He’s a three-time Stanley Cup champion, the reigning Vezina and Jennings Trophy recipient, and the third-winningest goaltender in NHL history. And, in the next few weeks, Marc-Andre Fleury could be on the move and in position to add another post-season run to his resume.
While Fleury’s credentials – not to mention, his ability to heat up in the playoffs – will make him one of the most sought-after trade targets ahead of the March 21 deadline, it’s clear that he’s not going anywhere unless he says he is.
In addition to the modified no-move clause stitched into his expiring contract, an agreement with the Blackhawks was put in place upon his arrival in Chicago over the off-season. When he landed in Chicago, then-GM Stan Bowman gave him his word he wouldn’t be moved without his approval and new GM Kyle Davidson made it clear this week he’ll be keeping that promise.
“If I move, I would love a chance to win,” Marc-Andre Fleury, 37, told reporters last month. “That’s what I play for, and that’s what I love. But it’s still a big ‘if’ at this point.”
Adding to that sense of “if” is the hefty salary cap figure he carries. At $7 million, it’ll be difficult for any team to land him without some creativity on both ends of the deal – or, perhaps a third team acting as a broker?
With his desire and his cap hit in mind, though, let’s look at a handful of teams that could potentially make sense as landing spots for the pending UFA.
Remember how weird it was to first see Fleury wearing black and gold in Vegas after a decade of black and yellow? And then how jarring it was to see him don his Chicago Blackhawks threads at the start of this season? None of that feels close to how weird it would be to see the longtime Penguin suit up in the threads of the Capitals.
But in terms of need and roster fit, it makes a lot of sense that they were the first team considered a major contender for Fleury’s services. Washington’s starts have been split between Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, with mixed results, and Vanecek’s recent stint on IR exposed how shallow the club’s goalie situation is. And while playoff experience isn’t everything, the duo has just four post-season starts between them with zero wins. For a roster as win-now as this one, bringing in a veteran presence in net makes a lot of sense.
Goaltending isn’t the Edmonton Oilers’ only flaw, but it is the most glaring. And as such, any trade deadline outcome that doesn’t include acquiring a solid starting netminder is going to feel like a failure.
Fleury’s .911 save percentage on the season brings a noticeable upgrade over the Oilers’ current 23rd-ranked team save percentage of .900 set by the trio of Mikko Koskinen, Mike Smith and Stuart Skinner, but the biggest impact might be the intangibles. On the ice and in the locker room, Fleury would be a flawless fit – a calming, smiling anchor for a team that could use some stability. Imagine the confidence the Oilers’ forward group could play with knowing they’ve got a reliable veteran between the pipes.
Not to mention, the message acquiring Fleury would send to Edmonton’s biggest stars – showing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl you’re willing to go out and get the best available goalie on the market would speak volumes about the franchise’s commitment to winning.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
There’s playoff pressure and there’s what the Maple Leafs are staring down this spring. The wound suffered during last May’s total collapse against Montreal still feels fresh as general manager Kyle Dubas maps out his approach to the deadline. Asked about his strategy Friday, Dubas told reporters a lot depends on the health and status of Jake Muzzin.
"In terms of where we're at now, a lot of it is going to depend on Muzzin's health and where we're at. We still have quite a bit of flexibility to get creative and try to make something happen but ... unless we get the news we don't want on Muzz, I think we'll just have the one move left in us here," said Dubas. Muzzin is currently on long-term injured reserve after suffering a concussion, and it remains unclear whether he’ll stay there for the rest of the regular season (and thus open up some cap space).
Dubas said the team was prioritizing defence, but it’s worth wondering whether that focus might include the last line of defence.
Jack Campbell has been excellent for much of this season, his performances making him the team’s no-brainer MVP at times. But he’s cooled off of late, bringing about questions of consistency. Health has held Peter Mrazek out for parts of the season, so can he put together enough strong starts to up the club’s confidence in the crease?
As unlikely as it might be for the Leafs to land Fleury, his calming presence and wealth of experience would likely do wonders for this group – that alone seems like a worthy investment.
What a story this would be! Fleury won three Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and getting the old crew together to hunt for one more would be so much fun to see.
Tristan Jarry has been excellent this season, registering career-bests in wins (27), goals-against average (2.30), save percentage (.921) and shutouts (four) but considering the nightmare in net that transpired last spring, it’s reasonable to wonder whether management might invest in a better insurance policy.
If anyone understands the importance of goaltending depth in the playoffs, it’s Pittsburgh – they’ve won and lost because of it over the years. And when you’ve got a team toeing the line between all-in contention and retooling on the fly, bringing in a familiar face like Fleury could be just the boost to drive this team forward without locking into any term.
Realistically, it’s probably not going to happen – after all, a move like that could be the worst thing for Jarry’s rebuilt confidence – but considering the history here and the potential for an awesome hockey reunion, it shouldn’t be ruled out just yet.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Considering the way Golden Knights management so unceremoniously tossed aside their first-ever franchise goalie, it feels pretty much impossible we’d see a reunion in Vegas. The Golden Knights’ perilous salary cap situation isn’t exactly conducive to bringing back an old cap casualty, either.
But emotions and finances aside, a report did emerge last month linking the two, with Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli citing sources that the team had expressed interest in the wake of Robin Lehner’s shoulder injury. Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon promptly shut down the report, but lingering intrigue remains nonetheless – especially if Lehner is sidelined again.
Goaltending isn’t exactly their most pressing need – there are two good goalies already in place in Minnesota in Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen. But that cap space… well, that makes things interesting, especially if they don’t end up being able to use it on Claude Giroux. The Wild are one of the only teams right now that falls into that sweet spot of contention and cap space, and considering Fleury’s a pending UFA they wouldn’t have to fret about adding any more term to what is already a frightening cap situation awaiting them this off-season. Worth thinking about, right?