The NHL hot stove is officially heating up. As the NHL offseason chaos ensues, the Chicago Blackhawks acquired goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from Vegas. On the surface, the move makes a lot of sense. However, since numerous reports have surfaced regarding Fleury, the trade doesn’t seem to be so great anymore.
On Tuesday morning, the Blackhawks moved forward Mikael Hakkarainen to the Vegas Golden Knights for Fleury. The trade was one-for-one and effectively looks like nothing more than a cap dump on the surface. The Golden Knights retain no salary and now have $7 million free to spend this offseason.
However, it was all fine and dandy until some ugly reports began to surface:
Reports have surfaced indicating Fleury does not want to physically leave Vegas. Many of these reports indicate that retirement or simply not reporting to Chicago is very much in the cards. Fleury and his family have become cemented in the suburbs of Vegas, and uprooting them to go to Chicago is pointless for the family.
Now, that brings us to the trade itself. Knowing Fleury could potentially retire, why would Stan Bowman make the trade?
With Fleury coming to Chicago, Vegas is able to shed a lot of salary. Since Vegas did not retain any salary, as well as not take back a significant contract, they freed up cap space they didn’t initially have. In theory, given the uncertainty around Fleury’s hockey future, the Blackhawks essentially gave Vegas cap space for free.
Sure, Fleury could always change his mind. However, even then this trade feels like something that Bowman could have done more with. In many instances, when a team is taking on salary from another team, teams will get more than just said player in the trade. Take a look at what the Arizona Coyotes have done this summer and you’ll understand what I mean.
Rather than attempting to gain assets from the Golden Knights, the Blackhawks simply settled for Fleury. Yes, getting the reigning Vezina trophy winner is a nice add, but why stop there when Vegas was clearly desperate for cap space? The Blackhawks could have asked for draft capital, a significant prospect, or even a roster player in the deal too.
While a roster player isn’t realistic, the other two options make a ton of sense. Perhaps one of Vegas’ better prospects would have been a great add to a Blackhawks talent pool that is admittedly depleted. Instead, Bowman settled for a goaltender who didn’t even want to leave Vegas, and may simply retire. We’ll examine the positives in a moment, but bear with me here.
Possibly the worst part about the Fleury move is the lack of certainty. If the 36-year-old goaltender waits until the middle of August to make a decision on his future, for example, then the Blackhawks may be sitting ducks. If time ticks too long, any possible additions they would have made if not for Fleury’s contract may go elsewhere, leaving the Blackhawks with an inability to improve. He could make a decision quickly, essentially meaning nothing, but the risk is still present.
Let’s address the reality of the trade. If Fleury decides to play for Chicago, it is a huge upgrade in net. Yes, Kevin Lankinen was very good last season, but having another veteran like Fleury can only help the situation. This allows for both goalies to split time fairly evenly and not burn out, as we saw Lankinen do toward the end of last season. Fleury is coming off a Vezina season, and his highest goals against average (GAA) was 2.77 in the last four seasons. He’s a future Hall of Fame goalie and still a tremendous player.
In addition, in the event Fleury retires, his $7 million does not damage the Blackhawks cap situation. It will simply cease to exist and the Blackhawks keep it moving. However, as noted earlier, timing differences could make the lack of a decision detrimental to the Blackhawks this offseason. However, there is the silver lining that they aren’t on the hook for cap space if he hangs up the skates.
A Feeling of Confusion
Given the circumstances of the situation at hand, this move is honestly puzzling. If Fleury was committed to playing in Chicago then this move is nice. I won’t lie, taking cap space for nothing is a loss by Bowman in my book. Again, check the Coyotes’ blue print and you’ll understand my frustration with Bowman’s lack of fleecing. He could have taken some type of asset in addition to Fleury to give the Golden Knights the cap space they wanted. Instead, he says “thanks” and kept it moving.
Throw in the idea that Fleury is now thinking about retirement and I don’t understand it. Why waste the time and effort when a player such as Darcy Kuemper is available to trade for? Certainty in free agency is nice, especially when you have objectives you’d like to accomplish. If Fleury’s decision doesn’t come quickly, any free agents the Blackhawks potentially wanted to add could be gone. Combine that with the possibility that the only “additions” they make are their own restricted free agents and you have a disaster. You have a Blackhawks roster that is not much better than it was last season. In fact, the only significant differences are a healthy Kirby Dach, Jonathan Toews, and Seth Jones in place of Duncan Keith. Yes, on paper that looks great, but this team has more holes than those three moves address.
Stan Bowman, you confuse the hell out of me sometimes. That said, it will be really interesting to see how this Fleury situation unfolds. At least we can call the future Hall of Famer a Blackhawks legend now, right?