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Graney: Cry all you want, but Golden Knights had to trade Fleury

Get angry over the Golden Knights on Tuesday trading goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago. Throw things. Scream. Cry. Poke needles into a Kelly McCrimmon doll.

All are acceptable reactions for a fan base so emotionally invested in arguably the most popular athlete in Las Vegas history. It means people care. That fun and games have again driven folks to unworldly levels of passion. There is good in that.

And when you take a breath from such an outburst of disbelief and bitterness, know this:

McCrimmon as general manager did his job.

It was more than a sensible move. It had to be done.

It’s pro sports

Welcome to the harsh reality of professional sports. That in the interest of a team trying to afford itself the best opportunity to win a championship — that still should be the ultimate goal, yes? — even the most beloved asset isn’t safe from being shipped out. Even the face of a franchise.

Wayne Gretzky was traded (twice). Joe Montana. Ken Griffey Jr. and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tom Seaver and Marshall Faulk and Kevin Garnett and Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.

There is a scene in “The Natural” in which Robert Duvall’s character as the cynical sports writer Max Mercy is chatting with baseball prodigy Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford.

“They come and they go, Hobbs,” Mercy said. “They come and they go.”

Yes — even No. 29.

“It’s the nature of the job,” McCrimmon said. “If you want to do your job well, you have to make hard decisions … Marc-Andre was the most popular player I’ve ever seen in sports. When you think back to how it all began, the storybook (expansion) season, the passion he has for the game both as a teammate and a player connected for the fan base — he’s had a tremendous impact on our organization, on our city.

“I know for a lot of people this is a day that is definitely filled with sadness. Certainly I share all of those same emotions, and yet I do feel I’m responsible to try to do everything I can to put the best team on the ice.”

Twitter rage

Much of the social media rage Tuesday was about when and how Fleury learned he had been dealt. His agent, Allan Walsh, tweeted that Fleury discovered the news across the social media service.

While it doesn’t appear Fleury has an official Twitter account, it means he was either using a burner — a standard move for many athletes — or Walsh informed him what was being said. Don’t discount the latter.

I trust anything Walsh says about as far as I could throw the sword he photoshopped into Fleury’s back during last year’s bubble playoffs. As the Knights were about to begin a second-round series, Walsh played the role of petulant child when tweeting the image with the last name of coach Pete DeBoer scrawled across the blade as a way to criticize his client’s lack of playing time.

And while I’m not sure Golden Knights management has always handled such transactions with a needed level of sensitivity, I’m convinced it kept Fleury more than advised on potential trades in the past month.

He wasn’t caught off guard. He knew this was a real possibility.

He was even made aware as late as Saturday that a team was seriously interested.

So whether you stand on the side or not that the Knights deserve what has become a popular reputation of a team ruthlessly insensitive in such matters — and it very well could be the case — the most significant part about Tuesday doesn’t change.

They had to move him.

You saw what carrying $12 million against the salary cap in goalies Fleury and Robin Lehner got the Knights last season. Nothing. They were good enough to win it all and didn’t.

They need to upgrade at center. They need to be much better on the power play. They need not to make the playoffs and suddenly forget how to score. They need to stick with a No. 1 goalie who is six years younger.

It’s difficult to criticize the Knights for what they received from Chicago — nothing really — without knowing how many other offers there were for Fleury. If any at all.

So if the best McCrimmon could do is move a 36-year-old Vezina Trophy winner and his $7 million salary as a way to pursue and fill more needed holes, so be it. Life in a salary cap universe.

Meant everything

There is no column or TV sound bite or video tribute that can properly encapsulate what Fleury meant to the Knights and Las Vegas. Retire his sweater once he retires. Hell, raise the statue.

He represented that much to a fan base that first fell in love with him at a time of unspeakable tragedy from the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

But don’t confuse a deep sense of loyalty and affection with this truth: A management team that has shown time and again it will do everything in its power to try to bring Las Vegas a Stanley Cup made a difficult and yet prudent decision.

This was Fleury in June 2017, the night he was introduced as the team’s star expansion selection: “I’ll give it everything I’ve got to win games and get into the community and meet people and spread the word about the Golden Knights.”

Nobody did it better. So get angry and throw things and scream and cry. And then take a breath and understand the business side of professional sports.

Which is what McCrimmon did. Which is what he should always do.

They’re about winning, man. Have been since the beginning.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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