Updated October 12, 2020 - 11:00 pm
Marc-Andre Fleury will remain with the Golden Knights.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon confirmed Monday the team is no longer looking to trade the face of the franchise and will continue to pair the goaltender with newly signed Robin Lehner next season.
“We see the goaltending position being an incredibly important this year,” McCrimmon said. “Marc and Robin are going to be our goaltenders as we go into the offseason and into training camp and into the season.”
Also, the Knights announced Lehner will undergo shoulder surgery this week but is expected to be ready for training camp.
McCrimmon termed the procedure a “clean-up” surgery for an injury that nagged Lehner at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Fleury had been the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason as the Knights looked to clear salary cap room to sign defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
It didn’t help that on the eve of the Western Conference semifinals, his agent tweeted a now infamous picture of Fleury being stabbed through the back by a sword with coach Pete DeBoer’s last name on the blade. The post was deleted the following morning.
But the Knights were unable to find any takers for some, or all, of Fleury’s $7 million salary cap hit after they were eliminated in the conference final.
Owner Bill Foley told the Review-Journal last week he was willing to “overspend” for goaltenders next season, as he anticipated a condensed schedule while the league worked through the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everybody expects that, but when you begin to live it I think that the importance of two goaltenders is really going to be valuable,” McCrimmon said. “We looked at a number of possibilities. … When we met with our pro staff, our pro staff really reiterated how important they felt having the two goalies that we have were going to be to our team and how important it will be this year.“All those inputs went into the discussion, and did we look at any number of possibilities? Sure we did. But this was, at the end of the day, the decisions that we made to move forward were based on some of those things I’ve just touched on.”
Fleury and Lehner will have a combined salary cap hit of $12 million next season. Only Montreal, which is spending $14.85 million on Carey Price and Jake Allen, is dedicating more to the goaltending position next season.
The emergence of players on inexpensive contracts such as forward Nicolas Roy and defenseman Zach Whitecloud gave McCrimmon the flexibility to allocate a large portion of salary to the goaltenders.
“We’ve been able to bring in younger people to our organization, and when you do that, it allows you to make a decision like the one we’re making,” McCrimmon said.
Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, is on record as saying he doesn’t want to be a backup. Lehner split starts the past two seasons with the New York Islanders and Chicago, and presumably was ready to be a No. 1 goalie after signing a five-year, $25 million extension Oct. 2. Lehner said he liked that the Knights were “non-political” about playing time and distributed the starting assignments based on performance.
Both Fleury and Lehner previously said they have a good partnership, and McCrimmon doesn’t anticipate any issues with playing time. More importantly, McCrimmon said the relationship with Fleury remains on solid footing despite his agent’s displeasure during the playoffs.
“I don’t think internally it was ever the issue that it was made out to be, and I don’t expect that it would be an issue going into the season or during the season,” McCrimmon said. “Believe me, if it was, we would have made different decisions than we made. But I don’t expect that that’s the case.”
Fleury, who turns 36 in November, tied for fifth in the league in victories with 27. But he finished in the middle of the pack in goals-against average (2.77), and his .905 save percentage was the lowest of Fleury’s career since 2009-10.
Fleury ranked 48th out of 66 goalies in goals saved above average, according to HockeyReference.com.
In the postseason, Fleury was 3-1 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .910 save percentage while appearing mostly during back to backs.
Fleury has two seasons remaining on the contract he signed July 13, 2018. When the deal was announced, Fleury said he hoped to finish his career with the Knights.
Fleury is 91-50-14 in 156 appearances with the Knights and posted a 2.51 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.
He was selected to the All-Star Game in each of his three seasons with the team — Fleury opted out of the game in 2020 — and finished in the top five of the Vezina Trophy voting on two occasions.
Fleury is the active leader and fifth all time with 466 victories.