PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — It’s an end of an era in Pittsburgh, as Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Fleury was selected 29th for the Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
The Penguins also traded a 2nd round pick in 2020 to Las Vegas.
Fleury, affectionately known as “The Flower” here in Pittsburgh and to his teammates, joins other players who were once Penguins on the Golden Knights. Those players include James Neal, David Perron and Derek Engelland.
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley and general manager George McPhee announced their choices during the NHL’s annual postseason awards show at T-Mobile Arena, where Vegas will begin play in the fall.
Fleury took the stage in a Golden Knights jersey to wild cheers from his new home fans.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) June 22, 2017
The three-time Cup winner has already been anointed as the face of the new Golden Knights franchise.
“Thanks for the welcome tonight. It was awesome,” Fleury said. “We’ll give it all we’ve got.”
Fleury lost his starting job with the back-to-back champion Penguins, but he’ll get to start over in the desert with two years on his contract.
“I’m very thankful for this opportunity to be in Vegas with a new team and a new organization.”
Fleury was taken first overall by the Penguins in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, the 32-year-old goaltender has become a fan favorite.
In fact, hundreds of people lined up outside the Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Cranberry Township on Tuesday for a chance to say goodbye.
And, it’s clear his former team is already missing him, too.
As the Expansion Draft was going on, Evgeni Malkin posted this photo to his Instagram account, a thank you to his friend and former teammate:
Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet said this of Fleury on Twitter:
My 27 plus years in the NHL ” The Flower ” is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE players ever –
1st Class 💪 – gonna miss him big time !!!!
— Rick Tocchet (@RealRocket22) June 20, 2017
The Penguins added a “flower” emoji to their Twitter handle Wednesday night.
Also, Sidney Crosby told the Penguins:
Sid on Fleury: “He’s going to be so important for their team w/ his experience & the kind of person he is. You couldn’t have a better guy.”
— Penguins 🌼 (@penguins) June 22, 2017
And former Penguin and current broadcaster Colby Armstrong tweeted:
Go get it in Vegas, Flower. By the way he legit scared me big time when he stuffed himself in my hockey bag seen on the clip in this vid. 😂 https://t.co/lhTag4adyV
— Colby Armstrong (@armdog) June 22, 2017
Penguins historian Bob Grove tells the “KDKA Morning News” Fleury is a “tremendous, classy individual.”
Grove has followed the Penguins as a member of the media since the 1980s and he has “never seen an example of a player who was more talked about by his teammates, for his value as a teammate than [Fleury] and there is nothing that a hockey player values more than that comradery that comes with being a close team and helps them to succeed.”
In the days leading up to the Expansion Draft, Fleury admitted it was going to be difficult to say goodbye to Pittsburgh.
“This is like my home. It’ll be tough, but I know what’s coming… and I’m glad people will remember me as a good person, not just a goalie, and I think that’s important for me, too,” Fleury said.
While Fleury has seen his playing time reduced due to the rise of Matt Murray, he was an integral part of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run.
When Murray suffered an injury during warmups of the first game of the playoffs, Fleury stepped in and would eventually lead his team to the Eastern Conference Final.
While he would be replaced by Murray, Fleury went 9-6 with a 2.56 GAA and a .924 save percentage in the playoffs, which included a shutout in Game 7 against Washington.
Fleury played in 691 regular season games for the Penguins and posted a record of 375-216-66 to go along with a 2.58 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
Also at the annual awards ceremony, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was presented with the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy after leading the NHL with 44 goals this season.
But Crosby lost out to Edmonton Oilers’ captain Connor McDavid for the Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL MVP) and the Ted Lindsay Award (outstanding player as voted by NHLPA).
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)