There was expected to be a lot of trades and shifting in the NHL over the course of the 2021 offseason.
But it’s probably fair to say no one saw this coming: The Golden Knights have traded away Marc-Andre Fleury, the team announced Tuesday.
Yes, the guy who just carried them on his back to the Stanley Cup semifinals. Yes, the guy who just won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender, his first, at the age of 36.
Oh, and he was traded for nothing.
Blackhawks receive from Vegas:
Marc-Andre Fleury (G)
Golden Knights receive from Chicago:
Mikael Hakkarainen (F), cap space
Golden Knights grade: F
Before the start of the 2021 season, way back in October 2020, owner Bill Foley stressed the importance of keeping Fleury and Robin Lehner in the Vegas crease during an interview with a local radio station. Despite the cost, Foley knew with the upcoming compact schedule, having two of the game’s best was critical to the season.
Less than a year later, with the schedule reverting back to the norm, the plans have changed. Yes, cap space is a hot commodity in the NHL these days. Fleury has a cap hit of $7 million in the final year of his three-year deal this upcoming season. And, yes, the Golden Knights do have Lehner, who is a more than qualified 1A goaltender. In fact, the duo combined to win the William M. Jennings Trophy thanks to offering up the fewest goals in the league.
But, here’s the thing: Fleury just won the Vezina Trophy. The Vezina Trophy! At the age of 36. He posted a 26-10-0 record with a 1.98 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and a 20.1 goals-saved above average. Only four guys in the league had a GSAA over 20 and only seven (with 30+ games played) were in double digits. Per Hockey Reference, he had 26 quality starts, which was good for a .722 quality start percentage — second best in the league among guys who went into the paint for at least 20 games.
His win total, GAA and save percentage were third-best in the league among guys who started at least 20 games and he had six shutouts. Six. In 36 starts. Meaning every sixth start he blanked the other team. Impressive. And don’t forget his postseason work with a 9-7 record, 2.04 GAA and .918 save percentage. A slight dip but solid nonetheless considering that Vegas also dipped in the postseason.
Yes, it was a hockey trade. Pure and simple. Understandable. And though the Golden Knights are trading away the Vezina Trophy winner for not a whole lot — no disrespect to Mikael Hakkarainen but the 23-year-old centerman has never played an NHL game — they had to make a move. They needed the cap space as they were kissing the upper limit of $81.5 million.
Got it. That warrants a D. Maybe a C. But not better because, well, you traded away the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.
But, per The Athletic’s Jesse Granger, Fleury — a three-time Stanley Cup champion, too, with the Penguins — found out on Twitter that he was traded.
A source close to Marc-Andre Fleury says that the trade is done, and that the Vezina Trophy winner found out through Twitter. #VegasBorn
— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) July 27, 2021
Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh, he of knife-through-the-back fame, confirmed that no one in the organization had contacted Fleury. His tweet came approximately a half-hour after TSN’s Darren Dreger broke the news.
While Marc-Andre Fleury still hasn’t heard from anybody with the Vegas Golden Knights, he has apparently been traded to Chicago. Marc-Andre will be taking time to discuss his situation with his family and seriously evaluate his hockey future at this time.
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) July 27, 2021
Here’s the thing: Yes, the trade could still be in the works and/or not officially official. Fine. Understandable. But considering that it’s all over social media and has been reported by Dreger and his agent, you should probably shoot Fleury a text, at least. Plus how do you not give him, a guy who has been the heart and soul of your organization since Day 1 (literally), a heads up that something may be happening?
So putting aside the poor handling of this by the Golden Knights front office, you’d have to think this opens up the floor for a big trade — see: Jack Eichel and his $10 million cap hit — or some a few free-agent signings. After all, Vegas needs a quality backup for Lehner now.
Blackhawks grade: A-
As mentioned above, they just got one of the best goalies in the league. They also got one of the best people in the league. It’s been a long time since the Blackhawks have had a superstar talent between the pipes, maybe back to Corey Crawford’s hey-days. (Yes, Lehner was there before being dealt to Vegas but it was a short 33-game clip.)
The only reason this grade isn’t an A or A+ is because there are some rumblings that Fleury may refuse to head to the Windy City and choose to retire. If that does happen, the Blackhawks didn’t give up much.
One thing to watch here: there were rumblings Marc-Andre Fleury might choose to retire if traded from Vegas — for family reasons. Not certain how it will all play out.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 27, 2021
Is this the end for Fleury? Just this past Friday, he appeared on 105.9 The X’s “Mark Madden Show” and said that he had no plans to retire as long as his body was holding up and he was having fun. He surely didn’t see this wrinkle coming.
If this is the end, it’s been a wild ride: 17 NHL seasons, three Stanley Cups, a Vezina, third on the NHL’s all-time wins list (492) and far too many smiles to count.