His well-publicized fall from grace has been largely the bed of his own making, with his play having fallen off considerably since the 2009 post-season when he helped his team capture the Stanley Cup. At that time, it looked like nothing could go wrong for Fleury.
Fast-forward to today and the 28-year-old goalie is looking at a vastly different reality.
For one thing, he was left off the Canadian Olympic camp roster despite there being five goalies invited to orientation. And now, word is out that Fleury is going to see a sports psychologist – something that will doubtlessly inspire giggles from the usual old guard of hockey fans and gruff bystanders.
Indeed, in the eyes of many this is the perfect indication of just how far the Sorel-Tracy-born netminder has fallen. For others, like Pittsbugh GM Ray Shero, this is the best possible way to get his player back on track.
“Goalie is a delicate position, no different than a golfer or a tennis player: You’re on your own a lot,” Shero said. “I think it’s a good step for him (to see a doctor), which he’s really taken seriously since our year-end meeting. A lot of guys talk to somebody. It’s a confidence thing.”
Of course, there’s not a lot of room for things like delicacy and personality in a sport like hockey. The fanbase is often woefully ignorant to matters like concussions and injuries, with regular calls of “sissy” or a litany of “girl names” directed at those whose career decisions don’t reflect the “iron man” status quo. How harshly will those fans react to news of Fleury seeing a shrink? Or what about the players, who’re generally tight-lipped about such matters so as to not portray “weakness?”
But the reality is that the pressure-cooker lifestyle of the National Hockey League (and pro sports in general) leaves little room for getting one’s head straight, even under the best of circumstances.
Fleury’s decision to combat his demons in whatever form they may be should be lauded, even if all this comes down to is a case of blown confidence. For the Penguins, who’ve decided that he is indeed their man, anything that works to get his hand in the game and cut this downward spiral off at the pass is a good thing.
Being “snubbed” by Team Canada has to sting, especially after about four years of disappointing playoff performances. Fleury isn’t thought of as the “elite” goaltender he once was and that’s a problem, both for the team and for the player. Even with a spectacular 23-8 record in this past season, the post-season collapse is all most hockey fans will remember.
With hockey being a results-oriented business to the extreme degree, all the good statistics and accomplishments fade away if you don’t win the big one. “The playoffs are the question mark he’s had the past four years,” Shero said. “I think it’s probably something on his mind.”
And so Fleury will head into new territory for him in hopes of getting back to basics. He’s had more than a few sobering wake-up calls and now is as good a time as any to put things right. For the sake of the Penguins and, more importantly, for the sake of the person behind the mask, let’s hope this works.