When the Blackhawks were on the verge of acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury, reports quickly surfaced that the reigning Vezina Trophy winner might consider retiring after making it known he didn't want to uproot his family and leave Vegas. It became home for him and he expected to finish his NHL career with the Golden Knights.
Fleury's agent Allan Walsh confirmed those reports as the trade was going down when he tweeted: "Marc-Andre will be taking time to discuss his situation with his family and seriously evaluate his hockey future at this time."
Later on in the day, Fleury released a statement thanking the fans in Vegas and his teammates for a memorable last four years. There was no mention of his potential next chapter in Chicago.
The Blackhawks, however, were optimistic that Fleury would eventually come around and want to play for the team. And he did, announcing on Sunday in a video message to fans: "Hey Chicago, it's Marc. Just wanted to let you know: I'm in. Let's get to work."
Blackhawks President/GM Stan Bowman spoke to the media on Monday for the first time since the trade and addressed the whole situation.
"I can identify with that: He has young children, I have kids as well, and it’s a tough life to be a player," Bowman said. "It’s probably obvious it was a surprise to him when the trade went down. From my first conversation with him, it was very consistent. He said, 'Look, thanks so much for the call.' He just talked about how, 'I just need a little bit of time to get through these things. So if you can have a little patience, that'd be great.' And I said, 'Not a problem at all.'
"I put myself in his shoes. It’s hard when you have young children like that. I got a call the other day from him. [He was] really excited about coming here to visit Chicago, looking at where he could live. He’s been here a number of times, obviously, but it’s different coming in as a player on a road trip versus where you’re going to actually be spending your time. Once we had that conversation, we were willing to give him the time to process through everything."
Bowman said he never felt nervous about whether or not Fleury would actually report to Chicago. He wanted to give the 36-year-old goaltender who has a wife and three kids as much time and space as he needed before making a final decision.
"I just looked at it more from a human being perspective," Bowman said. "I really understood what he was going through. I mean, you’re not expecting to be traded, and all of a sudden you get a phone call that says your life is changing and your family's life is changing. It’d be difficult for any of us to just jump right into this new world. You need a little time to let it breathe. So I put myself in his shoes and I totally understood it.
"From everything I knew about Marc-Andre, he loves to play the game of hockey. Just loves it. He loves to be on the ice. He loves to stay late after practice ends and continue to do extra work with the guys. Not everyone is the same way. Some players, as they get older, they want maybe less on-ice work and they want to conserve energy. But that’s not the feedback we got. He loves the game. He just came off the best season; he won the Vezina Trophy. We were comfortable when he was given the right time that he’d be excited to join our group."
Fleury has been in Chicago the last few days trying to get acclimated to his new team and city. He and Bowman spent an hour together on Monday at Fifth Third Arena, where Fleury put on a Blackhawks jersey for the first time and also met some of his teammates.
"It was great to spend some time speaking with him, showing him around, talking about our team," Bowman said. "A couple of our players were there and he got a chance to say hello to them. There were a lot of smiles going around."
Fleury's presence alone makes the Blackhawks an intriguing team to watch in the Central Division this upcoming season.
"It’s a huge addition to our team," Bowman said. "We’re thrilled with what he brings to the table. It’s not too often that you get a chance to add the Vezina Trophy-winning goalie to our team in the offseason, but that’s the situation we were in. I couldn’t be more excited to have him here with us in Chicago. In talking to him, he was really excited for the year to come."