- The Vegas Golden Knights have traded goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for minor league forward Mikael Hakkarainen.
- Robin Lehner will take over as the starter for the Golden Knights after splitting time with Fleury last season.
- Vegas is able to take $7 million of their salary cap to the trade which will enable them to address their anemic power play.
In a move that was equally unthinkable and completely necessary, the Vegas Golden Knights have traded beloved goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks. In return, Vegas will receive minor league forward prospect Mikael Hakkarainen but what they *really* get out of the deal is much needed flexibility under the NHL’s salary cap. Fleury had the third highest salary cap hit on the roster and the move clears out $7 million in cap space just in time for the start of the free agent signing period at 9 AM Pacific/12 noon Eastern on Wednesday.
The decision to turn the starting goaltending duties over to Robin Lehner appeared to be a fait accompli in October 2020 when Vegas signed him to a long term deal. Instead, the team turned their goaltending depth into a competitive advantage during the COVID-19 truncated 2020-2021 season. Having two elite goaltenders was a serious luxury during the compressed schedule but one that came at a cost. Vegas had little or no salary cap flexibility during the season and the team’s inability to address their anemic power play would end up being their playoff undoing. The goaltending itself was stellar–the VGK tandem won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL and Fleury won his first Vezina Trophy.
Another factor for VGK was the relative ages of their two goalies. Lehner is 30 and just entering his prime while Fleury is 36. The problem isn’t Fleury’s current form–it’s the reality that much like prizefighters age is devastating to goalies and its impact can come about with dizzying speed. The recent retirement of the Nashville Predators’ longtime franchise goalie Pekka Rinne is a perfect case in point. Rinne won the Vezina Trophy in 2018 but his play spiraled downward almost immediately afterward. He would cede his role as starting goaltender to Jussi Saros not long after and hang up his skates just three years after his Vezina Trophy win at age 38.
Like Rinne, Marc Andre-Fleury is a class act all around and adored by the fans which makes the trade difficult no matter how much it makes sense from an objective standpoint. It’s not an overstatement to say that Fleury is the most beloved athlete in Las Vegas history. This is as much due to his off ice stature in the community and the respect he’s earned from teammates as his performance on the ice. He was the face of the franchise during the team’s first four seasons in the league and as a key component of the improbable VGK run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their debut season it was inevitable that he would become iconic among what quickly became one of the most passionate fanbases in the NHL.
VGK general manager Kelly McCrimmon sounded almost apologetic for making the deal despite the clear competitive logic behind it:
“I know for a lot of people this is a day that is definitely filled with sadness. Certainly I share all of those same emotions that you do, and yet I do feel I’m responsible to try to do everything I can to put the best team on the ice.”
“That’s what I’m doing along with the other people in our hockey operations. We work hard to make good decisions and give you a team that you’re going to be proud of.”
The sentiments the Knights expressed in this Tweet are shared by virtually everyone in the Las Vegas valley:
McCrimmon expounded upon these sentiments:
“He was the most popular player I’ve ever seen in sports. He was the face of the franchise. When you think back to how it all began, the storybook first season, the passion he has for the game both as a teammate and a player connected for the fan base, I want to recognize his great accomplishments, thank him for his time here. He’s had a tremendous impact on our organization, he’s had a tremendous impact on our city.”
For now, there’s plenty of rancor being expressed VGK fans over the trade. Fleury had previously said that he wanted to finish his career in the 702 and there’s competing accounts of how the future Hall of Fame goaltender learned of the move. His agent, Allen Walsh, has asserted that he got the news via Twitter while GM McCrimmon insists that Fleury was in the loop during the entire process. The news was first reported at 8:28 AM Pacific/11:28 AM Eastern on Tuesday morning by Canadian sports broadcaster TSN but at that point the deal was not yet finalized according to McCrimmon. There’s also the time zone differential–it was midday at TSN headquarters in Toronto at the time the news broke but still early in the morning on Pacific Time in Las Vegas.
The next move that VGK makes is very important. As Ben Gotz pointed out in today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal, if the team can make an acquisition to jump start the power play and to alleviate their playoff scoring struggles while landing a serviceable backup to Lehner it will ‘soften the blow’ to the fans considerably.