Marc-Andre Fleury in action Monday night against the Flyers. (AP/Matt Slocum)
It was never a matter of if so much as it was a matter of when. With 375 career wins to his name entering the 2017-18 season, Marc-Andre Fleury joined the expansion Vegas Golden Knights' inaugural campaign with a chance to become only the 13th goaltender in NHL history to reach the 400-win plateau.
The odds were favorable that Fleury would win his 400th contest this season. After all, his career numbers suggested that any season in which he played more than half the campaign was one in which he was likely to hit the 25-win mark. In fact, only once in his past 13 seasons had Fleury suited up in more than 41 games and failed to hit the quarter-century total. Most assumed there were only two things that stood in Fleury’s way: injury and team talent. And while the first did strike — he missed 25 games from mid-October through early Decemeber with a concussion — the latter hasn’t been even the slightest concern. Rather, it’s partially to thank for Fleury reaching 400 victories despite missing so much time.
The Golden Knights hit the ground running to start the campaign, rattling off three wins to start the season, all with Fleury in goal. The next time out, though, is when the injury struck, but by the time the veteran keeper returned, it was awfully clear that there was more to the magic in Vegas than beginner’s luck. Once he was back in the crease, Fleury backstopped the upstart Golden Knights to victory after victory. And it was Monday’s win, a 38-save performance in the Golden Knights’ 3-2 defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers, that resulted in Fleury's milestone.
As noted, Fleury became the 13th goaltender in history to reach the mark, and winning his 400th game with 13 games remaining in Vegas’ campaign means there’s opportunity for the 33-year-old to continue his ascent up the all-time wins list before 2017-18 concludes. One more win, for instance, will tie him with Chris Osgood for 12th all-time. Add another three wins to that, which would give him 404 career victories, and Fleury will slide into 11th spot and one win clear of Grant Fuhr. And if Fleury can manage to win eight games over the final month of the campaign, he’ll vault into 10th place on the all-time wins list, one ahead of Glenn Hall, who currently rounds out the top 10 with 407 wins.
But the timing of the win is significant beyond giving Fleury runway to surpass some Hall of Fame netminders before season’s end. By winning his 400th game this season, at age 33 and 104 days, Fleury became both the second-youngest and second-fastest goaltender to reach the 400-victory plateau. Only Martin Brodeur was younger, getting No. 400 at 31 years and 322 days, with Henrik Lundqvist as the only netminder who reached the mark faster. It took ‘King Henrik’ 727 games to secure his 400th victory. Last night’s outing was the 728th of Fleury’s career. So, while hitting the milestone with time left in the season gives Fleury room to move up the all-time wins list by the end of the campaign, doing so with such expediency career-wise gives him the opportunity to rocket up the all-time list in the remaining years of his NHL tenure.
It’s by no means a perfect science, but let’s try making some rough estimates about where Fleury could then end up on the all-time list, shall we?
First, let’s assume that, like many of the other goaltenders who appear in the top-10 wins list, Fleury plays well into his late 30s. At present, the 33-year-old has one season remaining on his current contract with the Golden Knights, which could mean he has one more long-term deal left in him, say a five-year deal that would see him play until his age 39 season. With Fleury’s history of health issues and the natural decline goaltenders begin to face, a safe assumption would be that he starts between 35 and 60 games per season. That’s an average of 48 per campaign and a rough estimate of 288 games across the next six seasons.
Let’s then conservatively estimate he wins another five games this season, taking his career win total to 405 by the end of the season. That would move Fleury into 11th place and two back of Hall with the crudely determined 288-game clock ticking on his career. At his career win percentage of .549, Fleury would win another 158 games by the time he finished up, which would bring his career total to 563 wins. A lower estimate, with Fleury simply playing break-even hockey, would see him add 144 wins and sit at 549 wins by the time his career came to a close. The difference there is important, too.
At the former higher total, Fleury would surpass Patrick Roy, whose 551 victories currently sit second all-time behind Brodeur’s 691-win NHL record. At the latter, lower total, Fleury would fall two wins shy of surpassing Roy. And despite the continued excellence of Lundqvist and Roberto Luongo, it appears Fleury is set to do battle with Roy for that second spot. Lundqvist, while a near lock for 500 wins, doesn’t seem all too likely to continue much beyond his current deal and three more 30-win campaigns to close out his contract would leave the New York Rangers keeper at around 520 wins for his career. Likewise, Luongo’s 467-win total puts him incredibly close to the 500-win mark, but it seems increasingly unlikely the soon-to-be 39-year-old plays out the final four seasons of his contract. Even if he were to do so, the past two seasons would suggest he’s in line for no more than 20 wins per season. And another 80 victories for Luongo would still leave him second to Roy, four wins shy of moving into a tie for second all-time.
Again, it’s not a perfect science. It can’t be without the ability to account for injuries or work stoppages that could rob Fleury of playing time. But with the way he has played over the course of his career and the history of other similar keepers, there’s no reason to believe Fleury can’t put together an honest-to-goodness chase of Roy for second on the all-time list and punch a ticket to the Hall of Fame in the process.