Marc-Andre Fleury won the Vezina Trophy in 2021 as the league’s best goalie.
Less than a month later, he was traded to the Blackhawks for the simple acquisition price of prospect Mikael Hakkarainen.
Fleury won the Vezina with a .928 save percentage, 15.42 goals saved above expected and a 27.7 goals above replacement mark (5 wins above replacement). Fleury beat two other goaltenders who went on deep playoff runs in 2021: Philipp Grubauer of the Avalanche and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning. In fact, Vasilevskiy’s loss is what Nikita Kucherov was talking about when he said “number one bullshit.”
The Blackhawks need a goaltender who can do what Fleury did last season. Maybe not win another Vezina, but put up numbers well above average and stop pucks, especially from the high-danger area. Fleury had a .846 save percentage there last season — 17th in the league, per Natural Stat Trick.
The Blackhawks’ goaltenders combined for a .903 save percentage last season, .808 from high danger. Fleury looks like an immediate upgrade.
However, Fleury’s 2021 season may have been an outlier. It’s the first time in his career he was nominated for the Vezina, the first time in fact he was even a finalist. The highest he’d ever finished in the GM-voted award before 2021 was fourth in ‘18-19. Fleury has finished three times in the top five in Vezina voting while with the Golden Knights, though.
It’s important to note Fleury’s performance in the ‘19-20 season, though. During that pandemic-shortened season, Fleury had a .905 save percentage, was worth 6.1 goals above replacement and allowed 19.22 goals above expected. That’s, uh ... that’s really bad. Fleury also had a high-danger save percentage of .800.
There’s a reason the Golden Knights acquired Robin Lehner from Chicago at that year’s trade deadline, extended Lehner in the offseason after he helped them to the Western Conference Final and then chose him over Fleury, right after Fleury won the Vezina.
It’s also important to note the differences between the two teams in terms of defense, as well. The Golden Knights allowed 2.29 expected goals per 60 at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. The Blackhawks allowed 2.56.
Here’s what that looks like in terms of heat maps:
Note all the red (which means more shots) in the low slot, right in front of the net.
There’s no Shea Theodore or Alex Pietrangelo on the Blackhawks’ blue line. In fact, the best the Blackhawks may be able to do is either Seth Jones or Connor Murphy, depending on who you’re asking. Neither is capable of driving team defense up enough to make up for the fact that the Blackhawks play arguably the worst defensive scheme in the league.
The Blackhawks are likely not a goaltender’s dream destination. While the shadow of Corey Crawford still lingers (honestly, we may need to start the “that guy should be a Hall of Famer” conversation soon), none of the three goaltenders last year really proved anything.
There’s a difference between Fleury and the Blackhawks’ last franchise netminder, though. While Crawford showed quiet resilience in net, knowing his angle at all times and very rarely having to rely on raw athleticism to get by, Fleury is flashy. He can be caught out of position but makes the diving, last-second save on a puck to keep it out of the net. His positioning is not at the level of somebody like Crawford’s, but his athleticism is off the charts.
Fleury is a vast upgrade over three rather unproven commodities, and now the Blackhawks have both members of the Golden Knights’ original goaltender battery (Malcolm Subban being the other).
The Blackhawks are better in net this year than they were last year. Fleury is likely not the goaltender he was last season, but he’s also probably not the goaltender he was the season before that. He has a career .913 save percentage and is at .858 from high-danger shots. If that’s how his statline finishes this season, it’s an upgrade.
And the Blackhawks gave up a player who split time in the AHL and ECHL last season. What’s the worst thing that happens? The Blackhawks have three goaltenders currently behind Fleury who can do something at the NHL level. There exists a safety net, and Fleury’s contract ends after this season.
This was a no-risk, high-reward trade for the Blackhawks. If only they could make more of that type of deal.