This is starting to get ridiculous. When Marc-Andre Fleury joined the Vegas Golden Knights two-plus seasons ago, it was supposed to be as a fading star who was being thrown to the wolves on a lousy expansion team that was going to lose a ton of games. He went to Vegas with 375 career wins, but since then, just consider the goalies he’s passed on the NHL all-time list: Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Hall, Tony Esposito, Jacques Plante, and with his league-leading seventh victory of the season and the 446th of his career when he shut out his former team over the weekend, Terry Sawchuk.
Fleury now sits seventh on the all-time wins list, but should be able to get himself into the No. 5 spot by the end of this season. He’s four behind Henrik Lundqvist, a 37-year-old who is playing for a very bad New York Rangers team, one that will struggle to pick ups victories for the foreseeable future, so let’s be realistic here. Sometime before Christmas, Curtis Joseph and his 454 wins will fall out of fifth place. Next up for Fleury: Ed Belfour and his 484 Ws.
What makes things even more impressive for Fleury is that of the top 10 goalies on the all-time win list, Fleury has played the fewest number of games at 808. That’s even fewer than Plante and Sawchuk, two goalies who played the bulk of their careers in the pre-expansion era when the NHL schedule was shorter than its current 82 games. Fleury has had the benefit of more games and shootout victories, where he stands third on the all-time list with 58. But during the pre-expansion era, teams carried only one goaltender and the No. 1 played the vast majority of the games.
Regardless, Fleury’s renaissance has been nothing short of remarkable and with the tear he’s on with this Vegas team, there’s a good chance that after passing Belfour, Roberto Luongo and Patrick Roy, Fleury will finish his career at No. 2 on the list behind only Martin Brodeur. As it stands today, Fleury is 105 wins behind Roy’s 551. The Golden Knights goaltender has seven victories this season and has averaged 32 in each of his first two seasons in Vegas. He has two more years remaining on his deal after this year, at which time he’ll be 38 and likely have to shut it down. But who knows with this guy? So if he keeps up his average win total in Vegas over the next three seasons, that would give him 25 for the rest of this season and 64 over the two following seasons combined, which would give him a total of 535.
So it’s pretty clear that Fleury is going to need some luck, good health and a little help from his team. One thing working in Fleury’s favor is that as outstanding a job as Vegas has done assembling both a winning roster and a prospect pipeline that is the envy of the NHL, they have almost no NHL-caliber goaltending beyond Fleury, either on the current roster or among their group of prospects. (In fact, in the recent The Hockey News Yearbook, we identified Vegas’ top 10 prospects and not a single one of them was a goalie. Fleury has accounted for all seven of the Golden Knights wins this season and of the 101 games the organization has won since joining the league in 2017-18, only 30 of them have been won by someone other than Fleury.)
There will surely be a decline in Fleury’s game at some point, but it doesn’t appear to be anytime soon. His analytics are still pretty good, with a respectable .833 save percentage on high-danger chances at 5-on-5 despite the fact he’s faced 15 rush attempts against, which is the highest mark in the league. His overall .937 SP would be the best of his career by far if it managed to hold up for the rest of the season.
Some goaltenders need a backup who can spell them off and give them some rest. Others seem to need someone waiting on the bench to push them to greater heights to avoid losing their job. It appears clear that Fleury needs neither of these, at least for now. He is the past, present and future when it comes to the Golden Knights goaltending and it will be interesting to see where he rides it over the next two-plus seasons. Almost certainly it will end up with a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
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