Enough time has passed since Marc-Andre Fleury left Las Vegas for Chicago that we can rationally look at things for the Vegas Golden Knights.
As you are painfully aware, Fleury and his $7 million salary was shipped to Chicago in exchange for a career minor leaguer, who was subsequently waived. In essence, Fleury was gifted to the Blackhawks for nothing in return. By comparison, veteran tough guy Ryan Reaves fetched a third-round draft pick from the New York Rangers.
Many Golden Knights fans are still smarting from the trade. To them, No. 29 was the Golden Knights and for Fleury to no longer be tending the net at T-Mobile Arena is blasphemous. Worse still, the way the team handled it, not letting Fleury know face to face was not a good look. In fairness, general manager Kelly McCrimmon did indeed talk to Fleury in the days leading up to the trade to inform him something was in the works. But it certainly could have been handled better, and the team took a PR hit as a result.
But what’s done is done. This was a business decision, and in professional sports, you can’t let emotions get in the way.
Training camp is less than two weeks away, and the goaltending will not have the kind of drama previously attached to it. Robin Lehner is the No. 1, Laurent Brossoit is the No. 2 and that’s that. Do not expect photos with swords through a goalie’s back with Peter DeBoer’s name on it.
Lehner has wanted to be in this position where it’s his net. The Knights saw to it that he got his wish. He is an excellent goaltender, far different from Fleury in terms of style but effective nonetheless. He has job security, financial security, and his teammates like him. The fan base has warmed up to him though it will be interesting to see if the love affair heats up now that Fleury is gone.
Most fans want their team to win. So if Lehner leads the Knights to the Stanley Cup, the guess is any previous sins would be forgiven. But if Vegas falls short in Year Five, he can expect to catch a lot of heat. That’s the nature of the beast.
What may be getting lost in all this is the fact Vegas has a more-than-capable backup to Lehner in Brossoit. He was very good in Winnipeg backing up Connor Hellebuyck and having played in the Western Conference, he knows the shooters from the opposing teams and how to play against them. I thought this was an excellent free agent signing by McCrimmon, one that may fly under the radar until you look at Brossoit’s record and say to yourself, “Man, I had no idea this guy was this good.”
Assuming Lehner stays healthy, both physically and mentally, he figures to play 50 to 60 games. Brossoit will likely get a lot of starts in the 10 back-to-back games on the 2021-22 schedule (It was 11 until the league moved the Edmonton game back a day from April 15 to the 16th) and he figures to see time on some of the longer road trips.
The numbers say Brossoit is a .500 NHL goalie. But he played on a Winnipeg team that struggled in its own end, had injuries on its blue line and still posted a respectable 2.42 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. In Vegas, he’ll have better defensemen playing in front of him and you should expect better results.
In fact, DeBoer’s commitment to shoring up the defense has been noticeable. The Knights were first in the league in blocked shots per game last season (Just over 15 per game for 56 games) and Alec Martinez led the NHL individually with 168 in 53 games played. The Knights re-signed Martinez this summer and that he is back is important. Having him throwing his body in front of 100 mph-plus pucks takes guts. It also takes the heat off whoever is in goal.
Collectively, they got better in their own end as they got more comfortable with DeBoer’s system and not coincidentally, the better Alex Pietrangelo played toward the end of the season, the better the overall defense was. So whoever is in net will benefit from having a good group of defensemen in front of him, not to mention a forward group that is committed to playing both ends of the ice.
I can’t ask Golden Knights fans to abandon their love of Fleury. But is it unrealistic to ask they give Lehner and Broissoit a chance to show they are good enough to lead their team to the promised land? I think most fans will, especially once the season begins Oct. 12 and the games count in the standings.