Fleury to visit Golden Knights for first time with Blackhawks on Saturday

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“I don’t know if it’s purposely, but I haven’t thought too much about it,” Fleury told NHL.com Wednesday.

Fleury, considered the face of the Golden Knights through their first four seasons in the NHL, is expected to start against them when Chicago visits Vegas at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; ATTSN-RM, NBCSCH, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).

Though the 37-year-old goalie who was traded to Chicago by Vegas on June 27 said it hasn’t been front and center in his mind, it’s sure to be an emotional night.

Golden Knights broadcaster Shane Hnidy said he expects the reception Fleury gets to be “very warm and loud.”

“He’s still loved in this town and for good reason for what he did,” Hnidy said. “He was the face of the franchise, the first big name and the way he performed, it kind of resurrected his career. That’s what drives any Hall of Famer is, as nice as a human and he’s one of the nicest, most humble people, but his competitiveness is as high as it can get.”

There weren’t many well-known names on the Golden Knights roster when they assembled their inaugural team in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. But Fleury, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup three times during his 11 seasons with them, immediately embraced his new role and helped lead Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final in its first season; it lost to the Washington Capitals in five games.

“I think he brought a lot to the locker room given that we were a brand new team and he came in with all of these accomplishments,” said Tampa Bay Lightning forward and original member of the Golden Knights Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. “He is the superstar and a top guy, but he is such a humble guy — the most humble guy. And that made everyone in the locker room more comfortable because the superstar was such a humble guy and so easy to talk to.”

The Golden Knights qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in all four of Fleury’s seasons with Vegas, reaching the semifinal round three times.

Fleury has been in this situation before; on Feb. 6, 2018, he returned to Pittsburgh as a member of the Golden Knights, and made 33 saves in a 5-4 loss to the Penguins.

“I lived it in Pittsburgh when I came back there the first time,” Fleury said. “I’m sure it will be similar. It brings back so many memories from my time there. It’ll be good to see some of those old teammates and friends and staff from the team and stuff. The fans, right? They’ve always been very kind to me. So it’ll be special.”

Fleury was special last season for Vegas, going 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average. .928 save percentage and six shutouts in 36 starts, and won the Vezina Trophy, voted as the top goalie in the NHL.

But the Golden Knights had NHL salary cap issues; Fleury had one year remaining on the three-year, $21 million contract extension (average annual value $7 million) he signed with the Golden Knights on July 13, 2018. Goalie Robin Lehner, acquired by Vegas in a trade with Chicago on Feb. 24, 2020, had four years remaining on the five-year, $25 million contract (AAV $5 million) he signed with the Golden Knights on Oct. 3, 2020. 

Vegas determined it could not keep Fleury and Lehner, and traded Fleury to the Blackhawks for Mikael Hakkarainen, a forward prospect they released Aug. 19. 

Fleury contemplated retirement, but then decided to report to Chicago. He’s 9-11-2 with a 3.01 GAA, .907 save percentage and two shutouts for the Blackhawks, and in his past 14 starts is 8-4-2 with a 2.46 GAA, .921 save percentage and two shutouts.

Chicago opened the season 1-9-2 but is 10-9-3 since Derek King replaced Jeremy Colliton as coach Nov. 6. Fleury’s play has helped furnish some stability.

On Dec. 9, he became the third goalie in NHL history to win 500 games, joining Hockey Hall of Famers Martin Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551). Fleury is 501-287-82 with two ties, a 2.56 GAA, .913 save percentage and 69 shutouts in 905 regular-season games through 18 NHL seasons with the Penguins, Golden Knights and Blackhawks.

Mike McKenna, a former NHL goalie and television analyst for the Golden Knights last season, said Fleury’s on-ice style was a great fit for Vegas.

“I played with the Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL (from 2005-07),” McKenna said. “We had a fan base of about 5,000, we had wacky promotions. But the Golden Knights bridged the gap between hockey and entertainment and there’s no more entertaining goalie than Marc-Andre Fleury. He plays the game with a zeal and a joy and a passion that’s evident in how he makes saves. He’s athletic, he is explosive, he’s prone to the occasional highlight reel save. That’s something that, people haven’t been exposed to hockey, you live for that. it’s exciting.”

