The face of the franchise. The darling of the Vegas Golden Knights loyal fans. iPhone commercial star. And now, all but certainly on his way out of town. Does a Marc-Andre Fleury buyout make sense?
When it comes to the Vegas Golden Knights and Marc-Andre Fleury, I think any VGK fan can see what’s coming. Both the player and agent are saying all the right things about wanting to stay, and on some level, there’s truth. But there’s also the reality, both economic and political.
From the moment he was selected in the expansion draft three years ago, Fleury has been the face of the organization for the Golden Knights. He’s been everywhere from billboards to iPhone commercials as he led Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final in its first season and to three consecutive playoff berths. No player was more loved, and Fleury seemed to relish the role. His career reinvigorated, things were good.
Then the dominos began to fall, one at a time. First, Fleury and the Golden Knights slumped, and in a surprise move, Gerard Gallant was fired as head coach. Pete DeBoer took over on January 15, 2020. The Golden Knights were in a rut, having lost four in a row and sitting outside the playoff picture. Fleury was saddled with some of the blame for middling numbers, justifiably so. He had not had the type of season that would cover the mistakes made in front of him.
After DeBoer took over, Fleury improved as the team started to win again. Down the stretch, the Golden Knights surged, and Fleury’s stats did the same.
At the trade deadline, Vegas acquired Robin Lehner from Chicago. Lehner came in on an expiring contract and barely removed from a Vezina-nominated campaign with the New York Islanders. He also won three straight games (although I’ll point out only one against a then-playoff caliber team).
Then came the pause.
As the NHL decided on its plan to resume, it became a bit more clear that DeBoer planned on a competition for the starting role. DeBoer did say the right things about both goalies having a chance, but it seemed clear Lehner was his choice and only had to fulfill the requirements of winning a few starts, which he did. Keep in mind, hiring a new coach means no prior loyalties to anyone, including Fleury.
With Lehner installed as the starter, the Golden Knights made the Western Conference Final. For many teams getting to the WCF and being one of the last four standing is a tremendous accomplishment, yet for this VGK team, it can’t help but feel like a disappointment in a year when they seemed to be the deepest and most talented team in the West if not the NHL.
It doesn’t take a capologist or a hockey ops veteran to realize that backup goaltenders don’t carry a $7M cap hit. Lehner has been anointed the starter moving forward, and that’s the decision. After reports surfaced of a handshake 5-year/$5M per agreement during the playoffs, the writing on the wall was now highlighted as well. Now the posturing happens.
During the playoffs, Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh posted – then took down – a shot of him run through by a sword in the back. The name on the sword? DeBoer. While Fleury asked for it to be taken down, the message was sent from his camp. Now Fleury and Walsh are saying the right things about wanting to stay, and there is some truth in that. It’s hard to leave a team you helped build from expansion and one where you’re so loved. But at this point, Fleury staying is all-but-impossible unless Lehner decides to leave in free agency. If that happens, this will be one of the most awkward summers since high school for everyone involved.
The reason for saying and doing the right things is to show that Fleury is a team guy. Make him attractive in a trade scenario. If you’re going to spend the money to bring him in and flip some assets to do so, you want to know you’re getting someone who wants to play for you and is going to be a good teammate.
As important as it is for Vegas to get something in return for Fleury if they can, other teams know that the price can’t be that high. If the Golden Knights are to make a splash in free agency with Alex Pietrangelo, Torey Krug, or another big name, they’ll need cap room to do it. That means not only shedding Fleury’s salary but also bringing back limited or no real cap dollars. Few teams will have that type of cap space, the willingness to bring him in at that price, and the assets to part with for the return.
Now the Golden Knights can make it more palatable to a team with cap room by retaining some salary. That could invite someone to bite, perhaps an Ottawa Senators team. There could be other suitors looking for a veteran goalie, but not looking for the veteran salary. Enter the concept of a buyout.
If you had asked me last week about a Fleury buyout, I’d have downplayed the possibility. What a difference a week makes. With Henrik Lundqvist being bought out by the New York Rangers, I think this signals that teams around the league are not willing to part with assets for a veteran goaltender. The Rangers were over a barrel and likely would have taken not much in return if it meant not buying him out. But here we are, Lundqvist is no longer a Ranger after 15 years on Broadway.
Call it another obvious sign, but it seems more likely that this is the path the Golden Knights will end up taking. According to CapFriendly, a Fleury buyout breaks down as follows:
Fleury has two years remaining with an actual cash outlay of $12.5M. The buyout would stretch over four years at $2.08M per year, a total of $8.33M through the 2023-24 season. Unfortunately for Vegas, that $7M cap hit doesn’t disappear but reduces to $2.583M next season, $3.083M for 2021-22, and $2.083M for the remaining two years. A Fleury buyout saves Vegas $4.1M in year one and $3.9M in year two on the cap.
The extra room helps but not as much as clearing out the contract entirely. Vegas still has to actively clear out some room on the roster if they’re going after a big fish. The bottom line is a buyout helps more than hanging onto Fleury but is a less-than-perfect answer to a tough question.
