As we all await the resurrection of hockey, it gives us time to reminisce about some players who have made their mark in the NHL. One such player is the Vegas Golden Knights Marc-Andre Fleury.
Marc-Andre Fleury is One Amazing Player
His career-high for wins came during the 2011-12 season when remarkably he collected 42 wins. His best season for save percentage came in the 2017-18 season when he had a 0.927 save percentage. He also experienced his best goals-against-average of 2.24 in the same season.
When it All Began for Marc-Andre Fleury
It started in 2003 when Marc-Andre Fleury was drafted. The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired the first overall pick from the Florida Panthers in a trade that sent the first and 73rd overall picks to the Penguins in exchange for Mikael Samuelsson and the third and 55th picks.
Pittsburgh just couldn’t pass up on Fleury. They needed a goalie that was going to do everything possible to put the team’s needs before his own and put the team on his back when needed. It showed early on. He was all they expected, and then some.
Most goalies spend two or three years in the minors before getting a start in the NHL. Fleury made his debut at age 18. He was the youngest goalie in the NHL.
Think about that for a minute. Three years before he was playing Midget AAA in the Montreal area in Quebec. Fast forward three years and 90 games for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and he is the first overall pick of the deepest draft in NHL history and the starting goalie for a team captained by Mario Lemieux.
Back to the Drawing Board
A few days before he was about to cash in on a signing bonus to stay in the NHL he was sent back down to the QMJHL. From 2003-2006 he played 61 games for Cape Breton, 66 games in the AHL and 71 games in the NHL.
Out of the 71 NHL games, he won a grand total of 17 of them.
Then Sidney Crosby happened. For the next five years, he won a Stanley Cup, went to the Cup Finals, made a Stanley Cup-winning save and signed a beautiful seven-year contract.
He was in net for the Game 5 when Pittsburgh won vs the Detroit Red Wings in triple overtime. He made 55 saves. Fleury was in net the next year in Game 5 too when he got pulled after he allowed five goals.
As previously stated, so many ups, so many downs.
He was pulled against the New York Islanders in 2012 and replaced by Tomas Vokoun. Instead of trading Fleury that summer they got him a new goalie coach and a much calmer and steady Fleury emerged.
Marc-Andre Fleury Team MVP
The average fan might not remember, but in 2015 Fleury was the team’s MVP. The years when Evgeni Malkin and Crosby were injured, Fleury steadied the ship. In 2015 he had 10 shutouts, none more important than the one on the last night of the regular season, which secured them a playoff spot.
He was Pittsburgh’s best player that year against the New York Rangers, despite losing in five games. To quote Crosby after the series, he said, “Fleury deserved better.”
The rest of Fleury’s time in Pittsburgh doesn’t need much explanation. He was playing the best hockey of his career when he was sidelined with a concussion. Matt Murray took over and he never really got the netback. Coach Mike Sullivan helped with that, but it happened nonetheless.
However, in 2017 round one against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and round two against the Washington Capitals Fleury got the perfect send-off, in part because it was anything but perfect. The save versus Alex Ovechkin. Magic.
That game vs Columbus where he saved 50. Magic.
That shutout vs Ottawa Senators. Magic.
It’s the little things about Fleury’s career in Pittsburgh that made it special; like the way, the building chanted his name in Game 1 against Columbus in 2017 when Murray got hurt. Or, how he hid inside Colby Armstrong‘s hockey bag in 2007.
The time he fell onto the ice running out of the tunnel in Detroit, in the Stanley Cup Final endeared himself to Pittsburgh. And how he quietly put his hand over his heart and waved thank you to the fans on that last parade down the Boulevard of the Allies. Marc-Andre Fleury is a special person, and, he is one of the best goalies of his generation.
An Emotional Goodbye
Fleury would have loved to be in the net when they hoisted the Cup in Nashville, but it wasn’t meant to be. For a player who has had so many “wasn’t meant to be’s” it’s quite remarkable the legacy he left with.
With tears in his eyes he lifted the Cup, with the young family that he had built and raised in Steel City by his side, with his best friends looking on and knowing that this was it, he stepped off the ice in a Penguins’ jersey for one last time.
Parties and champagne would follow, an emotional parade that at times felt more like a Fleury parade than a championship one. An autograph signing where people lined up at 6 am just to say goodbye and a tear-jerking locker room clean-out with Fleury’s signature smile and Pittsburgh Pirates ball cap made headlines.
Then came the news that Marc-Andre Fleury had waived his No Movement Clause. He said he wanted to do what was best for the team and the city of Pittsburgh. That 18-year-old kid that was drafted first overall with the hopes that he would always pull through when it mattered most, came through in a way no one could have ever imagined.
In many ways, he saved the season.
That is why Pittsburgh and Fleury will always be linked, that’s why Pittsburgh and Fleury always worked.
Now here we are. 846 games after that first game in October of 2003. 465 wins since his first one against Detroit on October 18th, 2003. Marc-Andre Fleury is on one of the best teams in the league, the undisputed starter, and having success in Sin-City.
No one is surprised when he is announced the starter night after night, and that’s what this was really all about. Don’t be surprised if Pens’ fans are watching the Western Conference a little more closely going forward. The Flower is in Vegas, it’s hard not to root for one of your favourites.
It has become pretty clear; Marc-Andre Fleury is the greatest Penguins goalie to date, and it isn’t even close.
He too helped save the franchise and now he’s helping to start a new one. Maybe he will finish his career in Vegas, or maybe somewhere else. There will always be a group of the Penguins faithful who hope to see him dawn that Penguins’ sweater again, but either way, they say you never forget where it all started.
For Fleury, it started in Pittsburgh, it started where you drive under that Fort Pitt tunnel and see the city unfold before your eyes. It started in “the Igloo” and migrated to PPG Paints Arena. It started so many years ago, and that is something neither him nor the city will ever forget.
The Big Night
On February 6, 2018, Fleury’s hockey story came full circle to Pittsburgh. His hockey story… that is. His legacy and personal connections he built through playgrounds, hospital visits, pucks flipped over the glass, and kind gestures will live on in Steel City forever.
The roof almost blew off the arena when Fleury was introduced and it’s a certain guarantee his standing ovation will be the longest in recent memory in the city of bridges.
But, it really doesn’t even matter how well Fleury played. Actually, he lost 5-4 to his counterpart, Matt Murray. It doesn’t matter because if Penguins’ fans have learned anything about Fleury through lost starting jobs, Stanley cup wins, built playgrounds, tearful goodbyes, and cartwheels in practice; it’s that he might be down, but you can never count him out.
From listening to the many quotes Fleury has given, a part of Fleury and his family will always call Pittsburgh home. For fans and teammates alike, the feeling couldn’t be more mutual.
There are very few athletes that have left Pittsburgh and took our hearts with them… Fleury did.
So this speaks for the whole city. Welcome home Flower, it is so good to see you, and it is so nice to see you are doing well!
For all the tear-filled moments that were created and cherished on his return, let’s end this article with one moment that will never bring a tear to any Pens fans’ eyes.
*Special thanks to Laura Liesa who contributed to this article.