It seemed Marc-Andre Fleury was destined to end his career with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Turning 36 in November, he still has two years left on a contract with a $7-million cap hit, which was signed after Vegas' run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. He's been the face of the team since arriving and because Vegas has been a contender, there was no reason to think a breakup was imminent.
But now, perhaps, that's the most likely outcome.
“I want to stay in Vegas,” Fleury told The Athletic. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’ve loved every moment since I got here.”
The path to this point started at the 2020 trade deadline, when Vegas acquired pending UFA Robin Lehner from Chicago. He's younger, had a .918 save percentage behind the Blackhawks' porous defence, and was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2019. But it wasn't clear why Vegas made the move and, at the time, it seemed it was for insurance. At the very least, Lehner could play more games down the stretch of the regular season and Fleury would be rested and ready for the playoffs.
Of course, COVID-19 arrived, the season was paused shortly after, and everyone was rested when play resumed in the summer. When Vegas came back, Lehner was the starter, not Fleury, and he was stellar with a .917 playoff save percentage. Fleury was used sparingly, and really only in situations to rest Lehner.
Fleury's agent, Allan Walsh, posted a controversial image to social media of Fleury being stabbed in the back by a sword with head coach Peter DeBoer's name on it. From there, questions around Fleury's future with the Golden Knights have swirled as rumours of a Lehner extension with the team have picked up steam.
Fleury told The Athletic that he has not asked for a trade.
“This team means a lot to me, and the city has been so good to me,” Fleury said. “The fans, and (owner Bill Foley) have been so awesome. It’s a great team, and I thought when I came here that maybe I could retire here. I wanted to end my career here.
“I get along great with Robin, so I think it would be all right. I still love to play. I don’t think I just want to be a backup, but I’ll practice hard, try to play well, and hopefully get some games, but it always comes down to the coach’s decision. Whatever happens, happens. And that’s fine. I’ll just try my best to come to camp in good shape and do well from there.”
As more teams move towards tandems in net as opposed to one heavy-usage starter, perhaps the Golden Knights could move ahead with both Fleury and Lehner. But then the issue becomes about money and cap space. Lehner made $5 million on his expiring contract and if he re-signed in Vegas for the same amount, the team would have $12 million committed to the goalie position. Only Montreal has more invested in net.
Vegas has only $4.9 million of cap room and would have to move pieces around anyway.
The goalie market this off-season is stacked and completely in favour of the buyers. Because of that, it may be hard to move Fleury's full contract without adding assets on top, so Vegas may even have to retain some salary if a move is made.
“It’s difficult for every team now, working with the salary cap that won’t move for a few years," Fleury said. "Obviously, we’re a cap team, so they will have some tough decisions to make. We’ll see. Honestly, I don’t know. It could happen, but maybe not. That’s why they’re the boss and they’re the ones making the tough decisions.”