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Marc-Andre Fleury and Alex DeBrincat

Marc-Andre Fleury was traded for practically nothing. 

It's an easy fact to forget given the non-stop rollercoaster that has been the 2021-22 NHL season thus far, but it's true. The reigning Vezina winner, a surefire Hall of Famer, and the third goalie in league history to earn 500 career wins was dealt by a contender for future considerations just six months ago. 

Not that that matters to Fleury, really. The 37-year-old is going about business as usual in his 18th NHL season, having won three of his last five starts for a Blackhawks team that needs all the bright spots they can get while compiling a .913 save percentage behind one of the worst defence corps in the league. 

"We're talking about a guy who just celebrated his 37th birthday," Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy waxed about his goaltender prior to Saturday's meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

"It's just amazing, at that age, the athleticism and consistency he's able to have to this day, which goes to show why he has that milestone. So, we're just really grateful to be a part of that and see greatness from him" 

That greatness is not confined solely to Fleury's teammates, either. Opponents hold a reverence for the veteran that is rarely seen throughout league circles. He's respected by his peers. And, in the insular world of hockey, there is truly no higher honour. 

"When you look at Fleury, I mean, he's really done everything there is to do," said Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. 

"The fact that he's still going, and he's got the energy and passion that he has...it's great to see from a player who's had such longevity"

It would've been easy for Fleury to sulk in the days after Vegas punted him out the door to Chicago with little-to-no warning. The Blackhawks weren't exactly on the verge of another dynasty then, after all, having missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons thanks to a roster that grows older and more expensive by the day. Now, a quarter of the way through the 2021-22 season, and not much has changed. 

In that case, Fleury would've been well within his rights to look at his new surroundings as a nightmare end to his brilliant career, condemning him to play out his final days for a listless franchise following an unceremonious exorcism by the team whose market appeal he helped build. 

But nothing gets Fleury down. He's remarkably unbreakable. This is a man who has been booed on home ice only to work his way back to fan-favourite status, replaced by a young upstart on the only team he'd ever known in the midst of a playoff run (who went on to force him out of town), exposed in an expansion draft, and, finally, jettisoned for zero tangible assets mere days after being named the NHL's best goaltender.

He simply loves the game. And the game, when all is said and done, loves him right back. 

"He's way into the pranks on some guys," laughed Murphy, when prodded about his teammate's reputation as a bonafide Prank Sinatra. 

"He's just so lighthearted. He's always walking around, talking to guys with a smile on his face. It doesn't matter what day it is, when we're going through tough times or losing streaks, he's still able to have that leadership and positivity, and be himself."

That positivity has certainly come in handy in 2021.

The Blackhawks have been among the more dysfunctional teams in hockey this season -- and that's only in reference to their on-ice troubles -- stumbling out the gate to a 1-9-2 record that precipitated the firings of coach Jeremy Colliton and assistants Sheldon Brookbank and Tomas Mitell. 

That's not a great sign for Fleury, whom the organization convinced into moving his young family from Nevada to Illinois over the summer, about the direction of his new team. 

You uproot your life, move across the country for a new job, and your boss gets fired a month in? Yikes. 

But Fleury's steadfast presence as a leader came in handy once more during the darkest (on-ice) days of the Blackhawks' season, helping ease the transition from the departed Colliton to interim coach Derek King. 

"He's been outstanding," opined King of his veteran puck stopper. 

"And you can see by his performance in Montreal (on Thursday), he can win you hockey games, which is what we need right now"

The Blackhawks would ultimately lose Saturday's contest versus the Maple Leafs in a heartbreaker, dropping their record to 10-15-2 that sits them seventh in the Central Divison above only the moribund Arizona Coyotes. 

Fleury didn't play that night, watching helplessly from the bench as his Blackhawks surrendered five goals on a mere 26 shots to an opponent good enough to beat them while playing arguably their worst game of the year. 

The reality is clear. Fleury is a good, veteran player on an expiring contract who happens to be stuck on a bad team. And players who fit that category typically have one universal fate: Trade. 

Whether his team acknowledges it or not, Fleury is arguably the best trade chip on the market right now. He's months removed from a Vezina win -- in case you hadn't gathered from its repeated mentions above -- bringing with him no long-term commitment from a contract perspective while currently playing top-tier hockey despite the shocking lack of support in front of him. 

Any contending team with even the slightest concern in net should be knocking down his door. 

"You get caught up in your own game and then a scoring chance will happen," explained Murphy. 

"A pass will go back-door and you're sure it's a goal against. And then, all of a sudden, you see his body and arm or leg go flying across to make a save. He's pretty acrobatic. Pretty amazing back there." 

Fleury's best path forward likely involves a trade out of town. But even if he does leave, ending his tenure in Chicago less than 12 months since it began, his impact won't be forgotten. 

"He'll just continue to be a great guy who deserves that reputation" Murphy concluded. 

Well said. 

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