Marc-André Fleury Curse Continues to Hit Teams

The NHL’s expansion protocol dictates the holding of a draft to fill out the roster of new teams. The Seattle Kraken picked apart the rest of the league to staff their team in 2021-22, just as the Vegas Golden Knights did when they began play in 2017-18. When the Golden Knights arrived on the scene, the hockey world was shocked when the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins failed to protect franchise goaltender and former first-overall pick Marc-André Fleury.

Marc-Andre Fleury Minnesota Wild
Former Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Golden Knights jumped on the opportunity and selected Fleury in the expansion Draft. The former Penguins superstar promptly led the upstart franchise to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in five games to the Washington Capitals. Subsequent struggles led them to deal Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks, a team in the middle of their own rebuild. The Blackhawks then traded him to the Minnesota Wild at last season’s trade deadline, where he remains under contract. Both the Blackhawks and Golden Knights have fallen far since then, and it’s worth a look at how it affected the Penguins as well.

Bad Tidings Arrive as Fleury Leaves

When Fleury joined the Golden Knights ahead of the 2017-18 season, it’s safe to say everybody believed the Penguins were in good shape to deal with his departure. After all, they had just won back-to-back championships on the shoulders of rookie sensation Matt Murray and seemed poised to continue that success. Murray was primed to be the goaltender of the future, but an extreme cold streak ended both his and the Penguins’ hopes for a steady netminder; he was promptly dealt to the Ottawa Senators when it became clear he wasn’t going to live up to lofty expectations.

Marc-Andre Fleury Matt Murray
Former Pittsburgh Penguins goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray hold the Stanley Cup. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Since then, the Penguins have struggled to find a goalie who can produce at the same level and stay healthy to the degree that Fleury was able to during the majority of his tenure. Tristan Jarry had seemingly escaped the effects until he was struck down with a lower-body injury shortly before the 2022 playoffs began. While the Penguins’ other goalies have so far managed to avoid long-term injuries, they never the less fell victim to injury at inopportune times.

Additionally, the curse hit them by way of their performance. Entering the 2022 playoffs, they had lost four of five Tristan Jarry starts, and backup goaltender Casey DeSmith was injured in Game 1 of the first-round series against the New York Rangers. The team still hasn’t completely recovered from the Fleury deal, having recently hired Andy Chiodo as their new goaltending coach and signing Taylor Gauthier of the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks to an entry-level deal.

In for a Bad Knight

While Fleury helped lead the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season in the desert and a playoff berth in each of his four full seasons, the 2021-22 campaign was the complete opposite of what was expected. They struggled essentially right out of the gate, with forwards Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and newly-acquired Jack Eichel missing significant time with various injuries. Goaltender Robin Lehner, who carried the team for much of the past two seasons while Fleury was relegated to the bench, suffered a hip injury that will require surgery and force him to miss the entire 2022-23 season. This news was made more devastating after his masterful performance during the 2021 playoffs.

Robin Lehner Vegas Golden Knights
Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Fleury curse has thus struck the Golden Knights, as Lehner’s injury comes shortly after a season in which he was named the starter and went 23-17-2 with a .907 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.83 goals against average (GAA). His injury means the Golden Knights’ goaltending depth has drastically worsened, leaving them with very few options as preparations for the new season begin.

Related: Wild Extend Marc-Andre Fleury

The curse extends beyond the Vegas crease, as subsequent cap trouble has forced general manager (GM) Kelly McCrimmon to trade Pacioretty, Evgenii Dadonov, and Dylan Coghlan. Winger Matthias Janmark departed in free agency. The sum total of these personnel losses leaves them a shell of the team that reached the playoffs four straight times. (from “Golden Knights goaltender expected to miss 2022-23 season”, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11/08/2022).

Blackhawks Down

When the Golden Knights traded Fleury to the Blackhawks, it seemed like the three-time champion was in for a treat, based on the rave reviews he had heard from former players. It was not to be, as they began the season 1-9-2, and Fleury was pulled after letting in four goals in 12 minutes against the Penguins on Oct. 29. Things improved after that as he recorded his 500th career win against the Montréal Canadiens on Dec. 9. While things were going well personally, the team’s fortunes told a different story.

Marc-Andre Fleury Chicago Blackhawks
Marc-Andre Fleury during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When it was clear the Blackhawks wouldn’t reach the playoffs, the rebuild began. Fleury was traded to the Wild, and his departure preceded a fire sale that also saw Brandon Hagel and Ryan Carpenter dealt. The Blackhawks are still attempting to recover from the deadline and rebuild into a contender, and the “Fleury curse” may have had something (as insignificant as it may seem) to do with it.

Fleury is now the main man in Minneapolis, having signed a two-year, $7 million extension to remain with the Wild. This bodes well for them and their fans, as Fleury had previously signaled his intention to retire if he felt his services were not desired. While this may spare the Wild, for now, fans should hope that the team’s play in the next two years doesn’t necessitate trading the goalie, lest they also fall victim to the curse.

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