Big Lead Sports Bar

11/08/2010

Fleury-Johnson: There is No Right Answer


This picture sorta summarizes the first month of Penguins season, no? Some thoughts on the controversy that just won't die:


"Marc(-Andre Fleury) has been a big-time goaltender and has got to be a big-time goaltender. He's got to find that." -  Disco Dan Bylsma, on his struggling goalie who was pulled in a 4-3 win over Phoenix on Saturday night

I'm a Fleury fan; that's been pretty well documented on this site in the past. I believe (and hope) that the guy's going to get things turned around soon. But I think the Fleury-Brent Johnson debate that's evolved over the first month of the season is a question that has no right answer at the moment. 

What you're really seeing here is a classic battle of short-term thinking vs. long-term thinking that goes beyond just hockey and can be applied to nearly any business. On one hand, it's important that the Penguins win games on a regular basis, but on the other hand, it's also important that they get a goalie they're very heavily invested in back on track. Balancing the two, while keeping the locker room, the GM, and the owners happy is not an easy task, which is what Coach Disco is experiencing daily. And I'm not even going to get into the court of public opinion weighing in on playing time. That should have no bearing whatsoever on Bylsma's decision making.

Do you sit Fleury...do you play Johnson...do you play Fleury...do you sit Johnson...it's been the dominant storyline of this team in 2010-11 thus far, and unfortunately the correct response is not something that can be looked up in your Franchise Goaltender Manual. Nonetheless, the fact remains that right now, this dilemma comes down to two people, as long as Johnson continues to play well: Fleury and Bylsma. That may change down the road if MAF's poor play continues, but for the moment, it's those two.

Bylsma's coached Fleury for a few years now; he knows his routines, and has seen the down-times before. He sees how Fleury practices, he sees his daily demeanor. He is the most qualified person to make a decision on when to play Fleury and when to sit him. Apparently Bylsma felt he erred in his decision on Saturday night, because Fleury's time in Phoenix was rather short, just further proving my point: Bylsma is the guy who makes the call, and even he's getting it wrong from time to time. 

I can't tell you exactly what's wrong with Marc-Andre Fleury. I can't climb inside his head and figure out why he gives up some of the goals he gives up. I heard a caller recently tell Seibel & Starkey that they don't think Fleury "has what it takes between the ears", a comment I thought was ludicrous. Fleury's been down before, and I'm sure he'll be down again. So goes the career path of #29. He has highs, he has lows, he always keeps things interesting. He wins Stanley Cups, he gets benched. So goes the life of a goaltender.

I don't think Fleury's the next Steve Blass, as was suggested by a reader of the PG to Dave Molinari, and I don't know how you can make that call after one month. I believe - as do the Penguins - that Fleury will fight his way out of it. And if he doesn't, that's probably not a person they want to entrust with their last line of defense any longer.

That's not a scenario that anybody wants to see happen, but like I said, a lot of people have financial and emotional stakes in this team. Bylsma and Ray Shero have to answer to those folks, and as this franchise (and every other franchise in pro sports) has proven in the past, it's a results-driven business. Even the Pirates fire managers and GMs. Ask John Russell or Michel Therrien how things are going these days.

I'm DEFINITELY not saying or suggesting anyone's pushing Bylsma and Shero out the door, which would be insane. I'm just pointing out the harsh reality that every player-evaluation makes up a career resume for those in the coach and GM business. Does Bylsma stick Fleury in for long-range purposes and lose games, which makes him look bad? How does Shero manage the value of Marc-Andre Fleury stock, of which the Penguins own millions of shares? Eventually in cases like these, it comes down to who the decision-makers are still willing to back for their own job security. No one is exempt from being evaluated, not even the evaluators.

As I said, there is no right answer at the moment, and these are hard, hard questions. But watching it play out has proven to be one of the most entertaining storylines in the 2010 Pittsburgh sports scene. You can't script this kind of drama outside of cursing out a caterer or taking some regrettable cell-phone pictures, and let's keep our fingers crossed that doesn't happen anytime soon.

Mondesi's House: The Director's Cut (more links, commentary, etc): twitter.com/mondesishouse
Email: mondesishouse@gmail.com

9 comments:

Someone Somewhere said...

