Fleury remains beloved in Vegas after leaving Golden Knights

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Future NHL Hall-of-Famer Marc-Andre Fleury had a tough night Friday in what was likely his final appearance at T-Mobile Arena.

LAS VEGAS — The chants began midway through the third period after he had made two sensational stops in a game that had long since gotten out of hand.

“Fleury.” “Fleury.” “Fleury.”

With 5:32 to go, he heard his name again.

“Fleury.” “Fleury.” “Fleury.”

And as the clock was winding down in what would be a 7-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, the 18,415 chanted his name one final time.

“Fleury.” “Fleury.” “Fleury.”

When the final horn sounded and the Knights celebrated their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth time in the team’s seven-year history, the man who was the franchise’s most beloved player before being traded to Chicago in 2021 made a beeline for the exit. No waiting around for his teammates to skate over and console him over the loss. They had hung him out to dry for 60 minutes. He didn’t want or need their sympathies or apologies.

“I wish I had played better,” he said in a soft tone afterward.

Marc-Andre Fleury may very well have played at T-Mobile Arena for the final time Friday night in what will be a Hall-of-Fame career. He was scored on early and often by his former team, which desperately needed to turn things around late in the season in order to qualify for the playoffs. 

For Fleury and the Wild, there won’t be any postseason hockey. They’ll be done next week and then Fleury will sit down with his family, his long-time agent Allan Walsh and let Wild general manager Bill Guerin know what his intentions are.

Retirement is the big favorite at this point. Fleury is 39. His legacy has been cemented. Minnesota has a talented young goalie in 21-year-old Jesper Wallstedt as its future in net. The Wild also has Filip Gustavsson who is just 25.

Fleury? He turns 40 on Nov. 28. He is a pending unrestricted free agent. He is making $3.5 million  Does he really want to move his family one more time to play one more year?

The Wild’s fan base knows this. So do the Golden Knights fans. Which is why they wanted to let a visiting player know they appreciated him.

“The fans here have always been good to me,” said Fleury, who acknowledged the chants. “I have a lot of special memories here.”

From the night in 2017 when he was given a rousing ovation from the fans at the NHL expansion draft at T-Mobile to Friday night, and beyond, Fleury and the Vegas fans will always have that special bond. The original “Golden Misfits,” of which he was a member, will always be beloved here for what they accomplished in that inaugural season of 2017-18, going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before falling short in five games vs. Washington.

There will likely be return visits for Fleury to T-Mobile Arena once he hangs up his pads. At some point, the Knights will retire his No. 29. There might even be a statue of Fleury in Toshiba Plaza. 

We know there’ll be a plaque in Toronto at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Fleury is second to Martin Brodeur in career wins with 561. He has 75 career shutouts. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, all with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has won the Vezina Trophy which goes to the NHL’s best goalie and teamed with Robin Lehner to capture the Jennings Trophy as the league’s top goaltender tandem.

That’s one hell of a legacy. And giving up seven goals in April will not tarnish it.

But the day we don’t see Fleury on the ice is coming. And it’s coming soon. The flashy saves. The competitiveness. The passion. The off-ice pranks on his teammates. It’s all going to come to an end.

Each of us has our own special personal memory of Fleury. Mine is what a kind soul he is. He is special and to have gotten to know him as a person as well as a professional athlete is what I will always remember. 

We shook hands and I thanked him for a few minutes of his time on what was not the best of evenings for him. And as he headed to the bus to catch the team’s flight to San Jose, I said to him, “See you in Toronto.” 

He said, “I hope so.”