The Vegas Golden Knights face quite the conundrum with Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s been the face of the franchise since he arrived and is no doubt one of the most popular players I’ve ever seen on any team. Fans love him, teammates love him, broadcasters love him. He’s just one of those guys you want to talk to because he’s always smiling.
Fleury has also expressed his desire to stay in Vegas and finish out his career. Reading between the lines, it almost sounds like he is thinking about retiring after his current contract is up, or if he does decide to play on, doing it on a far more team-friendly deal.
It’s hard to know right now what kind of impact actually winning the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL will have on him. It might give him more of a sense of finality. It might light the fire to compete even longer. Either way, he’s still going to carry a $7M cap hit next season and that’s tough for the Vegas Golden Knights to deal with.
What will be interesting to find out is the ripple effect of him winning the Vezina across the rest of the league. Did it drive up interest in acquiring him? And did it drive up the price to do so?
I feel that GM Kelly McCrimmon has approached the Golden Knights roster from a mostly practical standpoint. He’s tried to wring every last cent out of the salary cap but Vegas has had to pay the piper a few times during the regular season when it comes to the lineup. Having that much free cap space would go a long way towards helping the team improve the power play and get a top center, both of which are areas of need. Those players aren’t cheap.
On its face, making a trade for one year of Marc-Andre Fleury would help very few teams. He’s only getting older and you know there’s a decline coming soon. It’s uncertain as to when – some guys just stay relevant longer than others. But he’s already pushing Father Time beyond the normal limits. So perhaps the return from another win-now team is minimalized, and would likely be much younger. A top draft pick would be lower down the ladder. A prospect might be the best return but that’s always uncertain as well.
Does the Vezina win up the ask? Is there a team with a crowded situation at forward or defense that could use a goaltender and make someone expendable? Vegas certainly isn’t in the position to eat a bad contract in return, and while retaining salary is always on the table, it still doesn’t quite accomplish the goal of moving Fleury: major cap space. Yet you have to feel that his value has indeed increased with the award, and it shows other teams that not only is he capable of playing at a high level, but he’s also capable of being the best goaltender in the league. That’s not a player you can acquire any day of the week.
To be clear, there’s not much other reason to move him. But cap space is the most important currency in the game. It’s what allows some teams to make deals that would otherwise seem impossible from a hockey standpoint, or prevents teams from making deals they would otherwise love to make. And right now the only thing that seems to be holding the Vegas Golden Knights back from a Stanley Cup is cap space.
The question remains if it’s worth it to move your Vezina-winning goaltender who just saved your bacon last season to accomplish that. Without him carrying the team for a large stretch of the regular season you might not have been as good as you were, but is it good enough to just make the playoffs and then take your chances? And would strengthening the team in other areas negate the need to have a goaltender carry you as much? These are all questions the Vegas Golden Knights have to answer in exploring a trade.
That’s if they could even move Marc-Andre Fleury at all.