Welcome to NHL99, The Athletic’s countdown of the best 100 players in modern NHL history. We’re ranking 100 players but calling it 99 because we all know who’s No. 1 — it’s the 99 spots behind No. 99 we have to figure out. Every Monday through Saturday until February we’ll unveil new members of the list.
VARENNES, Que. — The long driveway is filled to the brim with trucks. Landscapers are there, putting the finishing touches on the new house, and a dock is being put in on this refreshingly breezy July day about 40 minutes southwest of Montreal....
When the super-athletic, acrobatic eventual Hall of Famer and the man who kicks off The Athletic’s NHL99 project as the 100th-best player in the NHL’s modern era isn’t stopping pucks, winning games, playing practical jokes on his teammates, hanging with his wife and playing with his three children, this is a glimpse into his life.
On this day, hours before Fleury would decide to forgo free agency and re-sign with the Wild for two years, he is relaxed, downright hospitable and reflective about where he’s come from and what he thinks his NHL legacy will be.
When reminded about his three Stanley Cup championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins, his five All-Star Game appearances, his Vezina and Jennings trophies and the fact that in NHL history only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy have won more than his 520 regular-season and 92 playoff games, Fleury smiles, blushes and stares once more at the blue St. Lawrence River.
“It’s hard to believe,” he says. “It’s surreal. Those were my heroes.”