In so doing, the 37-year-old Fleury becomes just the third goalie ever to hit a milestone that for decades was never even a possibility. He still trails Martin Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551), but previous generations had viewed 400 wins as an Everest few goalies could ever hope to climb. Consider that Terry Sawchuk retired with 445 wins, and even that seemed like a number no one could equal. Jacques Plante had 437 and Glenn Hall 407, and those were the days when the number-one goalie would play almost every game.
But of the 13 goalies to have won 400 or more in NHL history, nine are from the modern era. For Fleury, his climb to 500 was steady and impressive, but only after a rough beginning tat saw him play substantial games in the minors over three seasons. He won his first game in his second start, on October 18, 2003, with Pittsburgh, the team that had drafted him 1st overall in 2003. Indeed, Fleury is one of only two goalies ever drafted in the top spot, and Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders, 2000) didn’t have the kind of career that might inspire more teams to look to the blue ice for the top selection.
Nevertheless, Fleury joined a Penguins team that was on the upswing after owner Mario Lemieux came out of retirement. But Fleury won only four of 21 games in 2003/04, and played all of the following year in the minors, with the team’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Even in 05/06 he played in the minors, but the team’s fortunes changed forever that year when Sidney Crosby joined the Pens. Fleury was recalled, and although he won only 13 of 50 games, it was clear he was their goalie of the future. A year later, he made good on his reputation as such, playing 67 games and winning 40 for the first, but not last, time.
For eight years, “Flower” was the number-one goalie for Pittsburgh, leading the team to the playoffs every year and winning at least 30 games every year except for the lockout-shortened 2012/13 season. Pittsburgh made it the Stanley Cup finals in 2008, losing to Detroit, but a year later the same two teams met for the trophy and this time fortunes were reversed. Fleury and the Penguins won their first Cup since 1992.
Fleury helped the team win the Cup again back-to-back in 2016 and 2017, but that last win was bittersweet. With the league expanding to Vegas that summer, and backup Matt Murray emerging as a top goalie in his own right, the inevitable occurred. Fleury was selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft, and his long and remarkable tenure in Pittsburgh was over.
Fleury continued to shine, though. He won another 117 games over the next four years and led the Golden Knights to a most improbable Cup finals in the team’s first year. In the summer of 2021, he was traded to Chicago in a move precipitated by salary-cap issues, and although he was delighted to play with an Original Six team, the Hawks had a terrible start to the season. They have since picked up their pace, and Fleury’s 8th win of the season was also that magic 500 of his career and his 69th career shutout in 901 games.
Internationally, Fleury has not played in a game for Canada except the 2003 and 2004 World Junior Championship. He won silver medals both years and was named IIHF Directorate Best Goalie in 2003. The next year, his gaffe led to the gold-medal-winning goal for the U.S., but Fleury has proved over the last two decades that that was just one bad goal that wasn’t going to affect his career. In all, he was 8-0-2 at the U20 with a goals-against average of 1.70.
Fleury was also named to Canada’s 2014 Olympic team but didn’t play in a game. But now, having just turned 37, he is very likely to be named to Canada’s Beijing team and might well play his first senior tournament for his country some 18 years after his last junior event. Regardless, his career has Hockey Hall of Fame written all over it. The only question that remains is whether he can win 51 more games to tie Patrick Roy for second on the all-time wins list and play 99 more games to become only the fourth goalie reach 1,000 (Brodeur 1,266, Roberto Luongo 1,044, Roy 1,029). Don’t bet against the Flower, not now, not any time.