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.
TURNING POINT: Fleury’s save comes up big in Golden Knights win
The hardest thing for Marc-Andre Fleury to do between the pipes is watch his Vegas Golden Knights teammates on gameday, when most of the action is taking place at the other end.
Sunday the Arizona Coyotes took a whopping 16 shots on Vegas’ veteran netminder during a 1-0 win in Glendale, Ariz.
“So sometimes I thought the hardest thing was just to stay focused and be ready for those things,” Fleury said after registering his 62nd career shutout and improving to 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and .951 save percentage this season.
Those things, he referred to, were two big saves that may have proved to be turning points for Vegas, which is now 5-1-0 and just one of two teams in the league with five wins.
“They were game changers,” said Jonathan Marchessault, who had the lead assist on William Karlsson’s game-winning goal with 43 seconds left in the game.
Just before the horn at the end of the second period, Fleury denied Jakob Chychrun’s shot through traffic from the top of the right circle.
But it was the save early in the third period that was Fleury’s best, and preserved the shutout and kept momentum fueling into the Golden Knights.
Arizona’s Phil Kessel was able to snatch the puck free from William Carrier in Vegas’ zone, skate through and around Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud in the neutral zone and bust free for a breakaway chance on his former Penguins teammate.
After shuffling backhand-forehand five times to his forehand, Kessel was stuffed by Fleury.
“I saw it was Phil Kessel coming on the breakaway, and I’ve faced him a lot in practice (in Pittsburgh),” Fleury said. “Sometimes I overthink stuff and what he likes to do, but I was really happy to make that save.”
From there, Fleury faced just four more shots over the final 16:55. And adding to the deflation of the Coyotes’ hopes after Fleury’s save on Kessel was a clanker moments later.
Johan Larsson rang one off the far post, the puck squirted back toward Fleury, whose left pad was off the ice and allowed the puck to get underneath so he could cover it and stop play.
“The breakaway save on Phil Kessel … that’s a huge momentum save for us at the right time, to give us a chance to get back to work and keep the pressure on them,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “I thought Flower gave us exactly the kind of game we needed tonight.”
With his shutout, Fleury passed Walter Broda for sole possession of 16th all time.
“We had our moments,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “You’re looking for that big moment.”
For the Golden Knights, once again, it was their face of the franchise since they entered the National Hockey League.
W.G. Ramirez is the newest columnist and reporter for Vegas Hockey Now. He is the Golden Knights beat writer for The Associated Press and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch him on Twitter @WillieGRamirez
Karlsson’s Late Goal Lifts Golden Knights
William Karlsson played the role of hero for the Vegas Golden Knights, notching the game-winning goal with just 43 seconds remaining in a scoreless game to give the VGK the 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon.
With cheers coming from what sounded more like a partisan Vegas crowd, Jonathan Marchessault dug out a puck from behind the Coyotes net and centered to Karlsson. Karlsson made no mistake, burying the puck on the stick side of Darcy Kuemper (26 saves) for the game-winning goal.
Marc-Andre Fleury posted his 62nd career shutout on 16 saves. The victory was his third straight to open the 2021 season.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, the win is redemption after giving up five goals to the Coyotes on Friday night for the team’s first loss of the season. This time Vegas never really let Arizona into the contest, giving up only four shots in the first period.
The game felt sluggish at times, perhaps due to the afternoon start but also the fact that these same two teams were facing each other for the fourth straight time. Fortunately for Vegas, they were able to break through late and steal the victory.
“The name of the game was patience,” Karlsson said with a relieved laugh after the game. “We had a lot of chances and sooner or later they will go in. I thought we had a great game. Eventually (it) has to go in and it did.”
When the Golden Knights had the energy up and forechecked aggressively in the game they generated chances. Nowhere was that on display more than the game-winning goal. Alex Tuch dumps the puck into the corner from neutral ice as Marchessault attacks with speed into the Coyotes zone, beating out an icing call. Marchessault puts the puck into an area just off the net in the slot where Karlsson was able to follow up and immediately shoot the puck, not allowing Kuemper to set up for the shot.
