Fleury relishing first consistent Wild practice schedule during preseason

·4 min read

Marc-Andre Fleury kept hearing talk about the Wild's practice digs last season, but he didn't know if it was true.

At the time, the Wild were rarely skating in between games ahead of the playoffs.

"Guys keep telling me about the practice arena, and I was like, 'I think it's a lie. I've never seen it,' " the goaltender said back in April.

Fleury actually ended up making a trip to Tria Rink in St. Paul to check it out.

"On a day off, I had nothing to do so I went," he said. "I just walked around and looked at it. It was nice."

Now he's a daily visitor.

A trade deadline pickup who stuck around, Fleury is with the Wild from the get-go this season but the role that was waiting for him at training camp isn't the same one the three-time Stanley Cup champion and future Hall of Famer anticipated having when he re-signed in the summer.

"Happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more," Fleury said. "It's fun to play. It's more fun than sitting on the bench. Looking forward to it."

When Fleury agreed to a two-year, $7 million contract with the Wild on July 7, the plan was for him to share the crease with Cam Talbot.

That's how the Wild operated after Fleury's arrival on March 21 from Chicago in a trade that cost the Wild a second-round draft pick: Fleury and Talbot split action until the playoffs when Fleury started five of the six games in a first-round loss to St. Louis.

But five days after Fleury re-upped, Talbot was gone.

He was shipped to Ottawa, resolving a murky situation that included Talbot expressing his disappointment over not playing more in the postseason, his agent telling TSN at the NHL draft that Wild General Manager Bill Guerin had "a lot to think about" and Guerin answering back, "My team's set right now."

Ultimately, though, Guerin acknowledged it was probably best to cut ties and avoid any awkwardness.

"I was fine with coming back with Cam," said Fleury, who mentioned not wanting to be the cause of Talbot's exit. "I got along great with him. Great guy. Was very supportive off the ice, too. We spent a bunch of time together, too. I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn't work out."

The two did communicate after Talbot's departure.

"I think he wanted to explain his side of things a bit," Fleury said. "It's fine. I have respect for him, and it's OK."

Instead of the Wild relying on a veteran tandem in net, Fleury became the undisputed No. 1 and 24-year-old Filip Gustavsson (whom the Wild acquired from the Senators in the Talbot trade) his understudy.

"I think his game is as good as it's ever been," Guerin said earlier this week about Fleury, who was Guerin's teammate in 2009 when both won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh. "He keeps himself in such good shape."

Even so, the Wild don't want to overextend Fleury, who will turn 38 in November.

Last season, Fleury totaled 56 starts between the Wild and Blackhawks and sported a 2.74 goals-against average and .910 save percentage during a 9-2 run with the Wild to close out the regular season. That was the most appearances he'd made since recording 61 games with Vegas in 2018-19.

"Around the league, I don't think you see anyone playing 70 games anymore," Fleury said. "So, I think it's common to have both guys play. With injuries and stuff like that, we never know what can happen. For me, it's just one game.

"Coach tells me to go, I'll be ready and so on."

Until then, Fleury can prepare for whatever workload is on deck by practicing consistently, a first for him with the Wild.

"It's going to be huge for Flower to be here with us, getting those reps," forward Marcus Foligno said. "Everyone knows he's such an aggressive goalie. For us to read off him now is going to be that much better going into the season knowing that the first shot is likely going to be stopped, and our defense can read and react off of him."