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Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins say their goodbyes

Goaltender reflects on time with Pittsburgh, could be taken by Golden Knights in NHL Expansion Draft

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- When Marc-Andre Fleury walked into the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room Thursday, he knew it could be for the last time.

Fleury wore a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap as he entered while goalie Matt Murray, who has supplanted him as the Penguins' starter, spoke with the media. Fleury stood off to the side before receiving a hug from defenseman Olli Maatta.

A few minutes passed as Fleury waited for Murray and forward Matt Cullen to finish with the media before approaching his stall. Throughout his scrum, Fleury fought back tears.

"I knew things were going to change after this season for me," he said.

It was reported Wednesday that Fleury waived his no-movement clause before the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline so the Penguins could protect Murray in the NHL Expansion Draft. If Fleury had decided to not waive the clause, general manager Jim Rutherford would have worked to trade him to one of the 18 teams not on his no-trade list before the deadline.

Teams are allowed to protect one goaltender from the Vegas Golden Knights. Players with no-movement clauses must be protected unless they opt to waive them.

Video: Fleury waives his NMC for the Expansion Draft

"We talked about expansion going back to training camp and [Fleury] said right from then, when I said I wanted to keep both goalies, that he would work with me throughout the year as far as waiving his no-move," Rutherford said. "Now we got to that point I think sometime in January or February where we officially did it. But it certainly took a lot of pressure off of the organization to not pursue a trade and that's really what we wanted to do.

"We wanted to keep both goalies. Now that we're here at the finish line, we can look back and say we're glad that we did. But it certainly relieved a lot of the pressure thinking I had to get him moved."

By waiving his no-move, Fleury remained with the Penguins through their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.

"It was just a way to make it easier, so [the Penguins] had more flexibility going down the stretch," he said. "Not having to worry about me and not having to force a trade. For me, it was an opportunity to finish the season here and I'm glad that I got a chance to play for the Cup again, play for this team and win."

After Murray sustained a lower-body injury during warmups before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Fleury went 9-6 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Murray replaced Fleury in the first period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators.

Fleury has tried not to reflect on his time in Pittsburgh, although he said he considers this season one of the more enjoyable he's had. When discussing his tenure, Fleury wiped away a few tears as he became slightly choked up.

"As you can see, I'm struggling with this," he said.

His teammates were too.

"He's the best teammate, the best guy," defenseman Justin Schultz said. "He's unbelievable. … I love him."

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm2: Fleury robs Turris through traffic

Said defenseman Brian Dumoulin, "He's the type of guy I want in my life at all times. If I could follow that guy around all day, I'd be happy. … I love that guy so much."

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was the last to speak and was joking with reporters before the subject of Fleury leaving was raised.

"It'll be tough," Crosby said. "I think playing with someone that long, going through what we did, it's pretty special. We have some great memories."

Forward Evgeni Malkin, who did not speak Thursday, also shared those memories with Fleury and Crosby. Those three, along with defenseman Kris Letang and forward Chris Kunitz, won the Stanley Cup three times together, the first in 2009.

On Thursday, Fleury was asked how he would say goodbye to Crosby and Malkin.

"Probably don't," he said. "Just walk away. … We'll see each other again. Just not every day, but we'll keep in touch."

Fleury, 32, said his desire to play has been a big reason behind his potential departure from Pittsburgh.

"I love to play. I love the game," he said. "I love to be in there and to compete, the challenge of it. I like everything about it. Obviously, Matt's the guy here and he will be for many years. And the salary cap also, I take a big chunk of that [$5.75 million]. So it couldn't work anymore."

In 13 NHL seasons in Pittsburgh, Fleury is 375-216-66 with two ties, a 2.58 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. He holds Penguins records for games played (691), minutes played (39,769), wins (375) and shutouts (44).

He had a difficult time articulating what he would miss most about the city.

"This feels like home for me," Fleury said. "Everything, I guess. Yeah."

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