In the end, it was Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford who couldn’t come up with a crucial save.
After the emergence of young goaltender Matt Murray over the past two seasons, Pittsburgh deemed Marc-Andre Fleury expendable.
Once Fleury waived his no movement clause, it was Rutherford who ultimately left Fleury unprotected by the Penguins for the NHL Expansion Draft. The consequence was all but inevitable. The Golden Knights scored their starting goalie.
Always a Penguin
Fleury was drafted first overall in 2003 by the Penguins, the only NHL team he’s ever played for. His face and quick smile are as much Penguin’s hockey as Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux.
He holds every goalie record for the franchise including games played (691), wins (375), shutouts (44), playoff games played (115), playoff wins (62) and playoff shutouts (10). Yet his personal contributions to the team may be even greater than the stats.
Teammates Say Goodbye
While Fleury’s sense of humor and never-ending pranks always kept the locker room loose and fun, he got choked up when saying goodbye at his stall at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday.
“It’s been such a long time,” Fleury said during the team’s annual locker cleanout. “I’ve met a lot of good people. It feels like home to me.”
“It’s sad,” said teammate Brian Dumoulin. “He’s the type of guy that I want in my life at all times. If I could follow that guy around all day, I’d be happy. He’s such a fun guy to be around and I love that guy so much.”
Player and staffers alike all stopped Fleury on their way out of the locker room for emotional embraces. Crosby, Fleury’s travel companion for road trips, handled his farewell privately.
“Playing with someone that long, going through what we did, it’s pretty special. We’ve got some great memories,” said Crosby.
“I know what (Fleury) means to this team, and I haven’t played with many better teammates than him,” said Matt Cullen, a 19-year NHL veteran.
Fans Say Goodbye
There’s arguably no sports figure more beloved in Pittsburgh than Fleury. Pens’ fans have supported him for 13 years so he made it a point to say goodbye.
“Wherever I go, people have been great to me. They say hi, take a picture or something. They all have very kind words,” said Fleury.
During the team’s Stanley Cup parade, fans showered Fleury with signs of thanks and chants of appreciation and love. On several occasions, he jumped out of his moving truck to shake hands, pose for pictures and mingle with the adoring crowd.
On Tuesday, the day before Vegas submitted their expansion roster, Fleury met with more than 250 Penguins fans at a local sporting goods store. “It was just a chance to come and meet some people, and spend some time with them,” said Fleury. “I think sometimes people think athletes are out of reach a bit. So, I think it was important to not be like that.”
The day before, Fleury and his family celebrated the opening of a playground he gifted at the Sto-Ken-Rox Boys & Girls Club in McKees Rocks, a borough outside of Pittsburgh.
Combine Fleury’s friendly attitude with his success on the ice and it’s easy to understand why fans have taken to him while in Pittsburgh.
Passing the Torch and the Cup
Fleury was the biggest reason the club was able to win its fifth Stanley Cup championship and second in a row. When projected starter Matt Murray injured his hamstring in warmups in the first-round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Fleury became the emergency starter.
Fleury backstopped the Pens to win in five games before besting the Washington Capitals in a dramatic seven-game series. The punctuation to the Caps series was a franchise-record tenth postseason shutout in Game 7.
When the Pens finally beat the Nashville Predators in Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup, Fleury passed the hardware to teammate Murray.
“He’s just so selfless,” said Murray. “He puts the needs of the team and his teammates above his own, treats everybody with respect. He’s one of the best, most genuine human beings you’ll ever meet. And he was like that and then some with me.”
Though tearing him up inside, Fleury has always put his team ahead of himself. His selfless attitude has earned him the utmost respect from his teammates.
“I know what he’s gone through these last couple of seasons, sitting next to him in the room,” Cullen said. “He comes to the rink with a smile on his face every day and does his best to support his teammates. And it’s never about him.”
He was reduced to a spectator during Pittsburgh’s 2016 Stanley Cup run. And for the first time in his career, he had to split time in the net during the 2016-17 season.
“Obviously Matt’s the guy here and he’ll be here for many years,” Fleury said. “I love to play. I love the game. I love to be in there and to compete, the challenge.”
A Flower Blooms in Vegas
There’s no doubt Fleury created an indelible mark in Pittsburgh, not only on the ice but off it as well.
“I’m happy I had the chance to take the last lap with my [Penguins] jersey on,” Fleury said, “and the Cup in my hand.”
For the next chapter of his career, the Flower will anchor the Golden Knights in Las Vegas. Circle February 6, 2018 on your calendar. That’s when the Penguins will host Fleury and his Golden Knights at PPG Paints Arena.
As much as Fleury has left his mark on this city, the city has left its mark on Fleury.
“Wherever he goes, we’ll always be cheering for him,” said fan Dino Andrade. “He’ll always be a Pittsburgh hero to us.”