Not to go all Bill Parcells on you, but you are what your record says you are. Right now, Marc-Andre Fleury isn't very good. Do you keep running him out there in the hopes that this is a slump and he'll eventually break out of it? I think the organization wants one thing: to win games. What goalie gives Pittsburgh the best chance, right NOW, to win games? These guys are pros, they can't worry about hurting the feelings of a fragile goaltender. If Fleury is embittered by being benched, then figure out what is wrong and get your mojo back. I mean, if he is a team player, he should want what is best for the team, no? Sure, it sucks, but right now, it's pretty evident that Brent Johnson is what is best for the Penguins. Now, that may not be true in May, but if they don't win games in November, there might not be any games in May.

BurressWithButterflywings said...

This is a polarizing subject amongst Pens fans and right now the Flower isn't doing anything to prove he is worthy of $5.5M towards the cap. And to be honest, this isn't merely a month long issue. This dates back to most of last spring where he showed very little consistency. Saturday was the first game this season he let up less than 3 goals....... he played about half the first period

Unfortunately, this is not as black and white as some people think. There are the detractors who blame everything on Flower, and sometimes I am one, and then there are the defenders of Fleury who are convinced that no fault for any goal, ever, in the history of his career, can be pinned on him. That is as equally ludicrous as people calling for him to be traded for a scoring winger right now.

I remember when he gave up 5 goals on 14 shots and everybody blamed the defense. That was ridiculous, a $5.5M/year goaltender should be capable of making big stops and difficult saves when there are inevitable let downs.

I know nothing about how goaltenders are trained or coached. It appears to me that the Flower goes down too early and comes out too far, but that may be how he is coached. I don't think many will disagree that his puck handling is terrifying.

But he is certainly a guy who can play the heck out of his position and win his team games. We have seen it before and I hope to see it again very soon. Right now, it's a waste of a perfectly brilliant goaltender who is flat out not getting the job done.

Colin Bruckel said...

I took a stand on this about a week and a half ago, and my position hasn't changed since.

http://thehosers.blogspot.com/2010/10/i-told-you-so.html

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

I love Marc Andre for what he's done for the Pens organization, and he seems like a genuinely good guy.

But sports are the ultimate results-based business (ok, maybe second to politics), and if he's not performing, well then he shouldn't start.

If he continues to not perform, and it kills me to say it, then we need to find someone who will.

This is where people's football fan mentality comes in. Goalies aren't like QBs. Getting rid of an established one isn't necessarily rebuilding.

Hell, the Wings took a flyer on letting Osgood start again a few years back and all he did was lead them to two finals and one Cup.

If you have a good team, you can win without a bonafide superstar goalie.

And... I mean, the money could be spent on the mythical "scoring winger" for Sid. If we can get similar or (hopefully) better results for a guy who's half the price, then why not?

Poker Guru said...

Most goalies don't hit their stride til 27-28. Fleury has won a cup and is still not at that age. People need to relax. All preseason the talk was how sharp Fleury was. Stuff happens - get over it - he will come around. Getting to 2 stanley cup finals in a row is not a fluke that you can pull off with an avg goaltender. Ask Washington.

BurressWithButterflywings said...

Okay, winning the Stanley Cup was all well and good. But we can't hang our hat on the 2009 Stanley Cup in the 2010-11 season. That is just not good business sense. You need every point you can get and right now Fleury's GAA, Save %, and W-L record simply do not cut it.

Just a few meaningless stats:

Johnson: 8 GP, 6-1-1, GAA=1.63, SV% .943. Total GA=13, Shots Against=228

MAF+ 8 GP- 1-6-0, GAA=3.55, SV%=.853, Total GA=25, Shots against= 170.

MAF has let in nearly 2x the amount of goals on 3/4 the amount of shots........

And if any1 still cares:

Career= Johnson- 278GP GAA=2.61, SV%=.904. 668 GA, 6,982 Shots Against
Flower- 310 GP, GAA= 2.84, SV%=.906, 833 GA, 8,815 Shots against.

Brent Johnson is a solid journeyman second goaltender vs. MAF, who is supposed to be the second coming Roy+Brodeur x Fuhr+ Hasek, and their career stats are frighteningly similar.

I don't think there is any denying who should be playing and who should be sitting right now.

Nate said...

"What you're really seeing here is a classic battle of short-term thinking vs. long-term thinking that goes beyond just hockey and can be applied to nearly any business."

I agree. Fleury's career save percentage is .906, well below the NHL average. There are no excuses left for him there, either. He's had six full seasons to adjust...he's not some 19 year old that started in the NHL too soon anymore.

It's time to find a long-term replacement, and it's not Johnson.

BURGH08 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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