On June 21st, 2003, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted a young francophone named Marc-André Fleury. Fleury became just the third goaltender in NHL history to be drafted first overall, joining Rick DiPietro and Michel Plasse.
He would go on to become the franchise goaltender for the Penguins, racking up a record number of wins and winning three Stanley Cups. He was also a member of the Team Canada that won gold in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The 32-year-old from Sorel, Quebec played 691 regular season games for the Penguins, putting up 375 wins, a .912 save percentage, and 2.58 GAA. In the playoffs, Flower played 115 games and had 62 wins, a .908 save percentage, and 2.65 GAA.
In his fourteen years in Pittsburgh, Fleury notched several goaltender records. He leads the franchise in total games played by a goaltender, wins, and shutouts (44). Flower also holds the Pittsburgh franchise record for most shutouts in a single season with an impressive 10.
A True Team Player
But Fleury was more than a franchise goaltender to the Penguins. He was a wonderful teammate and person.
When Matt Murray took over between the pipes in the 2016 playoffs, Fleury could have been bitter. He could have been resentful of the 23-year-old phenom who had taken his job.
Instead, Flower took Murray under his wing and was nothing but kind. “He’s just one of the best, most genuine human beings you’ll ever meet, and he was like that and then some with me,” Murray said of his relationship with Fleury. “We had a unique relationship and something that wasn’t a normal thing….he welcomed me with open arms. He did a lot for me.”
Fleury himself said of Murray, “Matt’s the guy here. He will be for many years.”
Fleury is beloved by everyone he has come across in his long Pittsburgh career. On locker room clean-out day this year, all of Fleury’s teammates had wonderful things to say.
“He’s probably the best teammate you could have,” said winger Carl Hagelin. “He’s just a great guy in general. I don’t think you’ll find a better personality in sports when it comes to being a good friend, being a supportive, positive teammate.”
“I’ve never met a guy that doesn’t like him or want to play with him,” Justin Schultz said. “He’s unbelievable…I love him.”
Fleury himself grew emotional when interviewed during locker clean-out. When asked what he would miss most about Pittsburgh, his response was simple: “Everything.”
Fleury is also well-respected by even his bitterest rivals. “Us goalies around the league really appreciate what he’s done as a professional for the league and the game,” Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby said of Fleury.
Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were bounced from the playoffs by the Pens two years in a row, said: “He’s done an outstanding job for the organization.”
Just days after locker room clean-out, Fleury and his wife, Véronique LaRosee, funded a playground for the Boys & Girls Club in McKees Rocks. The Fleurys also provided funding for equipment, electronics, and more.
Fleury being forced out of Pittsburgh is the cruelest reminder that deep down, the NHL is a business. With the introduction of the Las Vegas Golden Knights expansion teams, the Pens’ hands were tied. With Murray proving himself to be a starter at the impressive age of 23, the Penguins had two superb starting goaltenders on their hands—two goaltenders they couldn’t possibly keep. Fleury understood the impossible situation presented to the Penguins, and selflessly waived his no-movement clause so he could be exposed in the draft in place of Murray.
Marc-André Fleury was an exceptional goaltender for the Penguins. But above all, he is an incredible person and teammate. He will be dearly missed by everyone in Pittsburgh.
From everyone in Pittsburgh—the fans, the players, the Pens organization, everyone whose lives have been touched:
Merci pour tout, et bonne chance.
Thank you for everything, and good luck.