In case you somehow had not heard, Marc-Andre Fleury is back in town. The likable goaltender and the impressive expansion Vegas Golden Knights play Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena, where they practiced Monday.
Push aside the waves of memories and mayhem, love and laughs heading into that game, and a question is exposed: How will history look back on Fleury’s move to Vegas and Matt Murray’s ascension to the Penguins’ top goalie role?
Certainly there was a chain of unlikely, even bizarre, events and circumstances that led to the change, from injuries that forced the Penguins to switch goalies in the playoffs, to Murray’s strong play as a rookie, to the Vegas expansion draft rules, to the fact that Fleury, 33, is 10 years older and millions of dollars more expensive under the salary cap than Murray.
The whole thing was more than just a transaction because of the emotional investment. Fleury was the first overall draft pick in 2003 and grew up before Penguins Nation’s eyes, set club records with 375 wins and 44 shutouts and was part of three Stanley Cup teams, making a signature, lunging, clinching save on Detroit star Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 7 of the 2009 Final.
For every game he stole, he stole more hearts by a factor of thousands with his easygoing demeanor and toothy smile.
“He deserves every bit of recognition he gets,” Murray said Monday. “He’s an awesome guy.”
All the Right Moves?
But were the events of the past year the right moves for both clubs?
Murray credits Fleury with teaching him how to be a professional, and what a professional so far. Murray won two Cups while still technically a rookie. He’s just 23.
Despite a continued problem with injuries and a couple of stretches where his performance dipped a bit, Murray could help the Penguins win their third Cup in a row, or three in four years or four in six. Or the league’s shooters might catch up with him a little, or even a lot, in coming seasons.
Murray is the more unknown of the two, having never been the No. 1 starter for a full NHL season, although he has enough skill and poise that it hardly seems like a gamble for the Penguins to give him a shot at being a long-term franchise goalie.
Vegas, meanwhile, not only picked Fleury in the expansion draft to get a veteran goalie knocking on the door of the Hall of Fame, but also to bring in a player capable of being the face of the franchise, a promotions office dream.
Fleury picked up career win No. 390 Sunday, moving into sole possession of 13th place all-time in the NHL. Considering many top goalies play near or even past age 40, he could reasonably easily reach 500 wins and finish in the top three all-time in wins.
“(Fleury) is such an athlete,” Penguins defenseman Ian Cole gushed Monday. “He’s a guy that’s diving across. He’s is never out of the play no matter how far he’s coming away from. His hand-eye (coordination) is unbelievable. He shows the posts enough love that it seems to shrink the net a little bit for him sometimes.”
Yes, quirky Fleury talks to and pats his goalposts. Hey, it works for him.
Fleury also has proven that he can bounce back, such as after his subpar playoffs in 2013. Murray hasn’t been tested as much simply because he hasn’t been around as long.
Probably a Win-Win Decision
So, about that history thing.
In the very short term so far, there is no indication that either franchise has any regrets or any reason for them. A good guess would be that the goalie moves will work out well for both clubs. The Penguins, in particular, would probably be golden with either goalie for the final several years of the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin-Kris Letang era.
Emotions, though, might never die down. Fleury has that effect.
The attention from local and even national media members at both teams’ practices Monday at PPG Paints Arena made it seem like the playoffs, thanks to Fleury.
One writer was busy collecting anecdotes of Fleury’s pranks. Another pursued the angle of Fleury’s influence on young Murray and Tristan Jarry. Some asked for projections on what the emotions might be like Tuesday when the Penguins play a Fleury tribute video. Many sought more general memories.
According to various media reports, Fleury had been saying for a few days that he’s a bit concerned about controlling his emotions. Monday, he said he’s not sure what it will be like to take the ice as a visiting player and watch the tribute video, most likely during the first TV timeout.
He said he doesn’t want to be distracted from the task of winning, “but I don’t want to block everything out either. It’s going to be a special moment for me, playing the first game back here. I want remember it and remember my time here.”
Don’t worry. Fleury isn’t likely to need an emotional support peacock to get through it.
He’s resilient that way. In any team’s jersey.