Before the start of last round, you might remember, I advocated that the Pittsburgh Penguins should probably start Marc-Andre Fleury if they ever wanted to play him again. My reasons, by and large, still seem very logical- it would have been a boost for Fleury and another opportunity for him to regain possession of his title of “franchise goalie”.
Penguins management and coaches, however, decided not to go that route, playing Tomas Vokoun each and every game of the Senators series, and it proved to be the right move. Vokoun played above average to excellent in each and every game, allowing just 11 goals in the five games and stopping .935 % of the shots he saw from Ottawa (159 of 170). Even better- Vokoun provided the team with stability and confidence, they played a confident, impressive game knowing that their goalie could and probably would bail them out with a save if they needed it. That’s the type of play Fleury just hasn’t provided in his last two playoff series against the Islanders (14 goals in four games, .891 save % overall) and Flyers in 2012 (26 goals in six games, .834 sv%).
So now that the dust has settled on the second round, I’ve gotten an obvious question (from non-Penguin fans): “now what happens?”. The equally obvious answer being: “the Penguins are Vokoun’s ship to sail for about as far as the eye can see”. It’s hard to imagine a non-injury scenario where the Penguins turn back to Fleury this post-season.
The question then becomes: “well, what about next year?”, with the honest, but dismissive answer of “who knows”. The Penguins have many key free agents: Jarome Iginla, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Brenden Morrow, Craig Adams and Douglas Murray. Most will play their last game in the black and vegas gold when the Pens season ends, which given the NHL scheduling might not be until sometime in August. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are one year away from unrestricted free agency, a similar situation that saw Jordan Staal get traded last summer.
The point being that there’s no way of knowing what the future holds, and it’s not even worth developing extensive theories mid-playoff run about the long-term future, when so much can and probably will change depending on what happens next round, next game, next shift. The Pens management will have to make a decision on their goaltending this summer, but they'll have a LOT of decisions, some very painful, to make when it comes to constructing a roster under next season's reduced salary cap.
Can Fleury move past that? Can the organization trust him? Is his cap number too much to absorb in the future? Very reasonable questions, but ones that aren’t likely to be answered in the immediate future. The business at hand of playing the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals is way more of an important matter, and Vokoun is the only goalie in the conversation right now. It’s quite unbelievable but in the course of a few weeks, Marc-Andre Fleury has gone from a staple and basically the franchise’s only goalie in the “Sidney Crosby playoff era 2007-present” to being a complete and total non-factor. Hockey doesn’t stand still for anyone for too long, and while all the questions will eventually be answered, and tough decisions will need to be made, for now the Pens have made the right call and have turned it over to Vokoun. If he keeps playing as well as he has in his first seven playoff games, it will prove to be the only decision they could have made.