A Blackhawks’ Tribute to Marc-Andre Fleury

He wasn’t with the Chicago Blackhawks for long. Just eight short months, to be exact. But Marc-Andre Fleury leaves a lasting impression everywhere he goes. The future Hall-of-Fame netminder had a long and prosperous 13-season run with the Pittsburgh Penguins, acquiring three Stanley Cups with his first NHL team. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. He went on to play four seasons with the expansion team Vegas Golden Knights. His fun-loving personality and respected veteran status basically made him the face of that franchise. The Blackhawks were lucky to land Fleury when the Golden Knights decided to go in a different direction. Fleury committed to Chicago, albeit for a very short tenure. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and re-live his stop with an Original Six franchise.

Fleury’s Big Decision

If you recall, when the Blackhawks initially acquired Fleury, he wasn’t 100% sure about reporting to Chicago. He was concerned with uprooting his family, and thinking perhaps it was just time to hang up his skates instead. But he knew on a personal level he had more hockey left in him. So he did what anybody would do; he reached out to some of his friends for advice.

This input obviously gave Fleury some peace of mind that he could continue his hockey career and do right by his family. After a few heart-to-hearts with his wife Veronique and their three small children, the decision was made.

I think it’s pretty safe to say many, many hockey fans were very happy when they learned the famous “Flower” was coming to Chicago.

A Less Than Ideal Beginning

At first, all seemed well. Fleury joked about how he couldn’t wait to have some fun in practice with his nemesis, Patrick Kane. He talked of how he was ready to mentor fellow goaltender Kevin Lankinen. He certainly wowed all his new teammates during a preseason practice.

But then the season started. You all remember that. The Blackhawks got off to a dismal 1-9-2 start, with then head coach Jeremy Colliton seemingly making all the wrong decisions. The players found themselves thinking too much and gripping their sticks too tight. Every loss compounded to make things worse and worse. But that was just on the ice. Off the ice, the Kyle Beach scandal was unfolding.

Related – Blackhawks Bytes: Kane, Hagel, Reichel & More

In these first 12 games, Fleury didn’t fare much better than the rest of the Blackhawks. He started in seven of these contests and only earned one win. He posted a combined .857 save percentage and allowed 29 goals. Granted, he didn’t have a lot of help in front of him, but Fleury just wasn’t Fleury. On Oct. 16, he even bore the humiliation of getting pulled in his old barn against the Penguins after allowing four goals in the first 12 minutes.

The Quebec native must have been wondering why in the heck he chose to come to Chicago. Sure enough, Fleury expressed his frustration during an interview at the end of October.

Very frustrating. Embarrassing… We had some hype with our team, with the new acquisitions this summer…and we all expected more out of our team. It’s been tough to keep smiling.

Now, the Flower is known for his infectious smile. So this statement meant things were pretty bad. Little did he know at the time that things were reaching a breaking point for the entire organization.

Greener Pastures for Fleury & the Blackhawks

On Nov. 6, the axe dropped, and Colliton was let go by the new interim general manager, Kyle Davidson. The head coach of the Rockford IceHogs, Derek King, was promoted to be the Blackhawks’ coach on an interim basis. It turns out this was just what the doctor ordered. King’s easy-going and fun-loving personality helped the players lighten up and start enjoying themselves again. Wouldn’t you know it; they also started winning.

Derek King Chicago Blackhawks
Coach Derek King made a great first impression on the frustrated Chicago Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Blackhawks won their first four contests under King, and went 7-4-1 in his first 12 games as the new coach. Fleury himself won six-of-nine games in that time span, including a 3-2 shootout winner against the Penguins. I’m sure that had to feel good after getting chased from the net in the last contest against his former club.

Celebrating 500 Wins

A huge milestone came next for Fleury. When the Montreal Canadiens hosted the Blackhawks on Dec. 9, the veteran netminder was on the cusp of his 500th win. Of course, it’s only appropriate that Fleury earned his 69th career shutout for this win in his home province of Quebec. The final score was 2-0 Blackhawks as Fleury stopped all 30 shots he faced.

Their team had been beat, but that didn’t stop the Montreal fans from showing their ultimate respect.

Fleury became just the third goaltender in NHL history to earn 500 wins, putting him in a very exclusive club. He expressed his appreciation for the surreal-ness of the situation after the game.

They probably like me too much here (in Montreal). I don’t know why, but in this building, I always had a tough time winning games. It meant a lot. Meant a lot to have so many people in Quebec be involved with me being from here and achieving this goal.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you really should read the Blackhawks’ feature Fleury’s wife Veronique wrote about him after his 500th career win. She gives such a great personal perspective about the man behind the mask. The man who’s been playing professional hockey since he was 18 years old. Here’s a quote from the article that really stood out to me.

