Likely future Hall-of-Fame netminder Marc-Andre Fleury won’t examine retiring until the 2023-24 season draws to a close, as he told The Athletic’s Joe Smith yesterday during the first day of Wild training camp.
Fleury, 38, is entering the second season of a two-year, $7MM contract extension signed by Wild GM Bill Guerin in July 2022. He’s again expected to shoulder a significant workload as a 1B tandem netminder behind the younger Filip Gustavsson, and he begins 2023-24 on the precipice of multiple milestones, such as the 1,000 games played mark and second-place on the NHL’s all-time wins list behind Patrick Roy. He currently trails Roy by just six and could likely surpass him by the new year.
“I thought about it this summer and stuff, but I just told myself I would give myself this season, see how it goes, see how I feel physically, mentally, if I still can stop the puck and just make a decision at the end,” Fleury told Smith. “There will be ups and downs this season. I’ll try to get through it and make a decision at the end.”
A few years ago, few thought Fleury would be in this position. After becoming an integral part of the Vegas Golden Knights as their first starting netminder in franchise history and winning the Vezina Trophy in 2021, the team ran into salary cap constraints that forced them to trade the final season of a three-year, $7MM AAV contract to the Chicago Blackhawks, whom Fleury did not have on his ten-team no-trade list. At that time, Fleury reportedly considered retiring instead of reporting to the rebuilding Blackhawks after the trade.
He’s still going strong two years later, though, and he’ll play a key support role to a Wild team that continues to have aspirations for a deep playoff run. He remains an above-average netminder, recording a decent .908 save percentage while actually starting the lion’s share of Minnesota’s games last season (he started 45 out of 82) despite Gustavsson’s brilliance. A fourth Stanley Cup championship, should the Wild win, would tie Fleury for third in NHL history among goalies. Montreal Canadiens legends Ken Dryden and Jacques Plante each won six, while Toronto Maple Leafs pre-expansion star Turk Broda won five.
The Wild acquired Fleury near the 2022 trade deadline from the Blackhawks, sending their 2022 second-round pick to them in return. Chicago used the pick to select playmaking center Ryan Greene, who’s about to begin his sophomore campaign at Boston University.
If Fleury opts to continue his playing career after 2023-24, though, it may not be in the State of Hockey. After an additional year of seasoning in the AHL, 2021 first-round pick Jesper Wallstedt will likely be ready for a full-time backup role behind Gustavsson.