Marc-Andre Fleury‘s time with the Vegas Golden Knights could be nearng an end after goalie Robin Lehner signed a five-year, $25 million contract with them Saturday.
The long-term commitment to Lehner makes Fleury’s future unclear. The 35-year-old goalie has two seasons remaining on a three-year, $21 million contract (average annual value $7 million) he signed with Vegas on July 13, 2018.
“There’s more decisions to be made obviously now with Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin under contract,” Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “We’ve got different options that we’ll explore here before making our final decisions.”
The options include trading Fleury, buying out the final two seasons of his contract, or keeping him to share time with Lehner at least to begin next season. With Lehner’s contract, which has an average annual value of $5 million, and Fleury’s contract, the Golden Knights have $12 million in NHL salary cap space committed to the two goalies next season.
With the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million, keeping both would be challenging, but McCrimmon didn’t rule it out.
“I’m not going to dive into what the options are, but I think it’s pretty clear,” McCrimmon said. “There’s a number of different ways that this could unfold, and continuing with both goaltenders is one of those options. So, again, when we know more, we’ll tell you more, but at this point, we’re still evaluating what the next steps will be.”
Fleury was selected by the Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18. When Vegas acquired Lehner on Feb. 24 in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had acquired him earlier that day in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, McCrimmon said the plan was for Lehner to provide veteran support for Fleury.
But the 29-year-old supplanted Fleury as the No. 1 goalie this postseason, starting 16 of 20 games during their run to the Western Conference Final, which they lost to the Dallas Stars in five games.
Fleury was 3-1-0 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in four postseason starts after he was 27-16-5 with a 2.77 GAA, .905 save percentage and five shutouts during the regular season.
After seeing reports that Lehner might be signed to a long-term contract, Fleury on Sept. 24 said he wanted to stay with the Golden Knights.
“I get along great with Robin, so I think it would be all right. I still love to play,” Fleury told The Athletic. “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.”
A three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017), Fleury is fifth in NHL history with 466 wins over 16 NHL seasons with Pittsburgh and Vegas. He is 466-266-80 with two ties, a 2.57 GAA, .913 save percentage and 61 shutouts in 847 regular-season games and 81-63 with a 2.58 GAA, .911 save percentage and 15 shutouts in 146 postseason games.
But with Fleury turning 36 on Nov. 28, McCrimmon had to address the Golden Knights’ long-term future and believes they did that by re-signing Lehner.
“I understand how our fans feel about Marc-Andre Fleury exactly,” McCrimmon said. “I think that he’s been the face of the franchise. His reputation as a person along with his ability as a goaltender make him a fan favorite and a guy that’s played some tremendous goal for us. It’s really challenging as a manager. You need to always be doing what you believe is in the best interest of your team. So that’s what I’ve done.
“We have a ton of respect for Marc-Andre Fleury. We will try to make good decisions here as we move along, but at the same time, if you don’t make the hard decisions sometimes, you’re not doing your job as well as you should be.”