Updated October 3, 2020 - 9:55 am
Editor’s note: This story was originally published Sept. 20. All of but one of these factors (“Fleury stays, Lehner goes”) are valid as of the morning of Oct.3.
Before Marc-Andre Fleury played a game for the Golden Knights, the goaltender revealed to a Flames beat writer in 2017 that he probably would have waived his no-trade clause had Calgary and Pittsburgh worked out a deal.
No offer was made by Calgary at the trade deadline that February, and Fleury went on to be selected in the expansion draft.
But three years later, Fleury finds himself in a similar position, uncertain of his future.
The Knights appear headed to divorce court with the face of their franchise on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.
Robin Lehner was handed the majority of starts in the postseason, and the Knights reportedly agreed to a five-year, $25 million contract extension with the 29-year-old, which Lehner denied.
Coach Pete DeBoer called Lehner an “elite goalie” over the past two seasons in explaining why he earned the No. 1 job.
That leaves Fleury as the third wheel, and his camp expressed its displeasure Aug. 22 when agent Allan Walsh tweeted a picture of his client being stabbed through the back by a sword with “DeBoer” written on the blade. Walsh deleted the tweet the following day.
With free agency set to begin Oct. 9, the Knights must figure out whether they can salvage their relationship with Fleury or break up.
Here are the four most likely outcomes:
1. Fleury moves on
Reading between the lines of Walsh’s tweet, Fleury thinks he still can be a productive starter at age 36. Should Lehner re-sign, a timeshare with Fleury isn’t desired by either goalie.
That means the Knights probably will explore the trade market for Fleury, whose $7 million salary cap hit for the next two seasons complicates the process.
Calgary could always revisit its interest from 2017, and Edmonton also is looking for a goaltender, though it’s not clear how the Knights feel about dealing him to a Pacific Division rival. Maybe Carolina is a fit?
Other noncontending teams that appear to be looking for a goaltender include Buffalo, Minnesota and Ottawa. Colorado could try to upgrade at that position for a Cup run, and a return to Pittsburgh can’t be ruled out entirely, either.
The deadline for Fleury to submit his 10-team, no-trade list was Tuesday, according to CapFriendly.com.
If a deal can’t be worked out, the Knights could buy out Fleury’s contract. That would reduce their salary cap hit to $2.583 million next season and $3.083 million in 2021-22, according to CapFriendly.com, but also would come with a $2.083 million hit in 2022-23 and 2023-24.
2. Keep both
First, this would require the most unlikely reconciliation since Khloe Kardashian and Tristan Thompson got back together.
But, let’s assume Fleury kisses and makes up with the Knights, and Lehner is OK with splitting the starts for the third straight season. That would give the Knights one of the NHL’s best tandems for 2020-21, when the schedule is likely to be condensed and goaltending is more valuable than ever.
However, for the Knights to allocate a projected $12 million to the goaltending position with a flat $81.5 million cap, salary would have to be shipped out elsewhere. That means a top-six forward or quality defenseman gets sacrificed to the salary cap gods to make it work.
3. Fleury stays; Lehner goes
It’s possible that Lehner’s play during the postseason increased his value and another team outbids the Knights in free agency. After all, he was expected to be a rental after being acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline in February.
In the unlikely event that happens, the Knights could crawl back on their hands and knees and try to work it out with Fleury. Maybe there’s another Stanley Cup run left in his body.
The fans and his teammates would accept him back. But how do you tell off the boss on a Friday the way Fleury and his agent did and then show up for work the following Monday like nothing happened?
4. Lose both
It’s difficult to imagine general manager Kelly McCrimmon and president of hockey operations George McPhee misplaying their hand this badly. They’re too prepared and surrounded by too many smart people for that to happen.
But, there’s always a chance that Lehner was turned off by news of a possible extension getting out. Or, he might use it as leverage to drive up his asking price elsewhere.
And if Fleury’s camp poisoned the water with the tweet, he and DeBoer might be incompatible.
This outcome is extremely unlikely, but would be potentially catastrophic and prompt major questions about the direction of the organization.
Buying out Fleury
What it would cost the Golden Knights to buy out the remaining two years on the contract of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury:
2020-21: $2,583,333 salary cap hit (+$4,416,667 savings)
2021-22: $3,083,333 salary cap hit (+$3,916,667 savings)
2022-23: $2,083,333 salary cap hit (-$2,083,333 savings)
2023-24: $2,083,333 salary cap hit (-$2,083,333 savings)
Source: CapFriendly.com and PuckPedia.com