It’s happened to him before. Marc-Andre Fleury has been cast aside in favor of a younger goaltender, this time Robin Lehner. Last time in Pittsburgh, it was Matt Murray. But the Penguins knew Fleury was going to be an attractive target in the upcoming expansion draft and held onto him, leading to his selection by the Vegas Golden Knights. Will the Knights now do the same? Can they actually play the entire 2020-21 season with Fleury and Lehner wedged into the goal crease?
In short – how long will Marc-Andre Fleury remain happy behind Robin Lehner?
We know there’s discontent here. Your agent doesn’t tweet out a photo of you with a sword running through your back bearing the name of your head coach without your knowledge and/or consent.
Want proof? If your agent were to issue that type of statement and it really upset you, you’d change agents. Plus Fleury has been with Allan Walsh for so long it’s hard to imagine those two not being in lockstep on messaging. But as much as Fleury is going to say and do the right things, that’s why you have an agent. He or she is able to deliver messages to management without it being personal. It also allows what the law calls plausible deniability.
Just reading between the lines, it appears Fleury has not been happy with the coaching change as it pertains to his playing time. What athlete is ever happy about losing a starting gig? But politics aren’t the only thing at play here.
Let’s start with the most obvious and most talked-about elephant in the room. Marc-Andre Fleury is slated to be the backup this season. That wouldn’t be an issue if Fleury didn’t make a whopping $7M a year for the next two years. But that salary could easily net you three more players (or more) of an NHL caliber. Probably even one really good one and a couple of depth guys.
Heck, you could even get an NHL-caliber backup in that role behind Lehner if you’re not comfortable with Oscar Dansk yet. Given that Dansk was the player they chose to introduce the new Henderson Silver Knights jerseys, that tells me they see him as a Henderson fixture in year one.
But wait, didn’t VGK GM Kelly McCrimmon already say the team’s goaltenders moving forward are Fleury and Lehner? And isn’t Lehner having shoulder surgery?
Yes to both. But there’s also more to both.
There’s Only One Net… and More Money
It appears that Vegas is hedging its bets here. Clearly Lehner is the favored son over Fleury for head coach Pete DeBoer. But while McCrimmon said that Lehner should be ready for the start of training camp off his shoulder surgery, what happens if he’s not? Having Marc-Andre Fleury on the roster solves the problem. He’s a capable starter and fan favorite. Stashing Lehner on LTIR saves you $5M in cap room and allows you to start the season with a cushion. It also gives you time to shop Fleury. Teams will find that the solution they signed isn’t working, or an injury derails a team’s plans. Things happen, and if Fleury could end up in a situation where a team needs a starter and could flip another asset back to the VGK so much the better.
If Lehner is healthy enough to start the season and Fleury is second fiddle, regardless of what McCrimmon says it’s not a good situation for the team to have $12M tied up in its goaltenders. In fact, that $7M cap hit ties Fleury for the fourth-highest hit in the league with Tuukka Rask. Lehner’s $5M hit ties for 13th overall in the league. While it’s not quite the Montreal Canadiens $14.85M cap hit between Carey Price and Jake Allen, the Habs also have only one player making more than $5.5M on his cap hit (Shea Weber).
Without getting into the weeds here, it’s too much money in goalies. Especially considering Fleury makes more than every starting goalie in the league not named Price, Rask, Andrei Vasilevskiy or Sergei Bobrovsky.
Back In The Day
If we look back at the situation when Fleury was in Pittsburgh, he sat behind Murray for over a year. Make no mistake, Fleury will put the team first and be a good citizen. He says and does the right things. Fleury only had two appearances (one start) in the 2016 Playoffs when Murray became a household name and led the Pens to victory out of nowhere. Yet when he was called upon to take the reins back from Murray in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he did an incredible job until Murray’s return in the middle of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators.
In fact, if you go back and read this article from the start of the 2017 playoffs without context, you could be forgiven if you imagined it was written recently. Familiar themes from last year: a rough start to the season, losing his starting job, teammates still love him, people say they never lost confidence in his ability.
From the article:
“In the month of March, we played 16 games in 31 days,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We relied on both of them through that process. The fact we were able to share [goaltending] duties really helped our team in that condensed schedule down the stretch. Marc was a big part of that. He’s a great goaltender. He’s a terrific kid, he’s a great competitor, he’s a good pro. He’s a great teammate.”
Replace Sullivan with Pete DeBoer. Or McCrimmon. Or anyone on the Golden Knights staff.
Fleury played 15 games, won nine, and ended up earning his third Stanley Cup – but was a spectator for the Final against Nashville.
They couldn’t have done it without him.
Now Vegas finds itself in fantastic-yet-terrible situation of having two top shelf starters. The contract given to Lehner clearly indicates he’s the man for the VGK going forward. Will the financial gap be a cause of friction? How much of an issue will playing time become?
We know that Fleury is the man while Lehner recovers from shoulder surgery, however long that may be. It doesn’t make sense to move Fleury when you might need him to carry the load initially. And as the 2017 Penguins found, he can be an invaluable insurance policy. So it makes sense the Golden Knights will say they want to keep both players. Plus, the Seattle Kraken will be making selections in the expansion draft and if Vegas can somehow afford to keep him all season Fleury might once again be starting a new franchise.
