The far right corner of the Golden Knights’ locker room at City National Arena, the one closest to the team’s showers and the training room, only had one occupant during the team’s first four seasons.
That spot is now up for grabs. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is no longer with the Knights after an offseason trade to the Chicago Blackhawks, and his absence will be felt when training camp begins Wednesday.
“(Fleury’s) been the heart and soul for quite a bit for our team and our organization,” left wing Jonathan Marchessault said Monday from the team’s annual charity golf tournament at Bear’s Best Las Vegas. “It’s going to be different, but it just shows you how unstable the world of hockey is. No one is safe out there. You have to stay on your toes and give your best every night.”
The Knights moved on from Fleury this offseason after he won the NHL’s Vezina Trophy awarded to the league’s best goaltender. The 36-year-old showed he has plenty of hockey left in him, but the team had a younger, cheaper option already on the roster in Robin Lehner.
The 30-year-old is no slouch himself and was a Vezina finalist in 2019. Lehner teamed with Fleury last season to win the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed for the second time in his career.
“Robin, obviously he’s a great goalie and a great person and a great teammate,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We’re lucky to have him. We have all the confidence in the world in him.”
The Knights decided the time was right this summer to turn their net over to Lehner and trade Fleury, who is under contract for one more season with a $7 million cap hit. That freed the team up to bring in right wing Evgenii Dadonov, a goal scorer who will seek to boost an offense that faltered down the stretch the last two postseasons.
The tradeoff is the hole left in the crease and locker room. The Knights have never entered a season without Fleury. Wednesday, they’ll get to find out what that’s like.
“I feel very fortunate (that I was) able to play with him for the little bit that I did,” defenseman Nic Hague said. “He’s a guy that I grew up watching, watching him win his Cups. Just a great guy. He always had a smile on his face. He loves what he does. It’s definitely going to be a little bit different not having him around.”
McNabb was shown on the Allegiant Stadium video board with teammates Chandler Stephenson, Mark Stone and Shea Theodore during the Raiders’ overtime win against the Ravens on Sept. 13. He said he’d be to other football games before, including a Super Bowl, but the atmosphere that day was different.
“That was definitely, by far, my favorite game and experience,” McNabb said. “It was an awesome game. It made me a Raiders fan, so that’s the best part of it.”
Marchessault said it’s going to be “kind of weird” to welcome another expansion franchise to the NHL this season in Seattle four years after the Knights made their debut. He did add he was looking forward to the season opener against the Kraken on Oct. 12 at T-Mobile Arena, which will be shown on ESPN.
“I just look at their lineup, and it’s like us the first year,” Marchessault said. “You can’t not be ready for them because they’ll be ready. They will work and that’s what (we did) the first year. We caught a lot of teams by surprise.”