When Marc-Andre Fleury arrived in Chicago, Blackhawks fans knew two things about Fleury: he is a fantastic goalie, and he is an even better teammate. Wherever Fleury goes, he is a fan favorite for his skill on the ice and his friendly demeanor off.
Despite his great success in Pittsburgh during their Cup runs and his anchoring the Golden Knights during their recent playoff runs, Blackhawks fans are right to have concerns about his age. Fleury is 36 years old and has seen a ton of action.
So why should Blackhawks fans have reason to celebrate the signing of Fleury?
It’s pretty simple: Marc-Andre Fleury is a game-changing goalie coming off of a Vezina Trophy-winning season which saw him maintain an astounding 1.98 GAA. Fleury is consistently steady and always gives his team a chance to win. Over the past six seasons, Fleury’s teams have ranked 3rd, 2nd, 12th, 2nd, 5th, and 3rd in the league on defense. During that time, Fleury has ranked from 3rd to 7th in the league on individual stats.
Of course, saying that a goalie’s success is based solely on his own talent is ridiculous. Sometimes a team’s defense makes a goalie look good and sometimes a good goalie makes a less than stellar defense look pretty good. In Fleury’s case, it’s safe to say that his teams in Pittsburgh and Vegas had pretty good defenses and offenses that provided a steady dose of backchecking.
Last year, the Blackhawks did not have a defense that supported the goalie. Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban were peppered with shots on a nightly basis. Lankinen took the most starts for the Hawks. In 37 games, Lankinen faced 1204 shots giving up 109 goals. He had a 3.01 GAA. His stats look really bad, but he was under duress much of the time facing point blank shots after missed defensive assignment and turnovers in the D zone.
Fleury, on the other hand, started 36 games. (A very close comparison) He faced 989 shots giving up 71 goals against. Again, he boasted an amazing 1.98 GAA. Compared to Lankinen, he faced five fewer shots per game and faced far fewer high danger chances.
It’s clear to see that Fleury benefitted from a stingy Golden Knights’ defense. However, anyone who watched him play last knows that he was clearly at the top of his game. A goalie can only stop what is in front of him, and Fleury did that expertly, sometimes standing on his head to keep the net clear.
Bringing that talent to Chicago isn’t enough on its own. What should seal the deal for Hawks’ fans is the additions to the defense. Last year saw an aging Duncan Keith being played about 10 minutes too much every night, a large, imposing Nikita Zadorov lapsing defensively night and after night, and youngsters trying to find their NHL footing.
This year, the Hawks can expect a bounce back year for newly acquired Seth Jones. They can expect a bruising presence and solid defensive play from Jake McCabe. Conor Murphy is back with support he lacked last year. Calvin de Haan will be healthy. Youngsters Riley Stillman and Wyatt Kalynuk will bring up the rear and continue their growth.
If that weren’t enough, Stan Bowman helped by improving the size and grit of the offense. In late summer, the Hawks signed Jujhar Jhaira from Edmonton. He isn’t going to light up the scoreboard, but he is going to add some size, 6’4″ and 212lbs. Alongside other scrappers like Brandon Hagel, he will win board battles and keep the puck on the other end of the ice. Additionally, Bowman brought in Tyler Johnson. Last year, he won 54% of his faceoffs. The Hawks missed Captain Jonathan Toews on the defensive dot last year. Johnson should help keep the puck away from Fleury.
Simply put, Stan Bowman has given the defense enough support to allow Marc-Andre Fleury to excel again. He has also added a few offensive pieces that should pay off as well. Blackhawks’ fans can breathe a sigh of relief- The Flower is here.