Updated March 21, 2022 - 5:29 pm
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Golden Knights could look down the boards at Xcel Energy Center on Monday and see a familiar face.
Sitting down at the far end of the Minnesota Wild’s bench, sporting a fresh jersey and baseball cap, was none other than goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury, arguably the most popular player in Knights history, was traded for the second time in eight months Monday by going to the Wild from the Chicago Blackhawks for a conditional first-round pick.
Minnesota will give up its 2022 first-round selection if it advances to the Western Conference Final and Fleury wins a minimum of four games in the first and second rounds of the playoffs combined. If not, Chicago will get the Wild’s 2022 second-round pick. The Blackhawks are also retaining half of the money left on the final year of Fleury’s contract.
— Minnesota Wild PR (@mnwildPR) March 21, 2022
The deal gives Fleury, 37, a chance to chase a fourth Stanley Cup. It also doesn’t take him far from his family, which will stay in Chicago.
“It’s a great team,” Fleury said. “They play a great structured game, play well defensively. They’re heavy. They’re built for playoffs.”
Fleury played for the Knights for four season after being selected in the 2017 expansion draft. He was the 2021 Vezina Trophy winner and helped the team reached the NHL semifinals for the second consecutive season.
The Knights defeated the Wild in the first round in seven games. Fleury had a .931 save percentage in the series.
The Knights moved Fleury in the offseason to save salary-cap space and give the net to Robin Lehner. Fleury was traded to the Blackhawks for forward Mikael Hakkarainen, who never played for the Knights.
It was a blow to the Knights’ locker room, where the goaltender was beloved.
“One of the best I’ve ever played with,” center Chandler Stephenson said. “It seems like it’s his first year, just how much fun he has. How easygoing he is. Makes everybody feel special, like a part of the team. He’s up there for top three favorite guys I’ve ever played with.”
Fleury’s time in Chicago wasn’t great. He did beat the Knights in his return to T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 8 by stopping 30 of 31 shots in 2-1 win. But he finished 19-21-5 with a 2.95 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
The Wild, led by one of Fleury’s former Pittsburgh Penguins teammates in general manager Bill Guerin, hope they can help him rediscover his form. Minnesota allows the third-fewest scoring chances against per 60 minutes at five-on-five, according to the website NaturalStatTrick.com. But the Wild give up the 15th-most goals because their previous goaltending tandem of Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen had them ranked 23rd in team save percentage.
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) March 21, 2022
The Wild want Fleury to help them get more out of their defense.
“He’s like (Minnesota star forward) Kirill (Kaprizov) except a goalie,” said Guerin, who won the 2009 Stanley Cup with Fleury. “He thanks the goal post, all that stuff. It’s fun. He’s a fun guy. That’s one of the things I love about him. He treats everybody in the world the same way and loves life and has fun playing the game, and he’s real good at it.”