WILD BILL SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST 🤠🚨 pic.twitter.com/UBlTugE2y5
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 24, 2021
Vegas was definitely the better of the two sides throughout regulation, out-shooting and out-chancing the Coyotes especially in the later stages of the game. Darcy Kuemper deserves the credit for yet another great start for Arizona, making save after save to give the Coyotes a shot at the win.
The Vegas Golden Knights return home for the team’s toughest test so far, a pair of games against the St. Louis Blues starting Tuesday evening.
- I feel like I’m beating the same drum over and over, but when the Vegas Golden Knights are generating scoring chances, it’s because of the forecheck. This team is built on speed and being aggressive, chasing down pucks and setting up scoring chances from that. Today’s game-winning goal was a perfect example of that.
- Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t busy the entire time, but made every single save he needed to including a breakaway stop on Phil Kessel that could have spelled disaster for the VGK. I’ve never seen a goalie who stays so completely game-ready regardless of work schedule. Fleury won’t receive the credit he deserves for the work he did in this one, but without him being perfect, perhaps Vegas doesn’t win.
- The Vegas Golden Knights have never gone past regulation with a 0-0 score, and came within 43 seconds of that happening against Arizona.
- Once again Cody Glass sat and Nic Hague was back in the lineup, giving Vegas the traditional six defensemen and 12 forwards. Hague looked good and to underscore another point I’ve been making, this team is much better with six defensemen in the lineup.
- Vegas also dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 61% of the draws.
Coyotes End Golden Knights Win Streak At Four
The Arizona Coyotes stopped the Vegas Golden Knights winning streak at four games with a 5-2 victory at Gila River Arena on Friday night.
Connor Garland led the Coyotes offense with a goal and two assists, while Nick Schmaltz scored for the third straight game.
It’s a very difficult proposition to beat a team four times in a row – look at any playoff series. Arizona winning a game, especially at home, was probably due. The Coyotes seemed to have more spring in their step than they did Wednesday night when the Golden Knights handed the Coyotes a 5-2 loss. Several times the Vegas defense allowed odd-man rushes to the Coyotes, and running five defensemen once again likely contributed to some of the errors on the back end.
“It’s definitely different,” said Shea Theodore after the game. “You are rotating through partners (and) you can’t exactly get into the rhythm with one guy… at the same time I don’t think that’s an excuse.”
“We should be able to adapt. We just can’t give up that many odd-man rushes on any given night.”
Vegas Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer said he felt it was more the special teams that affected the outcome of the game.
“Penalties really kinda took our momentum out of the game. Both taking them, and obviously their power play goal early, and then a bunch of the other kills we had to have… when they did take (penalties) I didn’t think our power play created any momentum for us. For me that was… the story.”
“Some self-inflicted things tonight,” DeBoer said.
Whatever the reason, Vegas allowed the Coyotes to grow confident by ceding the opportunities and it showed. Arizona seemed to feel better about its game more and more as the game wore on.
Darcy Kuemper made 29 saves to earn the win as Vegas never quite seemed to find the scoring touch it displayed Wednesday night. Robin Lehner struggled, giving up four goals on 25 shots against and will likely want a couple of those goals back. Lehner seemed off the entire night, whether handling the puck, setting himself for shots, or tracking movement. Those games will happen, but they’re highlighted even more when the goaltender in the other net makes the needed saves. Kuemper was definitely the better of the two goalies on the night.
Fortunatley for the Golden Knights, they’ll be able to jump right back into the action against the Coyotes on Sunday afternoon at 4 pm MT, 3 pm PT.
- The game marked the first time this season the Vegas Golden Knights have given up more than two goals.
- Cody Glass returned to the lineup after sitting out a pair of games and recorded a power play goal in the third period.
- Shea Theodore scored for the second straight game, an unassisted marker at 1:19 of the third period.
- Vegas went back to a lineup that featured five defensemen and 13 forwards with Glass back in the lineup. Notably both Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo went minus-2 in the contest.
- Mark Stone keeps his scoring streak intact, assisting on Cody Glass’ power play goal in the third period to give him eight points (2-6-8) in his first five games.