CHICAGO — Marc-Andre Fleury received his new goalie mask Thursday. It has the Chicago Blackhawks logo, the four stars from the Flag of Chicago, black and white stripes, and a few feathers.
He put it on with his new pads and new Blackhawks uniform, and because the NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour happened to be in Chicago, he did it at his new home practice rink: Fifth Third Arena.
“It’s just different, right” Fleury said.
Or is it?
Fleury felt much like he did after he went from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. Disappointed at first after the Golden Knights traded him to the Blackhawks on July 27, he’s adjusting, making the best of it.
The Blackhawks can only hope things go as well in Chicago as they did in Vegas.
“I think every time …” Fleury said, his voice trailing off. “It was the same in Vegas when I went there. It’s just weird, awkward, at first. But it’s good. A new beginning, right? And it’s such a nice uniform. A nice place to be too.”
Fleury spent 13 seasons with the Penguins, won 375 regular-season and 62 Stanley Cup Playoff games, went to the Stanley Cup Final four times and won the Cup three times, became a beloved member of the team and community — and one day he was gone.
Then he spent four seasons with the Golden Knights, won 117 regular-season and 28 playoff games, went to the Stanley Cup Final once and the NHL final four three times, became a beloved member of the team and community — and one day he was gone.
Even though he had just won the Vezina Trophy for the first time, voted as the NHL’s best goalie by NHL general managers, the Golden Knights traded him to the Blackhawks for Mikael Hakkarainen, a forward prospect they released Aug. 19.
The Golden Knights needed space under the NHL salary cap and had Robin Lehner, who is younger (30 instead of 36), less expensive ($5 million average annual value instead of $7 million), locked up longer (through 2024-25 instead of 2021-22) and elite in his own right (a Vezina finalist with the New York Islanders in 2018-19).
Fleury thought about retiring for family reasons after the trade. He and his wife have three children — 8- and 6-year-old daughters and a 2-year-old son — and one of their daughters had anxiety. It was tough to leave Pittsburgh for Vegas, but they had made friends and liked the schools. Was he going to uproot them again?
“I’ve been doing what I love a long time, right?” Fleury said. “So I didn’t want to be overly selfish about things. I thought I was going to maybe retire [in Las Vegas] and finish it out, maybe live there after hockey. So it was a little bit of a change of direction.
“But the [Blackhawks have] been great helping me make myself comfortable in the city. The school has been great for the kids. They love it. They’re playing soccer. The wife loves it. So yeah, no complaints.”
Fleury said Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman called him after the trade and said, “I know you want to think about things. I’m just going to give you some room. Think about it. Give me a call back later.”
Eventually Fleury spoke to Bowman and the coaches about the team and the city, and he bought in. He said he sold his house in Vegas, though he added: “I still have a piece of land there, just in case, afterwards. We’ll see.”
Fleury said he and the Blackhawks have not discussed a contract extension. He did not want to speculate on what might happen at the NHL Trade Deadline if the Blackhawks are not in the playoff race and he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
“I would rather have success with this team, be good and make the playoffs and go for a run, right?” Fleury said. “That’s my goal coming here, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
The Blackhawks are thrilled. They also added defenseman Seth Jones in the offseason, and captain Jonathan Toews is set to return after missing last season with health issues.
“At first when we acquired [Fleury], you’re all excited,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. “Then you hear maybe he’s not coming. Then all of a sudden, he’s coming.
“So it’s just like, you look at the defense we have, the goaltending we have, and you’re building from the back up. It’s definitely a good way to build, and [we’re) definitely pretty confident in our team. Definitely our roster this year is a lot better. Lot of turnover, but it’s exciting.”
Resilience has been a theme of Fleury’s career.
After he left Pittsburgh, he had the best season of his NHL career to that point in 2017-18 (2.24 goals-against average, .927 save percentage). He was outstanding through three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, leading the Golden Knights to the Cup Final in their inaugural season.
He lost the No. 1 job to Lehner in the 2020 playoffs and came back to set new career bests (1.98 GAA, .928 save percentage) last season.
“All my career I’ve had ups and downs,” Fleury said. “I think after you play for a long time, you’re going to have some of those. But I feel like you can always learn from these. I don’t know. I always like to push myself to be better and overcome these things and prove to myself that I can be in the NHL and do this.”
Fleury has three rings. He has 492 wins, third in NHL history. Now he has the Vezina.
What does he have left to prove?
“It’s always about winning,” Fleury said. “When you start a season, your goal is to be in it and win the Cup every year. I’m sure every team’s like that. It doesn’t matter how many you have. You always want another one.”
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report.