What A Difference A Week Makes
Just one week ago, I wrote that I wasn’t worried about Fleury and that history suggests he’ll be fine during the regular season, when the pressure isn’t on.
But history also suggests that Fleury plays his best when being pushed by a capable backup and when he’s spelled regularly, limiting his playing time and keeping him fresh.
That plan came to a sudden halt this weekend when news broke that Fleury’s backup, Tomas Vokoun, had a procedure to dissolve a blood clot, which will keep him out indefinitely — possibly months, or longer.
Fleury’s new backup is 26-year-old Jeff Zatkoff, a career minor leaguer with absolutely no NHL game experience.
My confidence, obviously, has waned a bit in the last few days.
As it stands now, Fleury won’t be pushed. He won’t be looking over his shoulder to see a capable goalie chomping at the bit to steal his starting job. He won’t see any form of competition to fuel a fire.
All he’ll see is an NHL rookie with little-to-no chance of taking the ice, even if Fleury plays like his mediocre self.
It’s a scary situation, really — even though I know deep down Fleury can and will manage the games for the Penguins, producing enough wins to be respectable despite an otherwise sub-par stat line.
But, if Fleury gets hurt, what happens? Now that is a really scary thought.
The Penguins salary cap situation also is scary. There are varying reports as to how much they have exceeded the cap, so we won’t talk specifics. But know this: any external addition likely will have to include some form of salary dump
One such possible external option, which likely will be affordable, is Johan Hedberg, who could find himself placing bookends on his NHL career, which began in Pittsburgh more than 10 years ago.
Last week, Hedberg, 40, was cut from his tryout role with the New York Rangers, leaving him an unrestricted free agent.
While father time has caught up to the “Moose,” as he became affectionately known as during his tenure with the Penguins, he managed to successfully back up Martin Brodeur in New Jersey for three seasons, earning significant playing time.
During his three years with the Devils, Hedberg played in 80 games and earned 38 wins. He posted a 2.45 goals-against average, .905 save percentage, and eight shutouts. It should be noted, though, that his numbers fell considerably last season, when he won just six of 19 starts (2.76, .883, 1).
Another option would come with significant risk, but the potential for a significant reward, as well. Ilya Bryzgalov, bought out by the Flyers this summer, remains available, and while recent memories are of goofy interviews and terrible performances, his career suggests he is more than capable of being a dominant starter in the NHL when not on the Flyers roster.
A Bryzgalov signing, however, likely would come with a larger cap hit for a player who could present issues within the locker room. If one headcase goalie is bad, two could be a disaster.
No matter how you slice it, the Penguins are in a far less than ideal situation in goal, where the safety net of Vokoun has kept most fans (and likely team management) comfortable with Fleury.
But with the safety net gone, at least temporarily, the beginning of the season becomes a bit murky, regardless of who replaces Vokoun during his hopefully short absence.