Updated October 21, 2020 - 6:15 pm
Marc-Andre Fleury sounded a bit worn down Wednesday morning, the result of a busy month with three young children deserving of his attention.
The events of this offseason also had an effect on the Golden Knights’ goaltender.
“I thought it was a stressful few weeks there,” Fleury said in a telephone interview with the Review-Journal.
Fleury’s name was mentioned prominently in trade rumors after the Knights were eliminated in the Western Conference Final last month, and most signs pointed to his departure.
But the Knights ultimately decided to retain Fleury, who said he felt “relief” when it became clear he would return.
“I had three great seasons here. I’ve loved everything. My family loves it here. The thought of leaving to move them, that was tough,” Fleury said. “Obviously I have good friends here on the team and a great neighborhood that we made some friends outside the team, also.
“A lot goes into your thought when you have to move, especially with a family. I’m glad that I didn’t have to.”
Fleury endured a difficult season statistically and personally. He finished with the lowest save percentage of his career since 2009-10 and ranked 48th of 66 qualifying goalies in goals saved above average, according to HockeyReference.com.
“I had to deal with some personal stuff, not that I would ever put that as the reason,” Fleury said. “But it was a little bit of a weird season and having (Gallant) fired, it sucks. It sucks when your play’s not good enough and it costs the job of somebody.”
At the trade deadline, the Knights traded for Lehner, a move that general manager Kelly McCrimmon framed as insurance in case something happened to Fleury. Both goalies were told by coach Pete DeBoer they would play, according to Fleury.
Fleury made four starts before the season was paused because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Lehner started three games.
“For me it was a little different because I was used to playing many nights a week,” Fleury said. “So to play once in a while was different.”
DeBoer said in his postseason exit interview he was prepared to enter the postseason with Fleury as the starter, but Lehner played at an “elite level” in training camp and the round-robin games. Lehner started 16 of the 20 playoff games.
Fleury finished 3-1 with a 2.27 GAA and .910 save percentage. He turned away 24 of 25 shots against Dallas in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final in his only loss.
When asked if he thought he was misled by the organization about his role following the trade for Lehner, Fleury replied, “We can skip that one.”
Before the start of the Western Conference semifinals, Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, tweeted a picture of the goalie being stabbed through the back by a sword with “DeBoer” on the blade. The post was deleted the following morning.
Walsh declined to comment Wednesday whether he regretted sending the tweet or if it served its intended purpose.
“Marc-Andre already said publicly he wanted to come back and he never asked to be traded,” Walsh said. “Marc-Andre has said that he never wanted to be anywhere else, he wanted to remain a Golden Knight and he’s very happy to be part of the team.”
Fleury was quoted in a French interview with Le Journal de Montreal that he has had no communication with the Knights during the offseason, and Walsh confirmed only that Fleury was on record saying that.
The Knights were unable to find a trade partner for Fleury’s $7 million salary cap hit, and McCrimmon said during a videoconference call last week the team was no longer looking to trade the face of its franchise.
Walsh said “that’s for other people to decide” whether it’s unusual for a front office to ghost a prominent player such as Fleury while trade rumors swirl.
Fleury said his relationship with DeBoer remains solid but the two have not discussed his role for the upcoming season.
Fleury anticipates seeing his share of starts if the schedule is condensed and features extra back to backs.
Lehner is expected to be the Knights’ No. 1 goalie, and both members of the $12 million tandem have said they get along well. While they have different styles, Fleury said he can learn from Lehner’s ability to read plays.
Fleury, who has two years remaining on his contract, is fifth in NHL history with 466 victories. He needs 23 wins to tie Roberto Luongo for third on the all-time list.
Along with chasing his fourth Stanley Cup, Fleury said he is motivated to join Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy in the 500-win club.
Fleury said he liked the Knights’ addition of Pietrangelo, who signed a seven-year, $61.6 million contract. He also said gregarious defenseman Nate Schmidt, who was traded to Vancouver, will be missed.
“We still have a very good team,” Fleury said. “We have some experience as a group going through the playoffs, and I still really like our chances.”
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