PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The writing has been on the wall some time now, but it could be the end of an era for a very important member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The whispers started about a year ago when a young goalie named Matt Murray put his stamp on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ crease.
With the NHL Expansion Draft a year away at the time, the speculation started about Marc-Andre Fleury’s future.
Per the Expansion Draft rules, the Penguins wouldn’t be able to protect both of their goaltenders. While rumors swirled over the summer and up through the Trade Deadline, the Penguins ultimately held onto Fleury.
Boy, what a great call that turned out to be.
On the opening night of the playoffs, Murray suffered an injury during warmups, which gave Fleury an opportunity to do something special.
Fleury was nothing short of phenomenal as he led the team to series wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals – teams with the fourth and top overall records in the NHL.
When faced with a Game 7 on the road in Washington, Fleury slammed the door and fittingly stopped all 29 shots he faced.
While he would be replaced by Murray in the Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins simply do not win the Stanley Cup this year without Fleury. That’s not up for debate.
So, here we are – rapidly approaching the likely end of Fleury’s time here in Pittsburgh. The team was only back in town for a matter of hours before a report came out stating Fleury had waived his no-movement clause for purposes of the Expansion Draft.
It seems pretty clear that Fleury has accepted that his run here has come to an end. While he has apparently known this for some time, he never once complained. He just continued to flash that trademark smile and help the team in every way possible.
In no way did he try to interfere with the rise of Murray. Instead, he took the kid under his wing and mentored him. Fleury’s influence on the young goaltender will still be felt even if the Flower moves on.
That bond is something Murray will never forget.
“Just the way he was able to…having a young guy come in and take his playing time away, who knows how a guy will react to something like that. But, he welcomed me with open arms and helped me every time I needed help. He was just huge for me. I owe him a great deal for sure,” Murray said during an interview with the NHL Network after winning the Stanley Cup Sunday night.
In one of the most touching celebratory moments, Fleury symbolically passed the torch to Murray by handing him the Stanley Cup.
Fleury took his victory lap and when done, skated right up to Murray. If that doesn’t tell you what kind of teammate and human being Fleury is, I’m not sure what will.
It was an emotional moment for fans and the goaltenders.
“He’s been a special person for me, a huge mentor. The fact that he passed me the Cup there, my rank is way down at the bottom and I got it ahead of some of the other guys and that’s because Flower handed it to me. I have to say that’s one of the most special moments of my life,” Murray said.
If this truly is the end for Fleury in Pittsburgh, it’s going to be a tough pill to swallow. He kept the locker room loose and was one of those “glue guys” a team needs.
More than that, Fleury was such an integral part of not only three Stanley Cups, but turning the franchise around.
Like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, we’ve had the privilege of watching Flower bloom for more than a decade.
“A few of us have been together for many years and it’s been a great time. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but we’ll enjoy the next few days here,” Fleury said during a Hockey Night in Canada interview on Sunday.
Losing key players is just part of the salary cap age in the NHL. At least in this case, Fleury gets to leave town with another Stanley Cup on his resume.
Thanks for everything, Mr. Fleury and best of luck.