There are some cold, hard aspects of hockey as a business. Moving on from draft picks or prospects when you think they’re not going to develop. Telling a player he no longer fits in your plans. And sometimes, having to trade or buy out a player whose contract has become untenable because we live in a salary cap world. Marc-Andre Fleury – more accurately the contract belonging to Marc-Andre Fleury – has become an albatross on the salary cap of the Vegas Golden Knights.
We’ve been through this before. Prior to last season the Vegas Golden Knights and Marc-Andre Fleury were engaged in a dance, one in which they might not have ended up partners by the end. The way things played out, several potential trades never materialized and Fleury was a major part of this year’s regular-season and playoff success.
After a long and by almost every measure successful season, Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh tweeted this:
Marc-Andre Fleury hopes to finish his career in Vegas and appreciates the special relationship he’s formed with Robin Lehner over the last few years. https://t.co/ACt88rKjDu
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) June 26, 2021
Right now, Fleury has one year left on his contract with a cap hit of $7M and a cash outlay of $6M (for teams where that makes a difference). Robin Lehner just signed a five-year, $5M AAV deal before last season so he’s locked up for the long haul. If you believe that Lehner is your goaltender for the next several seasons – and based on the contract he was handed, that’s the VGK viewpoint – now is the best possible time to trade Marc-Andre Fleury. Here’s why.
Note: We are all well aware of Bill Foley’s position on Fleury and how much he loves him.
First, Fleury is hot. This year he earned his first Vezina Trophy nomination, which is a bit of a surprise but a fact. His regular season was tremendous, posting a 26-10-0 mark with a 1.98 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. Those numbers were good for third place in all three of those categories league-wide. Plus it could easily be argued that Fleury was the team’s MVP during the season.
Then there’s the contract. It expires this season which means any team that acquires Fleury has him for just one year. Important because you have the flexibility to extend the deal or not if you wish. Equally as important, teams looking to acquire expiring assets at the trade deadline would see a pro-rated portion of that $7M cap hit ideal as insurance in a shaky goaltending situation. At that point, depending on the terms of the deal, it might be an extremely appetizing trade piece for a team looking to return other assets.
Finally, there are those famous Fleury intangibles. The smiles, the leadership, the game-saving stops. Constant good moods when dealing with teammates and the media. The guys is well-loved for a reason. He’s just one of those rare ebullient personalities that people are drawn to. Having that guy in your locker room makes a difference and might just be what puts a team over the top. You know he could easily give you 30-40 starts or more in a regular-season of 82 games, and perform well with that kind of rest.
Another factor not related to Fleury at all is the contract given to Robin Lehner. It’s a starter’s contract. At some point the decision was made that he was worthy of a five-year deal to make him the guy. Vegas needs to find out if he is that goalie for them, and they can’t do it with him sitting behind Fleury.
If you’re concerned about replacing Fleury, here are a few options that might make you feel better.
Inside the organization, Logan Thompson right on NHL-ready. At 24, he’s done pretty much everything a young goaltending prospect can do in the American Hockey League. This season alone he won the league’s Goaltender of the Year award, been named to the league’s All-Rookie Team and Pacific Division All-Star Team, won back-to-back AHL Goaltender of the Month awards, and finished first in save percentage (.943), second in GAA (1.96) and second in wins (16) despite playing eight fewer games than the league leader. At some point, he needs to get a shot to see if he can handle the NHL on a much more regular basis.
Outside the organization, this year has been talked about as a bumper crop for teams looking to change things up in net. Several goaltenders are slated to hit the open market, and one of the most interesting names floating out there is Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. While it sounded like farewell at the end of the season, Rinne recently said he’s not made up his mind yet, and didn’t rule out signing elsewhere. He is roughly the same age as Fleury and might be tempted to chase that elusive Stanley Cup at a bargain price for one year. There’s also some other big names on expiring contracts like Freddy Andersen (TOR), Tuuka Rask (BOS), Devan Dubnyk and Philipp Grubauer (COL), Antii Raanta (ARI), James Reimer (CAR) and more. A lot more. It’s going to be a crowded market.
It can be done, keeping both goaltenders. There is a strong case to be made as to why you would keep him. The Vegas Golden Knights did it this season but had to make compromises or suffer some roster issues to make it happen. But if there is any appetite whatsoever to move Marc-Andre Fleury, now is the time.