Even though Marc-Andre Fleury was slated to start Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, it doesn’t mean that he is feeling safe to stay on the team. He does carry a lucrative two-year $7 million AAV contract. That would make it next to impossible to trade him. The frozen salary cap will definitely make that even more difficult.
Vegas sources say Marc-Andre Fleury scheduled to start Game 1.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) September 6, 2020
Marc-Andre Fleury May be Gone
It must be noted that when the Vegas Golden Knights acquired Robin Lehner in February, Peter DeBoer assured Fleury that he was still the starting goalie. One can equate that to a head coach assuring a player that he won’t be traded… only to mean that he could in fact be traded. There are no guarantees in the NHL.
It just doesn’t seem logical to think that the Golden Knights who gave up a player, prospect, and second-round pick to get Lehner would let him go for nothing. So, the alternative is to buy out Fleury’s contract and allow him to sign elsewhere. He would still gather $8.33 million out of it and would become a free agent allowed to sign wherever he pleases.
So, would it be possible that he could actually go back to where it all began in Pittsburgh? With the Pittsburgh Penguins looking at trading restricted free agent goalie Matt Murray, that could allow Fleury to go back home. The downside of that option is, would Tristan Jarry be the starter or would it be a goalie 1/1A situation? The Penguins’ fans still remember all the glory years with Fleury in between the pipes. Would they be satisfied with him being a backup? Lots to consider.
Salary Cap Issues Prevail
If the Vegas Golden Knights want to keep Robin Lehner, they will need to meet his salary demands. He was earning $5 million for one year when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks. He’ll certainly require a larger contract than that considering how well he has been playing. In 12 playoff games he has accumulated some pretty impressive statistics. He is 8-4 with a sterling 1.99 goals-against-average and a .918 save percentage, with three shutouts. With numbers like that it almost makes Fleury expendable.
If the Golden Knights had to only pay Fleury $2.88 million in the first year of his buyout deal, that would allow them some cap space to sign Lehner. Of course they would still owe Fleury $3.08M in the second year, and $2.08 million in years three and four.
What is really critical is does the Vegas Golden Knights organization feel that Fleury can still play at the level of $7 million a year, or is it best to buy him out? The way Lehner has been playing, it will be tough to allow him to go especially after the Vegas club gave up quite a bit to get him on their roster. For Lehner, he has got to be quite comfortable being on a team who is in the final four teams competing for the Stanley Cup. When you also consider the success this Vegas team has enjoyed since its inception, Lehner could do worse.
He can expect to earn in the $5.5 – $6 million range for perhaps a three-year deal giving him stability. If the Golden Knights bought out Fleury, they could then afford to sign Lehner to a type of deal like that.
It’s Tough to Keep Two Good Goalies
Now if the Golden Knights wanted to keep Fleury, they would be paying close to $13 million for their two goalies, when only one will play the majority of the season. It makes sense to let Fleury go even though he has been magnificent in Vegas. He has added a 91-50-14 regular season record with a .915 save percentage and a 2.51 goals-against-average. He has 17 shutouts too. In playoff games Fleury has 30-19-11 record with a .920 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against-average.
It’s difficult to dispute that he should still be in the net for a majority of games. Yet, something changed in the Vegas organization since DeBoer took over behind the bench. Is Fleury feeling less appreciated? The Tweet by his agent depicting a sword in Fleury’s back with DeBoer’s name on it perhaps tells more than we know.
If a split is imminent between the Vegas club and Fleury, it seems like the perfect fit for him to go back to Pittsburgh. Of course, we don’t really know how “Flower” feels about that scenario. He just wants to play hockey. He wants another Cup. And, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be in Vegas.
If the Golden Knights do win the Cup hardware, will that change this entire situation with Fleury? Will it also allow the Vegas organization to appreciate Fleury more? Fleury’s been around a long time and he knows nothing is guaranteed. Yet, his hockey journey is coming to a slow end considering his age. If he fails to play well in the playoffs, you can almost be certain that the management of the organization will search as to what to do about his contract.
Perhaps, he’ll make it easy on them. Maybe he wants to go back home.