Marc-Andre Fleury knew that his time was up in the Penguins’ crease before the post-season started, and not just because Matt Murray had further cemented himself in the Pittsburgh crease. No, Fleury knew his days were numbered as a Penguin because he had agreed to waive his no-movement clause and enter the expansion draft more than one month before the playoffs began.
This is to say that before Fleury went through the trade deadline, before he stepped in for a mere seven games across the final month of the regular season and prior to the veteran stepping in for an injured Matt Murray at the start of the post-season, Fleury knew for a fact this would almost certainly be his last run as a Penguin. According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, Fleury had known since February, when he was asked and agreed to waiving his no-movement clause to be exposed in the expansion draft.
Fleury waiving the clause was the biggest piece of the Penguins’ off-season puzzle whether the team won the Stanley Cup or not. The primary concern for everyone in Pittsburgh is what would happen if Fleury chose not to waive the clause, as was his right. With Murray eligible for exposure and expansion draft rules limiting the Penguins’ to one protected goaltender, Fleury’s no-movement clause could have forced Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford to make an outstanding offer to the Vegas Golden Knights in order to avoid losing the Penguins’ No. 1 goaltender. Now that Fleury is exposed, Rutherford won’t have to trade for Murray’s safety.
This will, however, mean a tearful goodbye to Pittsburgh for Fleury. Over the past 13 seasons, he has been a mainstay of the organization, the first-overall selection by the franchise in 2003 who was immediately thrust into the NHL spotlight. While Fleury has rarely, if ever, been among the top five goaltenders in the league — he has never finished above seventh-place in Vezina Trophy voting — he has been a steadying presence in the Penguins’ net and his longevity for the franchise has put him atop the record books.
If this is the end to his time in Pittsburgh, which it almost certainly is, Fleury will leave the organization as the Penguins’ all-time goaltending leader in games played (691), wins (375), shutouts (44), playoff games played (115), wins (62), shutouts (10) and has three Stanley Cups to his name, contributing at least half of the team’s victories on two of those runs.
Fleury won’t only be remembered for what he contributed to Pittsburgh across his career, though. The selflessness with which he approached these past two seasons will also become part of his legend as a Penguin. Never was there a complaint from Fleury after he lost his starting job to Murray and Fleury was repeatedly pointed to as a source of mentorship for the younger netminder. Even during this past run, Fleury didn’t bat an eye upon losing his starting job to Murray despite the fact the veteran netminder had led Pittsburgh through two rounds.
"You'd really have to convince me there's a better team guy in professional sports, maybe of all time,” Rutherford said following the Stanley Cup victory, according to NHL.com’s Arpon Basu. “What Fleury's done for this franchise and what he did in last year's playoffs and then come in this year and win two rounds and turn it over to Murray and stick with it as a team guy, I don't know anybody in professional sports who's a better team guy than him.”
But now the question is which group of players will be fortunate enough to have a teammate like Fleury join them next season.
The most obvious answer is that Fleury, after waiving the NMC, will end up as the netminder of the Vegas Golden Knights in eight days’ time. There’s a more than fair chance that’s exactly what happens, too. Fleury might provide the Golden Knights with the best chance possible at landing a true starting netminder through the expansion draft, and it’s an option that will be incredibly hard to pass up. However, even if Fleury does get selected by Vegas, it doesn’t mean that’s where he is to stay. With the focus Golden Knights GM George McPhee is seemingly putting on building a base of picks and prospects, drafting Fleury could bring Vegas one of their best summer trade chips instead of a starting netminder.
Fleury will have suitors, too, and the one team almost guaranteed to test the waters on a deal for the netminder is the Calgary Flames. Both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson have hit the open market and are free to walk this summer, and after another down year between the pipes for the Flames, it wouldn’t be surprising were Calgary to let both netminders walk. That does leave the Flames without a goaltender for next season, though, and speculation has long surrounded Fleury and the possibility he joins Calgary next season. It would be a nice fit for the veteran, too, as he’d move to a team with a solid defense corps, up-and-coming crop of forwards and potential to be a playoff contender for several seasons to come.
That’s not to say it’s Vegas, Calgary or bust for Fleury. The Winnipeg Jets will be looking to improve their goaltending this summer after the performance turned in this past season by the trio of Connor Hellebuyck, Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec. The Vancouver Canucks have Jacob Markstrom locked up, but are still looking to shore up the crease with another netminder. Buffalo starter Robin Lehner is a restricted free agent, but Fleury might be an interesting get for the Sabres if he can help mentor the younger netminder. And — Penguins fans, cover your eyes — the Philadelphia Flyers could also be in the market for a netminder if Steve Mason heads elsewhere in free agency.
No matter where he ends up, though, waiving the no-movement clause means it’s more than just speculation that his time is up in Pittsburgh. He went out on top as a Penguin, and now it appears he’s set to embark on his next journey.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.