NHL teams famously treat the details of player injuries as though they were matters of national security.
The Golden Knights take it to an even higher level of secrecy.
So it was no surprise that whatever caused star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to miss nearly three weeks down the stretch was kept shrouded in mystery even when he returned for the final two games of the season and started all seven playoff games for the Knights.
Even the end of the season didn’t bring much clarity to the situation.
“I don’t know,” Fleury said Thursday of exactly what lower-body injury he had suffered after playing an entire game in Dallas on March 15. “A little accident. But I felt good all season, right? I think I played a lot of games early in the season and I felt good. I don’t know what I did down there. I got a little something going on, but I don’t think it’s because I played too many (games).”
Fleury clarified one of the words from his answer after a follow-up question.
“Oh, no accident,” said Fleury, who has insisted his absence had nothing to do with the March 22 birth of his son, James. “I just don’t want to say. It was after Dallas. I guess it was around those days something happened and that game didn’t feel comfortable and then it just got a little worse and then I wanted to get it away before (the playoffs).”
Malcolm Subban started nine consecutive games in his absence and the Knights went 4-3-2 and settled into a third-place finish in the Pacific Division. Subban finished the season 8-10-2.
At the time of his injury, the 34-year-old Fleury was on pace to make the most starts of his illustrious career.
“I’m never concerned about the number of games a guy plays,” general manager George McPhee said. “Not worried about that kind of workload because this guy probably practices harder than anybody and maybe the practices are harder on him than the games are. So he had a minor injury and we wanted to make sure it was completely gone. I don’t think it was workload-related.
“(Fleury) was terrific for us again this season and during the playoffs. We’re lucky to have the guy. He’s a great goaltender and a great person.”
While Fleury’s heavy workload had him on pace for one of the highest win totals of his career, his numbers did dip from last season. His goals-against average rose from 2.24 to 2.51 and his save percentage dropped from .927 to .913.
He said he felt close to 100 percent in the postseason and plans to use the longer offseason to recharge and heal completely.
Fleury hopes it will help him stay healthy next year after playing 61 games following a regular season in which he was limited to 46.
“You know, some mornings you feel it a little bit,” he said. “But I think you’re a little wiser, more experienced you could say, and I think my last three seasons maybe have been the best of my career. I’ve just got to keep working, stay in shape and try to do better next year.”
There’s certainly no plans for retirement in his immediate future. Fleury has three years left on his contract and again said he intends to finish that out before even considering stepping away from the game. That leaves him as a franchise cornerstone for the next several years, particularly at $7 million per year.
Subban is a restricted free agent and expressed a desire to return as Fleury’s backup next season. It makes sense for the Knights, who are likely to get him at a bargain even if he goes to arbitration. Subban made $650,000 this season.
The Knights seem to trust him more than younger options like Max Lagace and Dylan Ferguson at this point, so it makes sense to keep Subban in the mix.
“We think the world of both of our goaltenders,” McPhee said.
It could benefit both of their futures for Subban to get a larger share of the work in net for the Knights next season.