The world of hockey doesn’t have many unique personalities.
Whether that’s because of a juniors system that trains personality out of players or just an expectation around the game not to talk much — which only a few notable breaks — the game has a definitive lack of characters.
Luckily, one of the most unique and definable personalities in hockey is now in net for the Blackhawks, with Marc-Andre Fleury starting the season as the team’s undisputed No. 1 goalie. There’s a reason that the media seems to love Flower so much, especially in Pittsburgh and Las Vegas — the two cities where Fleury has played so far.
It’s hard to call any hockey player “bubbly” — see the definitive lack of personality described above — but that seems like the perfect word for Fleury. Whether it’s pranks, drawings from his kids or just the fact that a smile permanently seems etched upon his face — but like, not in a Joker way — Fleury is a bright spot in a world of dull, the color yellow in grayscale.
Fortunately, Fleury also is a very good goaltender. Fleury is ranked No. 3 all-time in career wins among NHL goalies, a stat which doesn’t seem that impressive in 2021, but Fleury has achieved that feat with a higher winning percentage (55.67%) than either of the two goalies ahead of him, Martin Brodeur (54.58%) and Patrick Roy (53.54%).
While that could change behind arguably the worst defense Fleury will likely play behind, — rivaled only by the 2016 Penguins when Kris Letang was injured — that smile doesn’t seem destined to leave the locker room, and that could provide levity in moments of dourness.
Fleury is coming off a Vezina-winning season when he posted a .928 save percentage and six shutouts in 36 games behind a defense that allowed 2.29 expected goals per 60 at 5-on-5, much better than the Blackhawks’ second-worst 2.56 in 2021. While that doesn’t factor in additions like Seth Jones and Jake McCabe to the Blackhawks’ blue line — although neither is coming off a particularly great preseason.
Fleury saved 15.42 goals above expected at all strengths last season and will likely have to do even heavier lifting this year. After all, the Blackhawks allowed 25.69 more expected goals across all strengths than the Golden Knights in 2021.
Fleury is one of the more important players on the Blackhawks’ roster this season, and he and Kevin Lankinen will need to put in work if the Blackhawks are going to make the playoffs again, especially if the Blackhawks are going to go far in the playoffs.
Coming off a Vezina season, Fleury may be the best hope the Blackhawks have in net.
It just doesn’t hurt that he’ll often don a smile while doing it.