The words “much-maligned” and the name Marc-Andre Fleury so often go together that those who don’t follow hockey closely might have the idea it’s actually part of his name. The Much-Maligned Marc-Andre Fleury. Hey, at least it beats the likes of Pilot Inspektor Lee or Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette or Blanket Jackson.
The much-maligned one made his mark on history Monday night when he stopped 27 shots in the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 overtime victory over the Boston Bruins. In doing so, Fleury became the 31st goaltender in NHL history to record 300 career wins. Fleury accomplished the feat in his 547th career game, which makes him the third fastest to 300 in NHL history behind Jacques Plante and Andy Moog – yeah, Andy Moog. And at 29 years and 361 days, he’s also the third youngest in NHL history to reach the benchmark, behind Martin Brodeur and Terry Sawchuk.
Now things begin to get interesting. You start projecting ahead if Fleury can remain relatively healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t at least finish his career No. 2 all-time in NHL victories behind Brodeur. And with a real push from the Penguins and himself over the next decade, who knows? The NHL might just have a new wins leader when all is said and done. Fleury would have to be something of a freak of nature the way Brodeur is and the Penguins will have to keep winning, but it's possible.
Should Fleury match his 39-win total from last season, that will give him 327 in his first 10 full seasons. Brodeur, by comparison, had 365 victories after his first 10 full seasons, but that was without the benefit of shootout wins. Aided by that wrinkle in nine of the final 10 seasons of his career, Brodeur picked up another 323 victories for a total of 688.
That gives Brodeur an average of almost four victories per season more than Fleury through the first 10 years of their careers, again without the benefit of the shootout. You might think that would make it almost impossible for Fleury to catch Brodeur, and it just might. But let’s say for the sake of argument that Fleury remains as durable and trustworthy as Brodeur was for another 10 seasons and matches Brodeur’s mark of 20 seasons played. If he matches his mark of 33 wins a season, that would put him at 660 victories and things get interesting. (This, of course, is going on the assumption that Brodeur does not catch on with an NHL team this season and add to his win total of 688.)
Part of the problem is that Fleury has not been the workhorse that Brodeur was through his first 10 seasons, while Brodeur played 70-plus games in seven of his first 10 seasons. In fact, if you simply go by games played between the two, Fleury would end his career with 690 wins if he played at his current pace and played as many career games as Brodeur.
It will be a huge challenge for Fleury to be sure, but he has the comfort of knowing that if he stays with the Penguins beyond 2018-19 when his extension expires and he’s 34, he’ll likely be on a team that will continue to pile up wins. With Evgeni Malkin under contract until 2021-22 and Sidney Crosby signed until 2024-25, the Penguins figure to win their fair share of regular-season games for years to come. And there won’t be another lockout to truncate a season for at least another seven seasons after this one.
At the very least, Fleury should be able to pass Patrick Roy and his 551 wins for No. 2 on the all-time list if he stays healthy. In order to do that, assuming he’s somewhere in the 325-330 win mark this season, it will take seven-plus seasons averaging 30 wins a season.
And considering that eight of the goalies on the top 10 wins list are in the Hockey Hall of Fame – Curtis Joseph and Chris Osgood are the only two who are not – Fleury might be able to build himself quite a legacy over the next decade. Of course, in order to do that he’s going to have to be better in the playoffs than he has been in recent years and help the Penguins win a couple of Stanley Cups. That would also go a long way to removing the “much-maligned” description as well.