- The NHL Vegas Golden Knights have signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a five year, $25 million contract.
- Lehner supplanted former starter Marc-Andre Fleury after the restart.
- The team must now make a decision about what to do with Fleury and his $7 million cap hit.
When the Vegas Golden Knights signed backup turned starting goaltender Robin Lehner to a five year, $25 million contract the logical assumption was that former starter Marc-Andre Fleury might as well put his house on the market. Fleury made clear that he wanted to stay in Las Vegas. With the younger Lehner outplaying Fleury after the restart it appeared that the Knights had made a decision on which way the team wanted to go.
One significant opinion disagrees with that assessment–the guy that signs the checks. VGK majority owner Bill Foley has been vocal in his desire to keep Fleury *and* Lehner in the fold. In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal he explained his rationale:
“We’ve been talking about it in these meetings. If we’re playing four nights out of seven nights, we need two good goalies,” Foley said. “I’ve been a proponent in the background, because it’s really (president of hockey operations George McPhee’s) and (general manager Kelly McCrimmon’s) decision, Vaughn Karpan our director of scouting. They’re the guys, they make the calls.
“I give them some input, but my input was, ‘Boy, if we can afford it, why don’t we keep two (No. 1) goalies and give ourselves some real protection?’ Because someone’s going to get hurt, and if you have two great goalies, you’re sort of in pretty good shape. I’m hopeful that we can keep those guys.”
The ‘if we can afford it’ is a significant concern. The Golden Knights are looking to land free agent defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and are limited in how much room they have under the salary cap. They don’t need to make all the numbers work out until the start of the 2020-2021 regular season (they can exceed the cap by 10% in the offseason) but with Fleury having two seasons left on his current deal at a $7 million cap hit it’s hard to make it work.
There’s also the other component of Foley’s comments–his deference to his ‘hockey people’ in personnel issues. At one point, it was trendy in the NHL to carry two ‘top guys’ in net. In recent years, however, the majority of successful teams have had a clearly defined #1 goaltender on the depth chart. Another potential issue–after Fleury was supplanted as the starter by Lehner his agent tweeted a picture suggesting that head coach Pete DeBoer had stabbed his client in the back. He deleted the post the next day. According to Foley, there were decidedly ‘no hard feelings’ about the Tweet:
“The guys apparently after the tweet and so on, they had a team meeting and talked about it and everyone started joking about it. I think (Jonathan Marchessault) asked Flower, ‘Does this mean you’re on IR now and you can’t play?’”
Fleury is in a difficult situation. At age 35, he’s considered ‘long in the tooth’ for a top flight NHL goaltender. At $7 million a year, he’s essentially priced himself out of the market. He’s a two time Stanley Cup winner but one that lost his starting job last year. Fleury is beloved by Las Vegas fans and has made clear he’d like to finish his career in Southern Nevada. Foley is aware of Fleury’s situation and hopes that it results in him staying put:
“There’s not a lot of places for (Marc-Andre Fleury) to land and I’m glad there’s not. I like it. I’m glad that we’re in this situation. I hope it keeps on working out that way.”
There has been some talk of Fleury returning to Pittsburgh where he won his two Stanley Cups. Unfortunately, that would also take some serious financial gymnastics. He’d also have to be content in a backup role as the Penguins have also gone younger in net where Tristian Jarry is the top guy. Given this reality, he’d likely be more inclined to take a cut in pay to stay in Las Vegas.