Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was the topic of many trade rumors this off-season. The veteran was coming off a disappointing season and a second straight year of decline in his third season with Vegas, which at 36 years old was cause for alarm. Not only that, but his $7MM cap hit was also causing problems for a team right up against the salary cap who had just re-signed Robin Lehner to a $25MM extension with the intent that he was to be the starter. It was easy to understand why the Knights might have considered moving Fleury this off-season, but it seems a deal was always unlikely to occur. Speaking with Fox Sports’ Andy Strickland and former NHLer Cam Janssen on their “Cam and Strick Podcast”, Vegas owner Bill Foley stated that Fleury “never came really close to being part of a deal”, and for a number of reasons.
While Foley himself admitted that Fleury’s contract was part of the reason that Vegas’ salary cap was “fouled up”, eventually forcing the likes of Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt to be traded for pennies on the dollar, he accounts for Fleury remaining with the Golden Knights as being about much more than an immovable contract. Foley does note that there were trade talks including Fleury, but the offers “didn’t make sense.” This is likely referring to any interesting teams also wanting the Knights to add additional sweeteners to any deal in which they acquired an aging goaltender with poor numbers and two years and $14MM remaining on his contract. However, Vegas still valued Fleury as a number one goalie according to Foley, which explains why they didn’t agree with the idea of losing additional assets to move him. At the end of the day, Foley claims that he and the team always wanted two number one goalies and were happy to stick with Fleury and Lehner rather than trade the former in a deal they didn’t like, even if it meant losing valuable players elsewhere in the lineup.
While it seemed like a strange decision in many ways at the time, Vegas is now reaping the benefits. With Lehner slowed by injuries, Fleury had to reclaim the starter’s job and has excelled in the role. He has seen a resurgence of epic proportions this season, currently leading the NHL with a .942 save percentage and 1.55 GAA while picking up eight wins in eleven starts. Without Fleury, the West Division-leading Golden Knights may be having a very different season thus far. His formerly frustrating cap hit is now well worth it as the team looks like a Cup contender even with their intended starter still limited.
As for the future, Foley’s comments imply that if Fleury was ever even truly available, he certainly isn’t now. Discussing this past off-season, Foley stated that any trade involving Fleury would have required the owner’s approval and he would not have taken it lightly. He also recalled a story from early in Vegas’ inaugural season, in which he promised Fleury that he would retire a Golden Knight. Now that Fleury has rewarded his owner’s faith in him this season, it seems more likely than not that the veteran will play out the final year of his contract in Vegas next season rather than being traded away while his stock is high. (Barring yet another Expansion selection, that is.) It’s fair to assume that any potential Fleury trades would still need to be approved by Foley moving forward, and it’s very doubtful now more than ever that the owner would move the player he calls the “face of the franchise.”