Vegas Golden Knights: It feels like the end of the road for Fleury

We could be nearing the end of a significant era for the Vegas Golden Knights.

It has only been a couple of days since the Vegas Golden Knights were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs after losing in five to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final, but focus has already shifted to the off-season.

While the postmortem of what went wrong inside The Bubble is still being conducted, there is also plenty of talk revolving around what could be a defining few weeks for the Golden Knights.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing a truncated off-season and the front office face a plethora of big and tough decisions.

We delved into it deep here, by the way.

Chief among those tough decisions will be the goaltending situation for the 2020-21 season and beyond.

And, more specifically, the future of Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury has been the face of this franchise since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.

He helped the Knights make a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural year, while he’s 91-50-14 with a .915 Save Percentage, a 2.51 Goals Against Average and 17 shutouts in 156 career regular-season games for Vegas.

Fleury’s impact on this franchise and on this City also stretches well beyond the ice, and the future Hall of Famer epitomizes everything that is good about the Golden Knights.

In many sense, Marc-Andre Fleury is the Vegas Golden Knights.

However, cracks in this relationship began to appear shortly after the restart when it became abundantly clear that Robin Lehner had emerged as the leader in the clubhouse when it came to who was going to be the undisputed starter in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Lehner’s ascension to the throne under Head Coach Peter DeBoer inside The Bubble clearly upset some in Fleury’s camp, as backed up by that now infamous Tweet from Fleury’s longtime agent Allan Walsh.

That picture of a sword, with DeBoer’s name emblazoned on the hilt, plunging through the back of Fleury was a clear shot at the front office and DeBoer, who both portrayed the stunning acquisition of Lehner at the Trade Deadline as help for Fleury.

It clearly was a lot more than that given Lehner got the bulk of the workload in the postseason, and you can’t blame Fleury for being a little angry even if he would never admit it himself given his nice guy personality.

Fleury got four starts in Edmonton, going 3-1-0 with a 2.27 Goals Against Average and a .910 Save Percentage, standing on his head and delivering like he always has for this team.

But Lehner was stellar in 16 starts, carving out a 9-7-0 record with four shutouts, a 1.99 Goals Against Average and a .917 Save Percentage.

He clearly gave Vegas the best possible chance to win on a nightly basis in the eyes of DeBoer and the front office, so it is no surprise that a renewal of the vows is on the card.

Multiple reports, including from our good friend Jesse Granger of The Athletic, suggest that an agreement is in place on a five year deal at $5 million per year for Lehner to remain with the Golden Knights.

While Lehner has denied those reports, which was predictable given that he was in the midst of a Playoff run, all signs point to the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist signing a long-term contract in Vegas.

It makes sense given his high level of play for the Knights and the fact that, at 29-years-old, he’s in his prime right now.

However, what does that mean for Fleury?

It doesn’t seem like it will be good news.

As we detailed here, the Golden Knights are currently projected to have just under $5 million in cap space to play with this off-season because of the flat cap.

Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights takes the ice prior to Game One of the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars.

Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights takes the ice prior to Game One of the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

They have six pending free agents to deal with, including RFA’s Chandler Stephenson and Nick Cousins, and should Lehner re-sign then the Knights will have to move out some salary.

One potential option is to move a piece of that top-six forward unit with the most obvious candidate being Paul Stastny, but Vegas would have to retain some of the center’s $6,500,000 salary, which is a non-starter.

As a result, trying to find a trade partner for Fleury would seem the most feasible option, although that could prove difficult given how many high-end netminders are set to hit the open market this off-season.

That would leave the Golden Knights with no choice but to try and buyout Fleury, which is hardly an ending deserving of a player who has served this franchise so well.

But, at the end of the day, sports is a business and it is almost a cardinal sin to commit to spending over $12 million on two goalies in a hard cap sport.

So, if Robin Lehner is the chosen one for the Golden Knights going forward, then we could find ourselves bidding a sad farewell to a true franchise icon in Marc-Andre Fleury, who deserved better than this.

Next: Front Office face huge off-season

We’ll see how it all unfolds but, at the time of writing, it is hard to see a future where the Vegas Golden Knights and Marc-Andre Fleury coexist in a happy marriage.