Tom’s Daily: Bullying; Bertuzzi Arb; Daley Retires
Tom’s Daily features news and notes from around the NHL in digest form.
Looks like the Vegas Reverse Retro jerseys are due to be announced in mid-November, along with several other teams according to Sports Business Journal. Not to be confused with the just-released golds.
I know a lot of people balked at the Islanders only getting two second round draft picks back for Devon Toews, but that haul would come to look pretty good in the days after the deal. Now Colorado has inked the promising young defender to a four-year deal. (NHL)
Trevor Daley has called it a career, and the Pittsburgh Penguins hire him as a hockey operations advisor. Many in the hockey community see Daley as a future GM. (PittsburghHockeyNow)
Tyler Bertuzzi received a $3.5M award in arbitration today. The 25-year-old was seeking a one-year, $4.25M deal while the Detroit Red Wings had countered at $3.15M. (TSN)
Arizona Coyotes top draft pick Mitchell Miller was charged with assault and violating the Ohio Safe Schools Act in February of 2016 for bullying an African American classmate with developmental disabilities. (AZCentral)
That’s it for today’s Tom’s Daily. Keep your browser pointed to VHN for the latest in the world of hockey.
Vegas Reverse Retro Jersey Confirmed?
Vegas Reverse Retro Jersey Appears Confirmed by Sports Business Journal Tweet
For the last few weeks there have been alleged leaks of different jerseys across social media including a red Vegas Golden Knights jersey. There have also been images of jerseys for the Anaheim Ducks, Pittsbrugh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and even San Jose Sharks.
However, according to San Jose Sharks President Jonathan Becher, the alternate sweaters were a hoax:
Entertained by the alternate jerseys designs on social media labeled as based on inside info. We have creative fans! None of these designs are real
— Jonathan Becher (@jbecher) October 22, 2020
This tweet appears to refer to a Sharks jersey echoing the California Golden Seals that had been making the rounds, but also in saying “none” of these designs are real seems to be nodding towards all the designs floating out there. We’ve seen photos of jerseys for sale on eBay, posted on various websites, and proliferating on fan accounts. While I don’t always buy in to jersey rumors, in this case you could sense there might be fire and not just smoke.
This morning, Sports Business Journal put out the following tweet:
Sources: The #NHL and @Adidas are planning for a broader mid-November unveiling of the widely-rumored reverse retro-style jerseys. The fourth jerseys, as they’ve been referred to online, will be worn by teams in select games (@markjburns88).https://t.co/m92zAGgykS pic.twitter.com/mcz5hnIsNE
— Sports Business Journal (@sbjsbd) October 27, 2020
Interesting photo choice, eh?
This all but locks in that the NHL is indeed going to release the series of jerseys in a few weeks, including the red Vegas Reverse Retro jersey we spoke of last week. The jersey pays homage to the IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder with its “V” shaped striping, updated to Vegas Golden Knights colors. The jersey also features the team’s secondary star logo as the main crest. The Knight helm is on the shoulders.
While reception has been mixed, I think that once fans have a chance to see them for real they’ll be a stunner.
The Vegas Reverse Retro jersey will be worn for “select” games this season. Perhaps they will be worn against other teams with the jerseys. Since the original leak photo juxtaposed Vegas and an updated Wild Wing Anaheim Ducks jersey, it’s fair to assume that will be a matchup featuring the jerseys.
Another potential matchup for the red Vegas Reverse Retro jersey could be against the Colorado Avalanche. Nathan MacKinnon posted a picture of Quebec Nordiques-color gloves on his Instagram with the caption “new colors crazy”. The Avs moved out of La Belle Provence in the mid-90s because of economic considerations. But the baby blue jerseys remain popular with the retro crowd to this day… and those of us old enough to remember what a fierce Adams Division rival the Nordiques were.
We’re also seeing Dallas teasing a jersey release for Wednesday by showing us just a black piece of jersey fabric. This morning they posted the following video:
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) October 27, 2020
So it looks like the Stars are going to be going either monochromatic, or perhaps have just a very slight reference to the team’s signature green in them. But this release doesn’t match up with the Reverse Retro. It seems more in line with the VGK Golds that were released a few weeks ago.
Give it a few weeks Golden Knights fans. We will see the new Vegas Reverse Retro jersey out there soon.
Who Joins the Vegas Golden Knights in a Pandemic Division?
We here at VHN are in “fun mode” at this point of the off-season. It’s fun to follow thoughts and ideas that swirled at various points in the last few weeks but had to be shelved for stuff like “breaking news“, “Alex Pietrangelo” and “Robin Lehner vs. Marc-Andre Fleury IN A STEEL CAGE!”.
Well, maybe the last one combined reality with one of those crazy ideas…
But at this point, we don’t have any real idea of when the season will start. It appears less likely with the second wave of COVID-19 things actually do hit that January 1 initial projection. Vegas owner Bill Foley has speculated it could be February 1 if not later.
