Houston, we have a problem with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Controversy is not what you need when preparing for the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but controversy is exactly what the Vegas Golden Knights were dealt on Saturday.
Coming out of the blue like a brutal and bone-crushing hit to the ribs, the longtime agent of Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury dropped an absolute bombshell of a Tweet.
It was both stunning and shocking.
The actual Tweet has been deleted, but here is a screenshot of it:
An NHL agent actually tweeted this about his well paid client while his client’s team is in the midst of a playoff run.
Allan Walsh is a piece of work. pic.twitter.com/xr8MquLW00
— Paul Almeida (@AzorcanGlobal) August 22, 2020
Allan Walsh, who has known Fleury since he was 15, posted a rather graphic picture to his Official Account of a sword placed in the back of the goalie with the name of Head Coach Peter DeBoer emblazoned on the blade.
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It was a clear shot at the Golden Knights and DeBoer who have ridden with Robin Lehner for the majority of these Stanley Cup Playoffs so far.
The Tweet itself has now been deleted after Fleury addressed the media earlier today (more on that later), but the damage has already been done.
A storm has been brewing for a while and you could say it started back at the Trade Deadline when the Golden Knights pulled off a stunning trade to acquire Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks.
There was always going to be a problem with having two elite goalies in the building, especially when one is the cornerstone and the face of your franchise.
Maybe we should have predicted this after Lehner went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 Goals Against Average and a .940 Save Percentage.
And, in another clear sign, Lehner was given the start for Game 1 of Round 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Lehner, who was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2018-19, started four of the five games against the Hawks with Fleury starting Game 3, which was the first game of a back-to-back.
It has become clear that Lehner is DeBoer’s man and there’s a reason the Golden Knights acquired a pure rental at the Trade Deadline, something they have never done before.
They think Lehner can help them win now.
What has probably stoked the flames in Fleury’s camp is the fact that DeBoer stated before the round-robin games that the plan was to use both goaltenders throughout the postseason.
That’s clearly not the case.
According to several sources: the Golden Knights met with Marc-Andre Fleury this afternoon and are satisfied this will not be an issue as they chase the Stanley Cup. I’d expect Fleury to address this with media tomorrow.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) August 22, 2020
What is clear is that DeBoer and maybe even the front office believe Lehner is the better goalie and, as such, he’s the best hope to deliver a first championship in franchise history this year.
As a result, you can understand Fleury being upset given that he is the face of the franchise and has been since he was taken from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
He backstopped the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural year and, while he showed some signs of regression during the regular season, he proved in Game 3 against Chicago that he’s still one of the best goalies in the NHL on his day.
Given Fleury’s character, you would never hear about any unhappiness behind the scenes from the player himself.
Enter Allan Walsh.
Walsh and Fleury clearly share a close relationship and Walsh has a history of going to bat for his clients on social media.
Therefore, maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Walsh commented on the current situation.
However, the way in which Walsh made his, or Fleury’s feelings known, was stunning.
That picture sent NHL Twitter on fire and it would no doubt have sparked outrage in the Vegas front office.
Hence, despite no media availability prior to Game 2, Fleury spoke to the media on a conference call in a bid to clear this up.
Here was the biggest nugget from what Fleury had to say:
“Regarding that picture that came up, I just wanted to say that Allan has been my agent for a long time. I’ve known him since I was 15. I really appreciate his passion for the game. I think it was a way to defend me for not playing much, but I’m here to win with my team. Bottom line is we all want to win. That’s why we’re here. I don’t like being a distraction for my team.”
Fleury couldn’t have really said anything else but his comments haven’t really done much to dispel the drama.
Now, personally, I have no problem if the Golden Knights feel Lehner is the best option to help them win both now and in the future.
This is a business after all and we are seeing something similar in New York with the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist.
Everything has to come to an end eventually.
However, there seems to be more at play here and I get the impression that DeBoer’s handling of the goalie situation is the jumping off point for all of this.
Now, Fleury has been in this situation before with the Pittsburgh Penguins having watched Matt Murray come in, take over and then backstop the Pens to Stanley Cup success in 2016 and 2017.
But, this time seems different.
Given that the sword that was plunging into the back of Fleury in Walsh’s Tweet had DeBoer’s name on it, it is clear that Fleury’s camp feel the Vegas Head Coach is at fault here.
Whether DeBoer was dishonest with Fleury about his true intentions for him after Lehner was acquired remains to be seen, but there is a problem there.
What it means long-term is also interesting.
Lehner is a pending UFA and is probably going to command anywhere between $5-$7 million per year on the open market.
If the Golden Knights really are in love with Lehner, then they could look to either buy out Fleury’s $21 million contract, which has two years left with a No-Trade clause, in order to free up the cap space to go and sign Lehner to a long-term deal.
Of course, the fact that the NHL will have a flat cap for at least the next couple of years adds another complicated wrinkle to this whole situation.
That could mean that the Golden Knights have no choice but to divorce their face of the franchise if Lehner really is the guy they want between the pipes going forward.
And, given what has emerged this weekend, that divorce could be a messy one if there really is some hard feelings in the Fleury camp.
For now, at least, Fleury has made it clear that he’s here to win but I have a feeling this story isn’t going away and we’ll probably here more as we approach the off-season.
I would be shocked if Lehner, who is 5-1-0 with a 2.44 Goals Against Average and a .904 Save Percentage in the postseason, doesn’t get the start in Game 1 against Vancouver and this story will be a huge talking point for the rest of the Playoffs.
We seem to have a goalie controversy on our hands and, between this and the firing of Gerard Gallant, the Vegas Golden Knights are now having to navigate a real storm for the first time since becoming the NHL’s 31st franchise.