But Fleury will be 36 when this season begins. His contract has two seasons left on it, and after that he’s clearly due for a salary reduction. This off-season hasn’t been kind to older goalies, with names like Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson and Ryan Miller wondering if they’ll play another NHL game. Expect that trend to continue in the cap crunched world. Fleury does have a leg up in that he has more Cups than those three put together. And he seems to be finding ways to defy everyone just when it appears his game is going to drop off for good. Finally, Fleury sits on 466 career wins and if he’s going to get to 500 he has to play games.
History tells us Fleury will go along with things and put on a happy face regardless of how he feels personally. The real question is how long it lasts.
Golden Knights Training Camp Day 2 In The Books
Yesterday was a very exciting day as the Vegas Golden Knights took to the ice for the first time in training camp. Day Two wasn’t nearly as exciting, but necessary as things moved forward. Here are a few key takeaways from today’s action.
As of now, Nick Holden remains on what I’ll pencil in as the 7/8 pair with Dylan Coghlan. As I said yesterday don’t read too far into things because the Golden Knights are going to need eight solid D to make this season work. For the time being, it looks like Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague are going to get a chance to show what they can do as a unit. Alex Pietrangelo remained with Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore with Alec Martinez.
Today was more of a jumble of lines as some guys get a look playing up. Among them was Tomas Jurco who took the place of Max Pacioretty with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Jurco is a guy I love for the VGK because this season because he’s a vet who can slide into the lineup on a moment’s notice and play a variety of roles. Definitely a taxi squad guy who makes you feel better about your depth.
Also, Stephenson is still centering this line. I know many of you wonder if Cody Glass is going to get his shot at the 2C but not yet. Stephenson did look good today, generating a scoring chance off a stretch pass up the middle and showing some speed. He’s skating with confidence early in camp, and I would not be surprised to see him exactly where he is now come opening night.
Finally, it was nice to see Jonathan Marchessault score for the second straight day. If he warms those goal-scoring hands up early, it could be a tremendous campaign for him.
Keep your browser pointed here for more camp coverage!
Tom’s Daily: Handicapping the West Division; Stepan to Sens
Tom’s Daily: Looking at the West Division; Vegas Golden Knights prospect Brandon Kruseand his unusual senior season; Stepan sent to the Sens; VGK fans have a new streaming option this season.
The West Division should be a fun, competitive division this year. At least in the top half. Here’s NHL.com’s look at how things might shake out. (NHL.com)
Brandon Kruse is working his way through an unusual senior season at Bowling Green. The Golden Knights prospect is projeting better than a point-per-game so far on the ice. (NHL.com)
Derek Stepan was shipped to the Ottawa Senators from the Arizona Coyotes, giving the Sens more center depth and eating up a chunk of that free cap space they had. (Sportsnet)
Ilya Kovalchuk won’t be playing in the NHL this year. Or next year. (NHL.com)
Michael Del Zotto signs a pro tryout contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Expect a lot of fringe NHL guys who don’t have deals to be competing for jobs this year. (Sportsnet)
Five questions facing the Florida Panthers heading into training camp. This team could be really good. It could also not. (FloridaHockeyNow)
According to Larry Brooks from the New York Post, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the only major league sports team to receive a paycheck protection loan totaling $4.82M. (New York Post)
Longtime NHL player and executive Dave Poulin is writing for the Toronto Star. Here’s his debut piece. (Toronto Star)
Tom’s Daily: New VGK Schedule; Pacioretty, Lehner Busts?; NHL Breaking News
Tom’s Daily: Breaking NHL news! Plus the Vegas Golden Knights have a schedule and we break it down for you; Bolts find cap relief but it’s not good; more
Vegas Golden Knights
Just in case you missed it, the NHL schedule dropped yesterday and we broke it down for you here. (VHN)
Here’s the team/league release on the schedule as well. (NHL.com)
Breaking News: It looks like the NHL has permission to move forward in Canadian cities. That’s a major sigh of relief. (Sportsnet)
Whew! Gritty has been cleared to return to NHL games this season. (The Hill)
Nikita Kucherov is going to miss the regular season due to hip surgery. While the Lightning certainly don’t want to be without one of the best players in today’s game, it certainly helps their situation with his $9.5M cap hit moved to LTIR. (Tampa Bay Times)
Ryan Miller is back with the Anaheim Ducks on a one-year deal and I love it. I hope Miller, one of the nicest guys in the game, gets to his milestone of 400 wins. It won’t happen this season unless something goes crazy sideways, but he needs 13 more to do it. (ESPN)
The Arizona State University men’s hockey team decided to start the season with a monster 36-day road trip. My personal longest road trip was 18 days and that was a nightmare. I can’t imagine double that. As it turns out, the team wanted it this way. (ESPN)
Are you all fans of fantasy hockey content? I can post more of that type of stuff if you are, let me know in the comments. For now, I’m putting this in here because of Max Pacioretty’s featured status as a fantasy “bust” for this season. Oh, and add Robin Lehner too. Not sure I agree, but here you go. (CBS)