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Kingerski: Knights Made Same Mistake as Penguins; Fleury Haunts Both

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Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas Golden Knights training camp

The mistake was the same but the results could be even worse for the Vegas Golden Knights.

The former face of the Golden Knights franchise Marc-Andre Fleury came to Vegas by way of a Pittsburgh Penguins mistake. Three years on, GM Kelly McCrimmon did not learn from Jim Rutherford’s history and was thus doomed to repeat it.

With some irony, Pittsburgh pushed aside Fleury for a goalie very similar to Robin Lehner: Matt Murray. Murray was a bit surly, unflinchingly honest, a very good goalie in crunch time, injury-prone, and inconsistent in the starting role.

Sound familiar?

Both Lehner and Murray had not truly been tested as a No. 1 goalie over the grind of a full season. Both had platooned to great success before a general manager felt they were the better value.

Again, sound familiar?

I don’t need to convince Vegas fans that letting Fleury go was a mistake. You intrinsically knew that from the moment it happened. Sure, there was a pesky thing called a salary cap, and Fleury made $7 million, but before Jack Eichel fought for the fortress, before the 2021-22 puck dropped, McCrimmon had a monumental decision.

And he followed the same logical, safe decision-making method as Rutherford before him.

And it produced the same problem.

In your gut, you knew why saying goodbye to Marc-Andre Fleury was a bad move. It was easy to rationalize that Fleury was the goalie who carried the Misfits to a Stanley Cup Final, the goalie who won the 2021 Vezina Trophy.

That part is easy.

But let me tell you why your gut was right, and what GMs keep underestimating.

Fleury, the person.

Have you ever had a job and a coworker made life hell? Or, had a job in which a coworker made coming to work a joy? If you’ve ever made fast and thick friends with a coworker and didn’t mind coming to work, no matter how stressful the job, you know Marc-Andre Fleury.

When the going got rough in 2015-16 for the Pittsburgh Penguins, they got really rough. Since most of you were not yet plugged into the NHL scene, I’ll give you a quick Reader’s Digest version. I was covering that team and it was ugly.

There was an extended and heated locker room “discussion” with several factions speaking out in November 2015. The coach had lost control. Anger wasn’t just bubbling on the inside, it was roiling. Sidney Crosby was at his wit’s end. The “dynasty” with him and Evgeni Malkin was crumbling. There was friction everywhere and between everyone.

By all accounts spoken and nodded, Fleury was the one person who held it all together long enough for Mike Sullivan to arrive. Pittsburgh got through it all. And they won two more Stanley Cups.

Fleury stole at least one if not two series en route to Pittsburgh’s 2017 Stanley Cup.

That’s what “The Flower” means.

Through the second half of that Pittsburgh season, there were admittedly tears in the locker room as word got around. Fleury even planned and funded a local playground.

None of the above is a knock on Lehner. Deleting his Twitter account is more a sign of our times and the frustration of Vegas Golden Knights fans getting their first real taste of struggle. Fleury creates that kind of loyalty, too.

Pittsburgh fans treated Murray in much the same way, despite tossing Fleury out the door a few months prior. I get it.

But on the inside, Pittsburgh was never quite the same. The joy, the verve, the ‘tude, wasn’t the same after Fleury was gone. Struggles popped up, and eventually, things would correct–that happens when Sidney Crosby wears the “C.”

But Pittsburgh has won only one playoff series since. They’ve lost their last four series, not winning more than two games in any series.

Losing Fleury is to lose heart. Soul. Joy.

It makes coming to work on those tough days just a bit harder. A few less laughs, and maybe a few less saves, too. On paper, Rutherford and McCrimmon followed the book.

Keep the stoic goalie who makes less money and can win playoff games, too.

It makes perfect, rational sense except that we don’t live in a perfect, rational world.

Of course, none of this matters to the current Golden Knight’s playoff predicament. Lehner and Logan Thompson will need to be their very best. But as I see the comments pour in via social media, I thought you’d like to know you’re right and I wanted to tell you why.

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Nick

Great article about how just one special person can affect a team so greatly. I believe Marchie said Fleury was the heart of the team and he was. The guys rallied behind him and the team just felt different with him. With now Lehner it is not the same team. He brings negativity and isn’t the type of person people gravitate to like Fleury.

don parker

Right on!

VinnyTheeKnighted

As a former Pens fan who watched it all happen, I HATED seeing it with the deja vu with VGK. You are 100% correct in these accounts, I have been trying to tell our fanbase this since the offseason. It’s obviously fallen in mostly deaf ears by the Lehner brigade that suits on Fleury no matter what, but the rest of us can see it.

Great piece man.

don parker

Great article. Echoes the thoughts and feelings of an entire fan base. The VGK are destined for eternal mediocrity under the current regime. Stupid is as stupid does.

Ned brown

Not only has the FO destroyed the dynamics of the team they snapped Knight’s fans right back down to earth, reminding fans it’s just another pro team that’s owned by an out of state billionaire. Ownership and the FO did a unbelievable job marketing their new enterprise,convincing Las Vegas that they had built a team that was not only going to be successful on the ice but one you would truly fall in love with.We all fell in love with the team,and in most cases more than the game of hockey itself. MAF was the lead guitar player and the frontman of your favorite band and they’re coming to town. You buy your tickets right up front and all they end up giving you is a tribute band.They sound almost as good as the original, but not even close to replicating the heart and soul of the
e performance.

Susan

100% agree. They could have, should have made salary cap room to keep Fleury. It was do-able. Now look at them. Personally I love this team, all the players, but management(?)….not so much!

Duane

Hope fleury comes back and makes pitt and golden knights pay.There is no loyalty anymore.That’s why both of those teams will fail.

Rob

Well said dan!

Condie

He is so right, Fleury is the heart and soul of Vegas and without him they may not make the playoffs. Everyone can say injuries, that’s B.S the coach is another issue never been a winner, had the best team in the west with San Jose and the players quit on him.

Alba

10000% percent right on. Best article I’ve read on what Fleury means to a team both on and off the ice…

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