Tuesday resulted in a shocking trade in the NHL, as it was confirmed that Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights had been dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks. Originally, there was thought to be no return at all for the 36-year-old netminder. That turned out not to be entirely the case, as prospect Mikael Hakkarainen is in fact headed the other way. Given that he is 23 years old and has yet to even carve out a full-time role in the AHL, it proves that this trade was simply just a cap dump for Vegas.
While many expected the Golden Knights would look to move a goalie given that they had $12 million tied up between Fleury and Robin Lehner, no one saw it unfolding the way it did. In fact, many believed it would instead be Lehner who was shipped out, which despite being the younger of the two, made sense given the fact that Fleury just won his first-ever Vezina Trophy less than a month ago.
To make matters even worse, we have since learned that Fleury, who has been the franchise’s most coveted player since they began in 2017-18, learned about the trade through Twitter rather than hearing from any member of the Golden Knight’s management. This is an extremely unprofessional act toward any player, let alone one of Fleury’s caliber. And while it has to be frustrating for him, the disrespect is something he has unfortunately had to tolerate many times throughout his NHL career.
Before Fleury started getting the raw end of deals for a player with his credentials, his career started off quite well. He was drafted first overall in 2003, becoming just the third ever goalie to have that honour, and was able to lead the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals (winning the second in 2009) in just his third and fourth full seasons in the NHL.
Unfortunately, things went downhill very quickly after that. Despite being able to still perform quite well during the regular season, he had some very well documented struggles in the playoffs for four straight years, which had many suggesting he wasn’t built for pressure moments. In fact, many Penguins fans hoped that the team would trade him and look to bring in another goaltender to help guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin capture their second-ever Cup.
Penguins management instead chose to be patient with Fleury, which turned out to be the right choice. He rebounded and was able to post much better numbers during the 2014 and 2015 Playoffs despite the team failing to do much damage as a whole in either. However, despite no one seeing it coming, this was around the time it started turning into the beginning of the end for his time in Pittsburgh.
In 2015-16, Fleury was having arguably the best season of his career to that point before suffering a concussion, which opened the door for Matt Murray. Murray not only finished the regular season out strong, but was able to keep his hot play going throughout the playoffs, and went on a miraculous run to lead the Penguins to a Stanley Cup Championship.
Given how outstanding Murray was, many fans once again suggested trading Fleury to a team in need of a starting goalie. While management didn’t do that, it was clear that Murray was on his way to becoming the team’s number one netminder, and even started more games that very next season.
Once playoffs started, however, Fleury was in between the pipes due to an injury to Murray. He went on to play every game in each of the first two rounds and was outstanding, but was taken out of the net by Game 4 of the third round in favor of Murray who was once again healthy. While it’s hard to question this decision in retrospect given that they went on to win the Cup for a second straight year, it seemed somewhat unfair to Fleury with how well he was playing through the first two rounds.
That very next offseason came the Golden Knights expansion draft. While it made sense given the emergence of Murray, it once again felt unfair to Fleury when the Penguins made the decision to leave him exposed for the draft. This would have been a situation where many could have understood him being quite upset over how everything transpired but once again, as he had done in the past and continues to do to this day, he kept quiet and didn’t complain.
The decision to take Fleury from the Penguins was a no-brainer for Golden Knights management, and he was without a doubt the highest-profiled name they were able to grab on the day of the expansion draft. Though expectations were low from that team, Fleury led them in their first ever season all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Despite not being able to win it all, it was clear he had become a major fan favorite in Vegas.
Fleury was once again solid in 2018-19 but experienced some struggles in the 2019-20 campaign, where yet another move that would have frustrated many in his shoes happened. The Golden Knights announced they had traded for Lehner, who is viewed throughout the league as a very solid number one goaltender. Sure enough, this move went on to result in drama throughout the media as soon after there was chatter of a Lehner extension and a Fleury trade in the offseason. This time, even Fleury’s agent took a stand to defend his client, but the seemingly always cheerful netminder stayed quiet on the matter.
Despite an offseason where it felt like a foregone conclusion he would be dealt to a new team, Fleury remained a Golden Knight and showed no ill will toward the organization despite the unfair treatment for a guy who had given everything he possibly could have to them. Instead, he kept his head down and proved the struggles a season prior where a one-off, as he was able to post a ridiculous 1.98 goals-against average along with a .928 save percentage and a 26-10-0 record, which as mentioned above, helped him secure his first-ever Vezina Trophy.
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As crazy as it seems, just a short time after, Fleury is being treated poorly once again. From one perspective, the NHL is a business and trades happen. The Golden Knights are in a cap crunch and needed to offload some money. But trading a player who means as much to the city as he does and is still playing at an elite level seems like the wrong call here. Even worse is the fact that they weren’t able to contact him in regards to the move before he learned about it on social media. This is not the way to treat a player nor person of his caliber, and it is truly shocking to see some of the situations this future Hall-of-Fame goaltender has been dealing with throughout his career.
Now, just months after having his best season as an NHLer, his career is in jeopardy. There are multiple reports, including from his own agent, that he is seriously considering retirement as he wanted to play for no team going forward other than the Golden Knights.
One certainly hopes this isn’t the way Fleury’s fantastic yet strange career comes to an end, and that something good is able to come of this. In fact, some are even suggesting that if he won’t play in Chicago, perhaps another trade could be made where he goes back to the Penguins who are in need of a starting netminder. That all remains unclear at this point and time, but what is clear is that he has been disrespected in his career far too many times and deserves a much better way to go out than this.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.