There is a Marc-Andre Fleury sized elephant in the room and we decided to address that on behalf of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Since being selected in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Fleury has become a vital building block and cornerstone piece of the Vegas Golden Knights.
A three-time Stanley Cup Champion and one of the most well-respected and well-liked personalities in the game, Fleury was the perfect pillar to build an expansion team around.
And, in a two-and-a-bit-years in Sin City, Fleury has largely been stellar for the Golden Knights and he played a huge role in spearheading their stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural year.
More from Vegas Hockey Knight
- The moment the Vegas Golden Knights have been waiting for
- 3 Golden Knights players deserving of the Conn Smythe Trophy
- If Golden Knights win Stanley Cup, who should Mark Stone pass it to first?
- Why are Vegas Golden Knights fans obsessed with flamingos?
- Just one more game for Golden Knight supremacy
Even at 35-years of age and in the twilight of his career, Fleury is still capable of pulling off the unthinkable, as seen with that jaw-dropping save to absolutely rob Nic Petan against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 19, 2019.
However, the tide seems to be turning somewhat with a portion of the passionate Vegas fanbase falling in love with someone else.
That someone else is Robin Lehner who, despite only playing a mere three games in a Golden Knights jersey, has seemingly taken his new home by absolute storm.
Acquired in a stunning Trade Deadline blockbuster from the Chicago Blackhawks, Lehner was a pure rental and he automatically gave the Knights one of the most lethal one-two punches between the pipes in the entire NHL.
And he didn’t disappoint.
Making three starts prior to the sports world going on lockdown due to COVID-19, Lehner went 3-0-0 with an impressive 1.67 Goals Against Average and a .940 Save Percentage.
Now, hockey could still come back this year and, if that’s the case, then the Golden Knights will have a real chance to win a championship given their abundance of riches in goal.
But, should the NHL be unable to salvage the 2019-20 season, then it is a strong possibility that Lehner walks in free agency as a three-game wonder.
A pending UFA, Lehner could hit the open market again for the fourth time since 2017 which is bizarre for a netminder of his standing and reputation.
As a result, the 28-year-old will likely be seeking both stability and a signifiant increase on his current $5 million AAV in the off-season.
Given that Fleury has an Average Annual Value of $7 million through 2021-22, the Golden Knights are going to be loathe to commit to between $13-$14 on two goalies.
It is possible they could head down that road of course but, if that’s the case, then Vegas would need to trade one of their top-six forwards in order to create cap room.
Do you really want to rob Peter in order to pay Paul?
Therefore, the reality is that Lehner will be looking for his fourth team since 2017 and the Golden Knights will be on the hunt for a new backup goalie.
However, there are some Golden Knights fans who would prefer for their team to commit to Lehner and move on from Fleury.
According to a Fan Survey conducted by Jesse Granger of The Athletic, 58.1% of Vegas fans would choose Fleury if they could only have one goalie moving forward, but a very surprising 41.9% would choose Lehner.
Given just how popular Fleury is in Sin City, and he should be given that he’s a cornerstone piece of this franchise, it is shocking that 41.9% of fans would prefer a future with Lehner as their No. 1 goalie.
Of course, Lehner’s elite ability between the pipes has resulted in a superior Save Percentage than Fleury in each of the past two seasons and he was also a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2018-19 after tearing it up for the New York Islanders.
Lehner is also considerably younger than Fleury, seven years between the pair to be precise, and he would become the undisputed starter in Vegas for the foreseeable.
It isn’t that simple though.
For starters, and as good as Lehner is, his postseason experience is limited with just 10 games and eight starts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Compare that to Fleury who has three Stanley Cups to his name and he’s also been to five Stanley Cup Finals.
When you are in win-now mode like the Golden Knights are, you need experience between the pipes in the postseason and Fleury is also a cold-blooded killer who knows how to perform on the biggest stage when the pressure really is on.
There’s also the financial aspect of this.
While replacing Fleury with Lehner would work from a salary cap perspective, how are you shedding the future Hall of Famer’s $7 million cap hit?
Very few teams would be willing to take on such a hefty AAV for a 35-year-old goalie, especially in a post-COVID-19 world where the salary cap will likely be frozen at $81.5 million, while buying out Fleury would hurt the Knights from a cap perspective later down the road.
The grass also isn’t always greener.
While Fleury is in the twilight of his career, he’s still capable of performing at a high level on the ice and I would take his experience in the playoffs over any goalie.
Plus, you also need to consider just how important Fleury is to this franchise off the ice when it comes to merchandise sales and being the main face of this organization, as well as one of the glue guys in the locker room.
While the Vegas Golden Knights absolutely need to start the search for a long-term heir to the throne in goal, I don’t think waving a premature goodbye to a franchise icon and a still high-level netminder in Marc-Andre Fleury is the answer.
The fact we are having this conversation just epitomizes how quickly winning and success has become for a third-year expansion team in Vegas.