I’ve never known the Pittsburgh Penguins without Marc-Andre Fleury.
He was the first pillar in the Penguins dynasty that we know today.
He was my childhood goalie.
He was guy who always stopped after practice to talk to the fans.
He was the team prankster.
He was the smiling face that always kept the mood light when things were tense.
He was the heartbeat of one of the closest-knit sports team I’ve ever seen.
Marc-Andre Fleury was a lot of things.
If I listed them all, we’d both miss the expansion draft tonight.
Truthfully, I’m not someone who gets over-emotional about athletes leaving town.
Marc-Andre Fleury was not just an athlete.
Sure, he was the best goalie in franchise history.
He leaves Pittsburgh as the leader in virtually every goaltending category.
But that’s hardly how Pittsburgh will remember the jocular net-minder.
Fleury was the epitome of what a professional athlete should be.
He always made time for his fans.
He never put himself before the team.
He supported a 22 year old that took his job.
He agreed to be a back up just to have one more ride with the team he loved.
He put his heart and soul into being a Pittsburgh Penguin.
He was here when the team was bad.
He was here when the team was good.
And he smiled through the whole damn thing.
He came to the Steel City as a lanky 19 year old French-Canadian with high expectations.
He will leave as a 32 year old Pittsburgher with three Stanley Cups and countless lives changed.
I’ve known that this would be Fleury’s last season as a Pittsburgh Penguin.
I prepared myself for today for an entire year.
Now that the day is here, it just doesn’t seem real.
It feels like more than an athlete moving on.
It feels like losing a member of our Pittsburgh family.
The Penguins will be able to replace Marc-Andre Fleury as a goaltender.
Matt Murray might end up being one of the greatest to ever play.
But they will never be able to replace him as a person.
Maybe I’m being melodramatic.
I probably am.
But I’ve never seen a relationship like Pittsburgh has with Marc-Andre Fleury in my lifetime.
The feeling is so mutual.
Fleury scheduled an autograph signing on his last day to thank Penguins fans.
Penguins fans camped out the night before to meet him at 7:00 the following evening.
“Sports are a business.”
Saying that is supposed to justify events like today and make them easier to accept.
Not this time.
In rare cases, the barrier can be broken between athlete and human being.
Marc-Andre Fleury is one of those special cases.
I don’t just wish him success as he reclaims his deserved role as a starting goaltender.
I wish him and his family the very best as they start a new chapter in a new city.
He went out like the hero he was.
It truly was one of the most symbolic things in sports.
Fleury gets the Penguins halfway to the Cup.
Then, Matt Murray takes over and finishes it.
I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I wish I could tell you something to make today easier.
I wish I could tell you I won’t tear up when it becomes official.
We’ve been lucky to call Marc-Andre Fleury a Penguin for 13 years.
Try to do what he would do.
Put on a toothy grin and remember the good times.
There’s a lot of them.
Tonight, Marc-Andre Fleury will be in Vegas.
But his heart will always be in Pittsburgh.