The epic tale of Marc-Andre Fleury
By Trevor Neufeld
The Las Vegas Golden Knights are a truly unique team in the National Hockey League. On the surface they are a perennial contender since their first month of the 2017-18 season. A closer look at the lives, careers, and controversy of this young club reveals so much more.
The first four years of operations of this team includes all the elements of what can only be described as a modern epic.
Whether you like stories of redemption such as the 2018 roster taking an unexpected run at hockey’s greatest trophy, discarded players overcoming extreme odds going from the scrap pile to first line such as Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and so many others did, or the greatest of arcs; the redemption tale of the betrayed hero. This will be today’s topic.
I choose this topic for a few reasons. It is unparalleled in it’s unique circumstances. It is a cap era story of a team willing to give up it’s heart and soul in order to get closer to winning a Stanley Cup.
Of course I am talking about future Hall of Fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Here is a background on his time in Las Vegas:
On June 21, 2017 MAF waived his NMC to be exposed and was subsequently selected in the expansion draft. Vegas also received a 2020 2nd round pick as incentive to take on Fleury’s almost 6 million dollar contract. That 2nd round pick was later traded during the 2019-20 season to Chicago in a three-way trade that resulted in the Golden Knights acquiring their incumbent starting goalie Robin Lehner.
Fleury made Penguins GM Jim Rutherford look the fool the following season posting a 29-13-4 record to go with a .927 save percentage. In the 2017-2018 post-season Fleury started 20 games on the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final posting a .927 save percentage and a 2.24 GAA. He was the only goaltender to play for the Golden Knights that run.
On July 13, 2018 Fleury agreed to a three year, 21 million dollar contract.
The 2018-19 season was a successful by most standards with the Knights making the playoffs and finishing third in the division with 93 points. Unfortunately it was most remembered for a dramatic first round exit. In game 7 of the of their first round series against the San Jose Sharks, Fleury and the Golden Knights gave up four goals in four minutes on a controversial 5 minute penalty assessed to Cody Eakin.
2019-20 was a challenging season for Fleury. With no adequate backup on the roster, Fleury was leaned on heavily during the regular season starting 48 of 71 games. Despite this, recent addition Robin Lehner started 16 of 20 playoffs games. Fleury had three wins in four games that post season.
Disappointed by his lack of starts in the playoffs, Fleury’s Agent since the age of 15, Alan Walsh, tweeted a doctored image of Fleury making a save while being stabbed in the back by a sword with the name “DeBoer” embossed on it. This was a distraction for the team and set the hockey world on fire as the Golden Knights prepared to play the Canucks in the second round.
Then there was the 2020-21 season.
Fleury had an absolutely dominant 2020-2021 campaign. Widely regarded as the best player on the team, he posted a 26-10-0 record to go with a .928 save percentage. Statistics aside, he bailed the team out of so many games. He was absolutely invaluable. Consensus MVP among his peers on the team, he was later awarded the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender in the regular season. He went on to post a 9-7 record in the playoffs, but Head Coach Peter DeBoer made the call to start Lehner two of the last three games despite Fleury being the hot hand. In overtime of game 6 the Las Vegas Golden Knights were eliminated. Marc-Andre had played his last game as a Golden Knight two nights prior. A 4-1 loss on home ice at the T-Mobile Arena.
On July 27, 2021, Fleury was shipped to the Chicago Blackhawks for Mikael Hakkarainen, a 23 year old center on his way out of North American hockey. On August 18, Hakkarainen’s contract was terminated. He had one year left on his 3 year ELC.
If the trade wasn’t controversial enough, rumour had begun to spread that Fleury found out about this trade from Twitter. It was later clarified that Alan Walsh, Fleury’s agent, had called him and let him know. This was a huge blunder by General Manager Kelly McCrimmon. He should have called Fleury himself.
Here is what Alan Walsh had to say on Twitter about the situation upon receiving 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.”
In less than a month after Fleury received the Vezina Trophy, he was traded for the cap space that the final year of his 21 million dollar contract. As a team that constantly doubles down gambling in themselves, the Vegas Golden Knights traded away the safest bet on the roster.
Let’s examine what was done with that cap space.
On Tuesday July 27, Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon pulled the trigger on a trade sending veteran defenseman Nick Holden and a 3rd round pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft to Ottawa for 32 year old right winger Evgenii Dadonov. Averaging 0.24 goals per game last season, the expectation is that Dadonov should provide a much needed scoring presence on the third line. Unfortunately, he has regressed in the last few seasons.
2018-19 82GP 28G 42A 70Pts
2019-20 69GP 25G 22A 47Pts
2020-21 55GP 13G 7A 20Pts
That is some scary regression for a 5 million dollar cap hit for two more seasons. McCrimmon is taking a huge gamble on a player that has seen his production decline drastically.
Additionally, Laurent Brossoit was signed to a 2.325x2 contract as a UFA. Brossoit has been a remarkable backup in his last three seasons with the Winnipeg Jets posting a 25-19-3 record. He should fit in well with DeBoer’s system having played a similar system under Paul Maurice. With that signing the Golden Knights sit directly at the cap limit with Alex Tuch on LTIR until late January.
Going into this season, the Golden Knights have brought in some added depth in preparation for another run at the Stanley Cup. This came at the cost of Marc Andre Fleury and Nick Holden. They have additionally added Patrick Nolan and Brett Howden. Two younger NHL regulars seeking to have bounce-back seasons offensively. They both play center — a position of weakness for the Golden Knights.
Have the Knights gotten better or worse in your opinion? How do you think Fleury will do for the Hawks next year? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading.