 5 QB all-time in the NFL. Ted Williams never won a World Series. Charles Barkley never won a Championship. Henrik Lundqvist is probably the strongest case for a Fleury contemporary, as they’ve shared the most years of the same career, and has not won a Stanley Cup with the Rangers. Barring some amazingly quick rebuild or a trade, Lundqvist will probably finish his career without one. Yet he’s a sure-fire HOF entry due to his stats and his many appearances on the Vezina list (including one win). Will Lundqvist get in on prolonged merit while Fleury could get in on Cups and positive vibes from voters?
None of this article is meant to denigrate what was a legendary Penguin career. Fleury is the greatest goalie in Pittsburgh history and without a doubt deserves to have his #29 retired to the rafters of PPG Paints Arena. But being in a team’s HOF and the main HOF are two different animals. His story is not yet finished, but as of now I can’t see the case for Marc-Andre Fleury to be inducted in Toronto.