Winning a lot didn’t hurt, either. Fleury was 117-60-14 with a 2.41 GAA, .917 save percentage and 23 shutouts in 192 games (191 starts) for the Golden Knights. 

The No. 1 selection by the Penguins in the 2003 NHL Draft, Fleury waived his no-move clause in 2017 so Pittsburgh could protect goalie Matt Murray in the expansion draft.

Fleury was 375-216-66 with two ties, a 2.58 GAA and .912 save percentage with the Penguins and holds Pittsburgh goalie records for games played (691), minutes played (39,771), wins (375) and shutouts (44). But he was Murray’s backup for the Penguins back-to-back Cup runs in 206 and 2017. 

Two of his new Golden Knights teammates were familiar faces: forward James Neal and defenseman Deryk Engelland, who each had played with Fleury in Pittsburgh and were selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. Still, Fleury said going to a new team, a new city and a new hockey market was “a little bit scary.”

“Lots of unknowns, right?” he said. “My biggest thing would be, would people even come to the game or like hockey, right? That was one of the biggest things. Are we going to win any games? It’s a long season when you don’t win at all. I think those were my worries. Is it going to be a good city to raise my family, too? On those points, everything exceeded my expectations by a lot.” 

“From Day One, the practice rink was always sold out. The atmosphere at the rink was always amazing. The neighborhood, we lived maybe 20 minutes from The Strip and everything you need is there, and everybody was so welcoming. Yeah, it was good, good schools and stuff like that, good neighborhood and we won. We won some games and it was a lot of fun.”

Fleury brought a confident air that became the Golden Knights identity in 2017-18, when they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. He went 29-13-4 with a 2.24 GAA, .927 save percentage and four shutouts in 46 regular-season starts and 13-7-0 with an identical 2.24 GAA, .927 save percentage and four shutouts, in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff starts.

“Our team at the beginning of that (season), it’s like, ‘Well, we may not be that good, but we’re going to have Fleury,” said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Nate Schmidt, a teammate of Fleury’s during Vegas’ inaugural season. “So at least we’re going to be in a lot of games.

“There were some good-ish players, you know? Not a lot of proven guys; I know I wasn’t. Pretty much everyone on the back end, the defensive core, was kind of busting into the League, or had been the fifth, sixth defensemen (elsewhere). We had some older guys who had been top-pair guys that now were just later in their careers. We were probably not going to be very good, but we’re going to be in every game.”

Fleury’s impact was felt off the ice as well, from charity events to interactions with fans at practice.

“He just always has time for everyone,” Hnidy said. “He goes out of his way, whether it’s a picture, autograph, anything. It doesn’t matter the game, he always had time for people and I think that’s important. As big as he is, a future Hall of Famer, record holder, he continues to grow his win column and build his resume. He always has time for everyone, and a lot of that went unseen.”

Fleury’s leadership style with the Golden Knights wasn’t attention-getting either, but it was nevertheless effective.

“Guys would be looking around the room,” Schmidt said, “saying ‘I think we should do this.’ And three or four guys would say, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’ Then about five seconds later everyone turned their heads toward ‘Flower’ and be like, ‘Flower, is that cool? Should we do that?’

“And Marc’s not a guy who’s going to grab the reins and be like, ‘Yeah, this is the way I want it, this is the way it has to be.’ He does a lot of stuff by example and was maybe more behind the scenes. But a lot of the stuff, that type of work ethic and a lot of that stuff, comes from him.”

Fleury will take in another reunion Saturday. After that, he’ll focus on trying to get the Blackhawks (11-18-5), seventh in the Central Division, back into the Stanley Cup Playoff picture.

“Obviously, I wish we were in the playoff run right now, picked up some more wins, right?” he said. “I think the expectations were pretty high coming into the season, so it was a little frustrating in the beginning that we weren’t able to pull out many wins for a while. That was hard on everyone, trying to figure it out. But there are still a lot of games left and we’re going to keep pushing, keep making our way back.”

NHL.com independent correspondent Corey Long contributed to this report

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