I think it’s a given that we will see a shorter season, likely 48 games. Historical precedence exists and for TV reasons the season has to end by the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
Likewise I don’t think you can play this season in a bubble, but you might be able to hub for part of it. If the teams did hub, I believe it would be at the start of the season. Once the border between Canada and the US is open again for non-essential travel I see things going back to what we consider “normal”.
So with that in mind, here are my predictions for Pandemic Division distribution for when the NHL would resume play in January/February.
Yes. A Canadian pandemic division would be essential and is actually a great size. Plus, it gives the Canadian networks must-watch matchups almost all the time to start the season. So we have Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver in the CD. Plus if the US/Canada border really does remain closed until at least January 1 if not beyond, it’s pretty much how the NHL has to proceed. So we might as well warm up to the idea now.
Look at the immediate benefits of Toronto/Montreal and Edmonton/Calgary hammering away at each other as they’ve always done. Then we have the potential for new rivalries with the Jets who are the only centralized team in Canada. Everyone else is closer to the coasts. Plus with Ottawa spending the way they are and with an owner saying they’ll win a Stanley Cup in four years, they’re a team to watch.
Obviously this leads to questions, such as structure for the remaining divisions, each of which will have eight teams because I’m having four divisions. What happens to the Golden Knights and the former Pacific Division?
What Happens To Vegas
The VGK will end up in a pandemic division with current rivals San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. But to fill out the last three teams in the division, I’m going to draw a new map and create some awesome rivalries. Coming in as the last teams will be the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, and St. Louis Blues.
This would undoubtedly be the most fun possible for VGK fans because it grows the rivalry with Dallas; Colorado/Vegas will turn out to be the marquee matchup in my opinion; St. Louis wants its mojo back and has something to prove. Plus imagine the Pietrangelo vs. STL storyline playing out six times or more in a season.
I realize you might think this sounds like the creation of someone with inherent bias, but geographically it makes sense. Ignore for just the start of the season how Dallas hated being in the Pacific and left for the Central. It rekindles those old Ducks/Stars matchups that used to get out hand. Everyone will be gunning for Dallas and for Vegas. Colorado could be the best team in the NHL to start the season if healthy, yet in a division like this it will be survival of the fittest. Plus, even if you write off Arizona and the California teams (sorry Sharks fans) for the season, this setup gives you the potential for a great clash somewhere every single night.
This pandemic division was also altered from my first call. Originally it was an easy time to lump Buffalo, New Jersey, NYI, NYR, Boston, Philly, Pittsburgh and Columbus together. Nice and tidy. But that left me with that oddball “South” division which wasn’t very southern for half of it.
So as I always say, sacrifices have to be made, but the division might be better for it.
Now, I have a lineup I’m pretty happy with. I take the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins.
Wow – really shook up some things there! And broke off the traditional rivalries that go all the way back to the Patrick Division days with PIT/PHI and the NY teams. But let’s look at some of the crazy awesome upside here.
FOUR of the Original Six teams are in a division together. For Detroit, they only recently came back to the Eastern Conference. Chicago has been in the West for a long time and is now the only O-6 team out there. But look at it now! Hawks, Wings, Rangers and Bruins all in the same division. Rangers/Bruins has deep, angry roots and would be awesome to see renewed. Wings and Hawks much the same. Plus now Minnesota and Buffalo fans get a different perspective on things as well. I like how this works out for my “Southern” division as well. And for Buffalo it’s a chance to really finally establish that downstate rivalry in hockey.
Hopefully the NHL embraces the rare chance to realign and perhaps stoke some other unique rivalries. Initially I had this pandemic division looking somewhat differently than my final alignment. I had constructed a division that included the obvious Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers triangle.
Is now the time to say I miss the Atlanta Thrashers? RIP ATL hockey.
I was going to lump Washington in here with pretty much the rest of the Central Division, but I now realize that’s not going to play out as well as I first imagined.
So for my remaining five teams, I bring in the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
And believe it or not, I think there’s some nice synergies here.
Nashville and Pittsburgh rivalry? Well, the Penguins (and former Pred Patric Hornqvist) did deny Music City a Stanley Cup. This also keeps the Crosby/Ovechkin thing going – but I’m really over that narrative. However it appears the NHL and NBC are not.
Nashville and Columbus used to be rivals in the Barry Trotz/Ken Hitchcock days, but that’s faded with the CBJ in the east. Perhaps now they could rekindle that, especially with John Tortorella as the new protagonist.
I also think that Philly, Washington and Pittsburgh are good teams that will compete with each other every night. Now you have a division with legit contenders and a defending Stanley Cup champion going head-to-head to start the season almost every night. And let’s face it, Columbus can completely spoil an evening for anyone every time out.
In creating my pandemic division setup I allowed for some rivalry retention as well as nods towards recent clashes. I think this is the best balance of geography and rivalry, but what do you think? How would you align your four divisions? Let us know in the comments!