Marc-Andre Fleury is the reigning winner of the Vezina Trophy, voted the NHL’s best goalie by the League’s general managers. He is not a journeyman.
Yet here he was moments after the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, fresh off a private plane after being traded for the second time in less than a year.
Fleury being Fleury, he was smiling and focusing on the positive. Joining the Minnesota Wild means one thing above all: a shot to win the Stanley Cup.
“There’s not much that beats winning,” Fleury said. “You can ask anybody who has won. You’re always chasing that feeling, that achievement.”
This is why the Wild acquired Fleury from the Chicago Blackhawks, along with forward Tyson Jost from the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, forward Nicolas Deslauriers from the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday and defenseman Jacob Middleton from the San Jose Sharks on Monday.
Minnesota has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs eight times in the past nine seasons but hasn’t won a round since 2014-15. After buying out defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise on July 13, the Wild will be squeezed under the NHL salary cap starting next season.
Now is the time to go for it.
The Wild (37-20-4) are tied with the Nashville Predators for second in the Central Division following a 3-0 win against the Vegas Golden Knights at Xcel Energy Center on Monday. Although they entered Monday third in the NHL in goals per game (3.67), they were 22nd in goals against (3.20) and 21st in 5-on-5 save percentage (.913).
Fleury ranks third in regular-season wins (511) and fourth in playoff wins (90) in NHL history. He won the Stanley Cup three times with the Pittsburgh Penguins, in 2009, 2016 and 2017, and led the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18.
Last season was the best of his NHL career statistically. He went 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and six shutouts, winning the Vezina for the first time. Oh, and he was in net when the Golden Knights defeated the Wild in seven games in the first round of the playoffs too.
“It’s no secret,” said Wild general manager Bill Guerin, who won the Cup with Fleury in 2009 as a trade deadline acquisition himself. “I know ‘Flower.’ I know him very well. He’s had a lot of playoff success, and I think he can help all of us. That experience is key.”
Fleury has had his ups and downs. He had to fight for his job in Pittsburgh and Vegas, each time ending up elsewhere. He considered retiring for family reasons after the Golden Knights traded him to the Blackhawks on July 27, then relented.
The 37-year-old has gone 19-21-5 with a 2.95 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and four shutouts this season. Chicago (22-32-9) is seventh in the Central Division.
All of that applies here. He was a great teammate while battling with Matt Murray in Pittsburgh and Robin Lehner in Vegas, and you know he will be a great teammate while playing with Cam Talbot in Minnesota. Guerin said each goalie is expected to play a lot.
“I don’t know him so much, but he just seems like a great guy,” Fleury said of Talbot, who made 28 saves in the shutout Monday. “I have a lot of respect for him and for what he’s done, obviously. To me, I always feel like … I don’t know. I don’t like the competition between the guys. I always think we’re both part of the team and we both want to help, so I think we’ll just do whatever we can to accomplish that.”
Guerin said he spoke to Talbot on Sunday and Monday, and Talbot was one of the first to reach out to Fleury.
“I’m so confident in Cam Talbot as a player and as a person that this will go well,” Guerin said. “And you know what? We’re all after the same thing here, and there’s no room for … There’s no room for petty [stuff]. We’re on a team together, and we’re trying to win.”
Family is still an issue for Fleury, but he said Guerin reassured him after the trade. Minnesota is close to Chicago, so Fleury and his family will be able to see each other.
Fleury can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Who knows what the future holds? But Fleury said he wants to play at least one more season, and he has been around long enough to know how precious these opportunities are.
Perhaps on a better team, perhaps with added snarl on the back end from Deslauriers and Middleton, he can recapture his old magic. Perhaps his happy-go-lucky attitude and championship resume can relieve pressure and increase confidence for a team trying to take the next step.
How can you squeeze your stick when Fleury’s back there winking, smiling, chirping and patting his goal posts?
“I still love playing,” Fleury said. “I still love the feeling of a win, the feeling of competing on the ice and stuff, so I’m happy to be here and have this opportunity to play a little longer this year.”