We have been together for almost 20 years now and, although I must admit that no, he doesn’t ALWAYS smile, I can attest that he is the kindest person I have ever met. He’s had many heartbreaking moments in his career that he has handled with such strength and class.

It sounds like Fleury is a genuine human being that makes his mark wherever he goes. Which leads to another important moment for Flower while he was a Blackhawk.

Redemption in Vegas

On Jan. 8, Fleury found himself back at T-Mobile Arena for the first time since he’d donned the Golden Knights jersey as a member of their team. Since things hadn’t turned out so well in his Pittsburgh homecoming as a Blackhawk, this was obviously a pretty important night for him. Especially since the memories were still so fresh.

Fleury’s former teammate and good friend Jonathan Marchessault summed up the situation the best.

I’m sure Marchessault wasn’t the only one with goosebumps watching that tribute. And it’s only fitting the Blackhawks won the game 2-1, with Fleury stopping 30-of-31 shots for a .968 save percentage. It must have jump-started him, because it was the beginning of a four-game winning streak for Fleury and the Blackhawks.

Fleury Appreciated by Blackhawks’ Teammates & Coaches

Marchessault isn’t the only teammate that appreciates Fleury. Pretty much every single Blackhawks’ player has had nothing but positive things to say about their veteran goaltender. Oh, and his coach has been pretty appreciative of what Flower brings to the table. King knows what a luxury it’s been for the other young goaltenders to have a man with so much experience around.

It’s true Fleury’s had an incredible impact on Lankinen. The 26-year-old Finnish netminder expanded on this in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times’ beat writer Ben Pope in November.

He’s (Fleury) seen places and he’s been in situations that I’ve only watched on TV. I’m trying to catch up and see what brought him to the places where he’s been, just reflecting on his career and what his path has been like…I want to be a Stanley Cup champion; I want to be a Vezina Trophy winner. Everything I can learn from him is helpful.

(From ‘Blackhawks’ Kevin Lankinen, Marc-Andre Fleury have become more than goalie partners’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 11/29/21)

Like King alluded to, it’s absolutely priceless to have someone like Fleury as your mentor. I’m sure Lankinen has benefitted from it greatly.

Here’s a humorous comment from defenseman Connor Murphy about how Fleury keeps his body in shape for the rigorous demands of being a goaltender.

“I’m not gonna call him old.” Well, Murphs, I think you kinda just did. But Murphy’s statement is a testament to how hard hockey is on the body, especially for a goaltender. It’s certainly impressive Fleury has been one of the best at his craft for such a long time.

Let’s move on to how much fun Fleury can be. This comes from Dylan Strome.

Who would have thought the old guy would be the one to give the team a spark of energy?! Well, it appears that was the case. Not only is Fleury fun, but he’s positive, which can go a long way for a team that’s struggling and trying to find it’s way. Hence this statement from defenseman Seth Jones.

Teammate Brandon Hagel gave Flower the ultimate compliment, “He’s probably the best teammate I’ve had in my entire career playing hockey.” Apparently Fleury truly embraced his Chicago teammates, and they embraced him in return. Which is why the inevitable was that much more tough to swallow .

Saying Goodbye

When Fleury was originally signed on with the Blackhawks, he was just one of many big pieces the team had acquired in the offseason. At that time, the Blackhawks were seen as a potential playoff team. Well, we all know that didn’t happen. For many reasons the stars just didn’t align, and the Blackhawks will likely finish the season near the bottom of the league in the standings.

Related – Marc-Andre Fleury’s Case as a Hall-of-Famer

New general manager Kyle Davidson has openly declared a rebuild, and taken action accordingly. At the trade deadline, he dealt Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ryan Carpenter to the Calgary Flames. Fleury was one of his biggest trading chips. But the veteran netminder had a large say in where he would end up. He had a 10-team modified no-trade clause, as well as an unwritten agreement with management that they would not send him anywhere he didn’t want to go.

Marc-Andre Fleury Chicago Blackhawks
Marc-Andre Fleury as a Chicago Blackhawk. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It turns out Davidson and Fleury did find a trade partner, and Flower was dealt to the Minnesota Wild in a agreement amicable for all parties involved. After all, having a highly paid veteran netminder on a rebuilding team just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Instead, the Blackhawks gained a second round 2022 Draft pick, that could become a first round pick if the Wild reach the Western Conference Final and Fleury accounts for at least four wins along the way.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the remaining players are happy about seeing one of their favorite teammates leave. Kirby Dach summed it up.

Unfortunately, having Fleury stay just wasn’t in the cards. Instead, we can remember him for all that he brought to the Blackhawks in his short time with the team. It was fleeting, but it was full of fun and lasting moments. Now, Flower will take his talents and his genuine personality to the Wild as they attempt to make a playoff push. He’s officially on the fourth stop in his legacy of a Hall-of-Fame career. I wonder what kind of memories he will leave next?

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