'Game changer': Fleury's addition to Blackhawks tilts power in Central Division

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Marc-Andre Fleury said Sunday he will play for the Blackhawks after being traded last week from Vegas. Former NHL goalie and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes says "It's a game changer."

    Marc-Andre Fleury said Sunday he will play for the Blackhawks after being traded last week from Vegas. Former NHL goalie and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes says "It's a game changer." Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/1/2021 5:10 PM

The first time NHL analyst and former goaltender Kevin Weekes saw Marc-Andre Fleury warming up before a game in Pittsburgh he almost couldn't believe his eyes.

Fleury, 18 at the time, was zipping from one post to the other with such quickness and speed that Weekes was doing double takes. And triple takes.

 

"I knew that I was really fast and really quick," said Weekes, who played 348 NHL games from 1997-2009. "That guy looked like he was on double fast forward."

Almost two decades later, that speed demon -- one who has now won the third-most games in league history and is a three-time Stanley Cup winner -- is officially coming to Chicago to backstop the Blackhawks.

"Hey, Chicago, I'm in," Fleury said in a video released by the Blackhawks. "Let get to work."

GM Stan Bowman, who acquired Fleury from Vegas last week, will speak with the media at 3 p.m. Monday, while Fleury will talk Wednesday.

It cannot be understated how big of an acquisition this is for the Hawks. It's not quite Tom Brady to the Bucs worthy -- but it's in the neighborhood.

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Fleury, 36, was just named the best goaltender in the league after going 26-10-0 with a .928 save percentage and 1.98 goals against average for the Golden Knights last season. His numbers in four seasons in Vegas are similarly impressive -- 117-60-14, .917 and 2.41.

The additions of Fleury, No. 1 defenseman Seth Jones and top-six forward Tyler Johnson have elevated the Hawks from a mediocre-at-best team to a legit playoff contender.

"Give the Hawks credit for being aggressive in trying to upgrade a position ... and pouncing on an opportunity," Weekes said in a phone interview Sunday afternoon. "There are other teams that you could ague that certainly need him as much or maybe even more. And some of those teams chose to go in a different direction. ...

"(The Hawks aren't) a Cup contender quite yet the way Vegas is at this point, but ... you can't argue the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks are a better team with Marc-Andre Fleury. Certainly this does swing the balance a little bit in the Central and in the West in general. No question. It's a game changer."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Hawks still have holes. The defense remains suspect, and there are plenty of questions among the forwards -- not the least of which revolves around Jonathan Toews and his ability to return.

But Fleury will win his team games they have no business winning and keep them in others while they fight, scratch and claw for 2 points.

Of all Fleury's impressive physical attributes -- which there are many -- what has impressed Weekes over the past few years is the Quebec native's mental toughness.

He's dealt with the emergence of new goaltenders in Pittsburgh (Matt Murray) and Vegas (Robin Lehner). He lost his dad in November 2019. He watched Lehner sign a five-year deal with the Golden Knights on Oct. 3, 2020.

And he sat three times during this season's playoffs -- including Montreal's series-clinching overtime victory in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup semifinals.

Through it all, Fleury's stayed strong.

"Every pro athlete doesn't stay where they are without adversity," Weekes said. "But I don't know too many more Hall of Fame goalies that I've played with and/or against that have had to deal with as much as him. And he keeps moving, continues smiling, continues persevering, continues greatness -- and not only greatness from a performance standpoint -- but greatness as a person.

"Bringing that to the room every day, bringing that to the rink every day -- the selflessness, the professionalism, the infectious positivity, exemplary work ethic, fun personality and somebody teammates want to play with and in front of -- that's rare.

"He's a Hall of Fame lock when it's all said and done. The fact that he still gets doubted at times -- and as a result of that comes adversity -- that tells you everything you need to know about him."

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