When the Chicago Blackhawks acquired Marc-André Fleury, there was no confusion around what the franchise was hoping would follow from having secured a future Hall of Famer in net. One of their many moves last offseason, all orchestrated with the same goal in mind. To expedite the team’s progress and turn them back into contenders again.
It was never in doubt that Fleury was poised to be a workhorse that the Blackhawks could rely upon. He was brought in to be their undisputed No. 1, after all. Yet, when it started to become clear that the 2021-22 Blackhawks were not going to achieve at the heights that their preseason strategy suggested, Chicago’s decision-making should have shifted accordingly.
Rather than hoping that proven veterans would help carry the rest of this roster through to an undeserved tier of success, one that they are clearly not ready for as a collective, the Blackhawks should have begun to leverage every opportunity to encourage development.
Instead, Fleury continues to add to his totals, as his counterparts are forced to watch from the sidelines. While each start is helping to propel Fleury up every all-time list, the tradeoff isn’t really working to anyone’s advantage.
Fleury’s Turnaround After a Slow Start
Fleury endured one of the worst starts of his career, going winless in October. Add in that he went 1-7-0 through his first eight games, riding a .881 save percentage (SV%) and over a 3.60 goals-against average (GAA) during that span, and it’s obvious that his game wasn’t where it needed to be.
However, Fleury closed out the calendar year much more effectively. He went on a 9-5-1 run, in which he set a .925 SV%, earned two shutouts, and was averaging only slightly above a 2.00 GAA. The all-star was performing as advertised as 2022 got underway.
Unfortunately, though, the rest of his team wasn’t necessarily following suit.
Although there was an obvious elevation to their play after Chicago’s early-season coaching change, it was clear that this wasn’t a lineup that was ready to contend in the way that was anticipated.
Despite starting to pick up some wins along the way, Chicago has struggled more often than not this season. Whether in relation to keeping leads, converting on special teams, or simply playing a complete game. Let alone battling for any type of playoff position.
Fleury was finally doing his part, but it was seemingly wasted effort since the rest of the roster wasn’t pulling their weight in the same regard. With the holes in Chicago’s current strategy having been exposed, the focus should have shifted from hoping for heroics in net to allowing more laneway for those behind Fleury to gain meaningful experience.
Lankinen, Söderblom, & Delia Need to Play
Heading into 2021-22, it was already established that this could very well be the only season Fleury spends in Chicago since his current term expires at its conclusion. But that was beside the point, as he was brought in to influence an immediate impact. Therefore, the team was solely focused on the present with Fleury between their pipes, causing a cognizant disregard for what was to follow.
When their current outlook started to suggest that it wouldn’t result in the picture they had painted this past preseason, looking for ways to pave a more prolific future should have become their new mandate. Especially when reflecting upon the aspects of their makeup that lack the depth and experience necessary to dominate in this league. Such as goaltending.
Coincidentally, both Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia will also require new contracts heading into next season, while Arvid Söderblom is only committed through 2022-23. The three goalies in Chicago’s system that the organization should be actively assessing. Whether to determine which they hope will take over as their new go-to or to position potential trade chips. Regardless, the only way to achieve either outcome is to let these athletes play.
As it stands, Fleury has made it into over 70 percent of Chicago’s games thus far, playing in 41 of their 57 contests. Quite an advantage as compared to Lankinen’s 15 starts, Söderblom’s three appearances, and Delia’s two games to this point in 2021-22. Yet, the latter three have far more to prove and only by being permitted to play will they get the chance to.
Fleury’s Trade Value Is Already Established
An award-winning season will certainly see one’s stock rise, while a down year could mean their next negotiation is a tougher one. However, there are select players that have found a way to set their value, given the consistency in their output. Fleury is one of those athletes.
Fleury has been active in the NHL for nearly two decades and is approaching 1,000 games played. He’s won over 500 of them, averaging a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% along the way, while accumulating 71 shutouts to date. He has also captured three Stanley Cups, the Jennings Trophy, and a Vezina Trophy. Needless to say, it’s obvious what he brings to the table. All the while, the 37-year-old continues to prove that he has more left to give this game.
Conflicting rumours have made it less than clear it fans should expect to see Fleury traded by the deadline, but if a deal is set to take place then it will surely be Chicago that holds all the power within those conversations.
Everyone knows what Fleury is capable of, let alone his list of achievements, and the price is always steeper for a proven talent than it is for one that’s less established. It’s not as though Chicago needs to shine a spotlight on Fleury to attract any offers. Even if he spent the rest of his time in Chicago in their press box, they’d still be fielding calls for his services.
What the Blackhawks are risking by overplaying Fleury, though, is a greater probability of injury, fatigue, or apathy. Meanwhile, the franchise continues to miss out on allowing their underdeveloped goalies a proper opportunity to take the reigns.
Fleury has already established exactly who he is in this league, while Lankinen, Söderblom, and Delia continue to battle for their chance to do the same. Chicago is currently failing every single one of them, while they risk their own future, with this stubborn starter strategy.
The time is now for the franchise to stop relying on Fleury, which would ultimately ignite a battle between their backups. They can then simultaneously work on extracting value for Fleury’s services as they witness their next No. 1 take hold of the role.
If the Blackhawks want to salvage any type of success out of what will otherwise be looked at as a lost season, committing to playing Fleury less is a good place to start.
Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.