Published Tuesday, July 27, 2021 | 8:48 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, July 27, 2021 | 5:28 p.m.
A Marc-Andre Fleury trade has been rumored for two years and today, it finally happened. The Golden Knights sent their Vezina Trophy-winning, future Hall of Fame goaltender to Chicago, ending his four-year stint in Las Vegas.
The Golden Knights shipped Fleury away with the agreement Chicago would take on his $7 million salary, the team announced. Vegas received minor leaguer Mikael Hakkarainen in return, but general manager Kelly McCrimmon said he will stay with Chicago’s organization.
The Golden Knights gave away Fleury and received nothing but cap space in return.
“He was the most popular player I’ve ever seen in sports; he was the face of the franchise,” McCrimmon said. “He’s had a tremendous impact on our organization. He’s had a tremendous impact on our city. So, I know for a lot of people this is a day that definitely is filled with sadness, and certainly I share all those same emotions that you do.
“And yet I do feel I’m responsible to try do everything I can to put the best team on the ice, and that’s what I’m doing, along with working hard to make good decisions to give you a team you’re going to be proud of.”
There are hockey reasons for moving on from the 36-year-old face of the franchise.
Fellow goalie Robin Lehner is younger (30), cheaper ($5 million cap hit) and signed for four more years. The Golden Knights made the deal to allow Lehner to thrive as the organization’s top goalie, as well as clearing the large cap hit Fleury carried.
McCrimmon started his press call by addressing reports that Fleury found out he was traded over social media. McCrimmon said while he’s communicated with Fleury throughout the offseason, starting with his exit interview last month, reports leaked on Twitter before the trade call was complete. McCrimmon said he has a policy of not informing players of moves until after the call.
Still, Fleury was reportedly “totally shocked” by the move, and his future is unclear. A tweet from his agent, Allan Walsh, and media reports suggest Fleury may not report to the Blackhawks and could opt for retirement instead of playing out the last year of his contract. If he retires, neither Vegas nor Chicago would have any sort of cap penalty. He is expected to talk over the situation with his family, and a decision might not come soon.
Fleury had a partial no-trade clause which would have allowed him to block a move to 10 teams. While the lists are not public, Chicago was presumably not on it or else Fleury would have exercised his veto rights.
“Marc-Andre wanted to play in Vegas,” McCrimmon said. “That was his No. 1 preference.”
Vegas projects to have about $7 million in cap space after a reported three-year deal for Alec Martinez is finalized, according to CapFriendly. They could use that space to acquire some scoring help up front when free agency opens Wednesday or in a trade for another top player.
Fleury was a strong Hall of Fame candidate based on the 13 years he spent with the Penguins, but he solidified it with the Golden Knights.
In four years with Vegas, Fleury posted a .917 save percentage and 2.41 goals-against average. His 117 wins moved him into third place on the all-time list with 492. He led Vegas to the postseason all four years and reached the Stanley Cup Final in the inaugural 2017-18 season.
This year was his crowning achievement, posting a .928 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average that were the best of his career. He won the Jennings Trophy with Lehner as the goalies with the fewest goals allowed in the league, and he won his first Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.
Fleury released a statement through Walsh.
"I want to thank all the amazing fans in Vegas and my teammates for four incredible years together. You embraced me and my family from Day 1 and made playing games at the Fortress one of the great joys of my life. We will miss playing in Vegas very much but I am grateful for my time in your city."
Lehner is now the projected starter in Vegas, and McCrimmon said the team is expecting to add a backup goaltender through a trade or in free agency. Currently, AHL standout Logan Thompson is the second goalie on the depth chart, though he has never started an NHL game.