The day has officially arrived.
The Vegas Golden Knights selected goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the 2017 Expansion Draft on Wednesday night, marking the end of his 14-year run with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
Following the announcement, Fleury came out from behind the current and was greeted by the Vegas fans in attendance at T-Mobile Arena with a thunderous applause.
"That was a warm welcome," Fleury said. "I'm excited about it. I'm very thankful for this opportunity to be in Vegas, a new team, new organization."
It was only 11 days ago that Fleury was lifting the Stanley Cup over his head with the Pens after Pittsburgh's 2-0 Game 6 victory in the Final against Nashville, which will be the last game Fleury will ever wear the Pens' uniform.
"That's a quick turnaround from winning, a few celebration days, parties with the guys, start packing and coming down (to Vegas)," Fleury said. "It still feels a little bit surreal."
During Fleury's 14 years in the Penguins organization he's won three Stanley Cup championships (2009, '16, '17) while rewriting the team's record books for goaltenders, owning the franchise records in wins (375), shutouts (44), playoff wins (62) and playoff shutouts (10).
But more amazingly is the way the city of Pittsburgh adopted the young Sorel, Quebec native as its own, and vice versa.
"It's tough," Fleury said of the move. "I think it was time. I've been very fortunate to play there for 14 years."
Even former teammate Sidney Crosby thought Fleury appeared odd while wearing a different uniform from the usual skating penguin, the only jersey Fleury had worn in his entire career.
"It hasn't sunk in yet, but to see him in a different jersey was definitely a little weird," Crosby said. "We knew there was a good chance of (Fleury being selected). When you see it happen it's a weird feeling."
Fleury, 32, has been a fan favorite in Pittsburgh since arriving with his wide-toothed grin and bright yellow pads as an 18-year-old rookie after the Pens drafted him first overall in the 2003 NHL Draft, which took place 14 years ago to the day. Fleury's prankster sense of humor and omnipresent optimism endeared him to fans and teammates alike.
The fans heartily cheered his every start this season and as he led the Pens past Columbus and Washington in the postseason en route to the franchise's fifth Cup. They chanted his named endlessly during the parade and the streets of downtown Pittsburgh were filled with signs of "Thanks," "Merci" and "Goodbye." One fan was brought to tears after Fleury jumped out of his truck to give her a hug.
When a select group of Pens fans were allowed to paint the ice at PPG Paints Arena prior to it being melted for the summer, many fans wrote wishes of thanks and farewell at his former goal crease, including "Forever a Penguin."
In his final act as a Penguin Fleury co-financed the construction of a new playground in McKees Rocks. Fleury and his wife, Veronique, personally purchased sports equipment, games, education materials and electronics for the Boys & Girls Club to go along with the playground.
Fleury was beloved by all of his teammates as well. Just look at a few of their comments from locker room cleanout day last Thursday:
Matt Cullen: "I know what he means to this team and I haven't played with many better teammates than him. He comes to the rink with a smile on his face every day and does his best to support his teammates and it's never about him."
Carl Hagelin: "He's probably the best teammate you can have. I don't think you'll find a better personality in sports when it comes to being a good friend and a supportive, positive teammate."
Matt Murray: "He was a really big mentor for me and that moment on the ice after we won where he handed me the Cup, that's a moment I'm never going to forget. He's just one of the best, most genuine human beings you'll ever meet."
Evgeni Malkin posted a picture on his Instagram account of himself wearing Fleury's No. 29 jersey. But taped over the name it reads: "MY MVP." In the caption, Malkin wrote: "Sad day."
Fleury will go down as one of the most treasured players to ever wear a Penguins' uniform. Only Mario Lemieux (17 seasons) played more seasons with the Pens. But now both Fleury, and the Pens, will turn the page and embrace his new role as a veteran leader on a young team.
"I realize I've been around for a while now and I'm not the young guy coming in anymore," Fleury said. "I've been fortunate to play on good teams in a great organization, had a lot of great teammates that taught me a lot. If I can share my experience and playoff experience, hopefully I can help out my teammates."
Fleury may be with a new team, but his contributions and legacy to Pittsburgh hockey will never be forgotten.
"Marc-Andre is more than just a three-time Stanley Cup champion; he is one of the greatest Pittsburgh Penguins ever, and one of the best and most impactful sports figures in Pittsburgh history," general manager Jim Rutherford said. "We hold him in the highest regard as both a player and a person, and we wish nothing but the best for him and his family. He has left a great and lasting legacy in our city."