New team, new city, same old Marc-Andre Fleury.
After 13 seasons, 375 wins and three Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 32-year-old goaltender waived his no-movement clause, allowing the Penguins to move on to the younger and more affordable Matt Murray. Now Fleury is the face of the nascent Vegas Golden Knights, as their marquee addition from the expansion draft.
The shift from a perennial contender to a team with modest expectations marks a significant change for Fleury. When your owner and general manager openly admit that they don’t expect to make the playoffs until their third season, how does that make the starting goaltender feel? Fleury opens up about expectations and how he has changed since his 2003 debut (more wine consumption and less media); and of course, he sprinkles in a few jokes along the way.
ESPN.com: What is your definition of a good hockey city?
Fleury: The support from the fans. It’s so fun when you play in a building where it’s pretty packed every game and people get excited about goals, saves, blocked shots. Just playing for a [team in a] city where people love the game, it’s nice.
ESPN.com: Let’s say I’m a really good free-agent hockey player. Give me your pitch about why I should come to Las Vegas.
Fleury: Can I bribe you with stuff? I’m kidding, kidding. It’s easy, though. The organization — from the top to bottom, from the owner to the coach to GM — everyone is quality people. The people they hired around the team — the medical staff, the training staff, the [PR] staff … they all come to make the team as one. The new building and the new practice arena also are top of the line. We have a good bunch of players right now and a lot of draft picks coming in from this year, next year and the year after. I think the team will be very competitive for many years.
ESPN.com: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about Las Vegas?
Fleury: How hot it is. No, I think [it’s] the welcome that we get from fans everywhere. You tell them you’re going to play hockey for the Golden Knights and everyone is so excited about having a team to cheer for. Once they announced the team, you didn’t know what to expect from a team so far south, but everybody that I’ve met or crossed paths with is very excited about it.
ESPN.com: Golden Knights owner Bill Foley has publicly stated that his goal is to make the playoffs in three years. What do you think when you hear that?
Fleury: Well, I have two years left in my deal. So hopefully, we can do it before that. I think it’s good but, for me, I want to do it right away, like this year. Playoff hockey is the most fun to play, right? So I just want to get back in there and have some games in the playoffs again.
ESPN.com: You’ve been in the league for more than a decade. What habits or hobbies have you picked up since then?
Fleury: Drinking wine … does that count? For so many years, it seems like anytime you’d go for dinners the night before with your teammates, older guys would always get nice bottles of wine. I didn’t like it, so I had to force myself [to drink it]. And at some point I liked it.
ESPN.com: Did anyone in particular help you learn about wine?
Fleury: It was a group effort.
ESPN.com: What do you wish you knew as a rookie that you know now?
Fleury: Don’t read or listen to the media.
ESPN.com: Did you read a lot as a rookie?
Fleury: Yeah, for sure. I was always wondering. As a kid, I always loved hockey and always read the papers and watched TV about hockey, right? So I just kept doing it. But then it was about me and my team, so sometimes it was harsh. We didn’t have a very good team. We weren’t winning a lot.
ESPN.com: When was the last time you faced an obstacle, and how did you overcome it?
Fleury: This season. I was always used to playing a lot of games, and this season I played less. I love to play. I love to be on the ice, so maybe it wasn’t as fun, hockey-wise. But I overcame it by just trying to live in the moment and with the support of my friends and family and teammates.
ESPN.com: You’ve known Sidney Crosby for a while. What’s one thing fans don’t know about him?
Fleury: I don’t know if there’s anything I can say.
ESPN.com: What does he get the most grief about in the locker room?
Fleury: Maybe his teeth. Bill Guerin, I remember when he showed up at practice with fake teeth. Big fake teeth. It gave me a laugh, because I have fake teeth too. I think he’s been getting made fun of a bit about his good chiclets.
ESPN.com: What will you miss most about Pittsburgh?
Fleury: My friends, probably. It was a close group of guys, even the staff — the medical staff, the equipment staff. That was a great organization to play hockey in. The fans were great to me also. I’ll keep good memories from it.
ESPN.com: You were in Pittsburgh for a while. Ever find yourself saying the word “yinz” [Pittsburghese for “you all”]?
Fleury: No, no.
ESPN.com: What athletes do you look up to in other sports?
Fleury: I like to watch other sports, and I like tennis. I think Roger Federer is a guy who is very impressive. It’s a bit more of a younger group for that sport, and he’s one of the best, if not the best. He keeps finding ways to win [even] as guys are younger, faster. I like Formula One too and how quickly [drivers] process things and how good of shape they are in too.
Fleury: How long do I want to play? I do [think about it] a little bit now as I’m starting to get older. As of now, I still love the game and still have fun playing. As long as I have fun and the team wants me — that’s the biggest thing too — then I will be playing. A mix of emotion and body, yeah.
ESPN.com: Have you done anything differently to prepare for travel in the West?
Fleury: I never thought about it before. Maybe I’ll download more movies or TV shows. A few more naps, probably. No other plans though. Or maybe I’ll learn about time change and how to deal with it.
ESPN.com: Are you someone who monitors your sleep?
Fleury: Yeah, yeah.
ESPN.com: That doesn’t sound convincing.
Fleury: I don’t know, sometimes you’re tired and you need a little more. I think I have learned to become attuned to my body a little more, and what I need, so it varies throughout the season.
ESPN.com: What TV shows do you like?
Fleury: I like “Vikings,” “Game of Thrones.”
ESPN.com: What character on “Game of Thrones” would be a good NHL player?
Fleury: Who was the big, big guy? He would be a good goalie. You know, the giant [Mag the Mighty]? Just fills [the net] out. He would be good.
ESPN.com: Finish this sentence. In 10 years I will be satisfied if…
Fleury: I am happy, my family is happy and we are healthy.