Marc-André Fleury has been exactly as advertised since joining the Minnesota Wild at last month’s NHL Trade Deadline. While splitting starts with Cam Talbot, the three-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender has gone an impressive 7-1-0 in seven starts with his new club, recording a 2.64 goals-against average (GAA), .918 save percentage (SV%) and even an impressive assist on an overtime game-winning goal just over a week ago.
Fleury, who turned 37 this past November, made it known this week that he plans on playing at least one more season in the NHL, assuming his health holds up down the stretch. Although the Wild acquired him as a rental, that doesn’t mean that they should let him walk without a fight this summer. Instead, the team must buckle down over the next couple of months to figure out a way to convince Fleury to remain in St. Paul, Minnesota for the 2022-23 NHL season.
A Deep Playoff Run Could Convince Fleury to Stay
One of the biggest things that general manager Bill Guerin must keep in mind when offering Fleury another deal is the goaltender’s age. As mentioned before, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner is nearing his 40s and likely wouldn’t want to spend the final year of his career on a middle-of-the-pack team. The Wild have been a top-10 team in the league for a large portion of the season, however, it’s what they do in their playoff run that could be the deciding factor in Fleury staying or going.
The Wild have had issues going on a deep playoff run ever since they made it to the Western Conference Finals during the 2002-23 Playoffs. Since then, the furthest they’ve made it to is the second round…twice. While they are a relatively young team compared to most of the other teams in the league, three second-round or better appearances in 21 seasons is borderline embarrassing. If the club undergoes another quick exit, chances are Fleury will be motivated even more to explore other options this offseason.
The Wild are guaranteed to face the rival St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the 2021-22 Playoffs. Although Minnesota was winless in three meetings against St. Louis this season, two of those games ended in overtime with the third being decided by two goals. Considering how the two overtime contests happened in April alone, it’s safe to say that the Wild can hold their own against the Blues once the playoffs arrive.
What happens next if the Wild eliminate the Blues is anyone’s guess. Unless there’s a massive upset, they’d likely face the Western Conference-leading Colorado Avalanche in the second round, which isn’t exactly an ideal matchup for any team. Nevertheless, the Wild are 1-1-1 against the Avalanche this season and have shown that they can play at their level. Minnesota may have a difficult time eliminating Colorado, however, a close six or even seven-game series might be enough to convince Fleury to stick around for another year.
Wild Can Afford Fleury on Team-Friendly Deal
Money is another concern when it comes to potentially re-signing Fleury. It’s been well-documented that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s buyouts kick in next season, leaving the Wild with just over $8.1 million in cap space to spend. They can alleviate some of that pain by trading Mathew Dumba, letting Kevin Fiala walk as a restricted free agent (or a sign-and-trade situation) and calling up their top prospects from the American Hockey League (AHL).
Fleury’s current contract has an average annual value (AAV) of $7 million and it’s highly unlikely that he sees that sort of money this offseason. Even if it’s a one-year deal, it’d be tough to find a team willing to spend almost 8.5% of next year’s salary cap on a 38-year-old goaltender — regardless of the accomplishments he’s amassed throughout his career.
At the end of the day, the Wild need to figure out how to get Fleury on a team-friendly deal, even if they make all of the aforementioned moves to save cap space. A deep playoff run could convince him to take something in the ballpark of $3.5 million to $4 million, especially if he believes that the Wild could go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in what could be his final NHL campaign in 2022-23.
The great news is that Talbot only carries a cap hit of $3,666,667 million next season. If he was making similar money to other starting goalies around the NHL, the dream of re-signing Fleury would likely be unrealistic. However, spending anywhere between $7 million and $8 million on two starting-caliber goaltenders is a situation that most teams would salivate at the thought of. A strong playoff run makes the possibility of Fleury re-signing more likely, especially if he thinks that taking a discount is the best thing to help the Wild ice a Stanley Cup contender.
Wild Are a Better Team With Both Fleury and Talbot
Wild fans have noticed that their team has been playing with a lot more confidence since Fleury arrived in Minnesota. After all, it’s hard not to feel that confident when a goaltender with his history is between the pipes. Even though there’s no scientific way of proving a direct relation, Fleury’s arrival has also lit a fire under Talbot.
Talbot has gone 7-0-3 in 10 appearances since the Wild acquired Fleury on March 21, posting a .923 SV%, 2.28 GAA and a pair of shutouts over that span. For reference, that’s a significant improvement over the .907 SV% and 2.92 GAA he recorded in his 38 games played prior to the trade.
Since March 21, Fleury and Talbot have backstopped the Wild to a .919 team SV%, which is tied for the best in the NHL during that time. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the 2.50 goals-against-per-game over that stretch is also second-best to only the New York Rangers (2.20). That type of play from both goaltenders has led to the Wild posting a 14-1-3 record in their last 18 games with a plus-25 goal differential. Simply put: the Wild have been a better team across the board since adding Fleury.
It isn’t every day that an NHL team is privileged enough to have two starting-caliber goalies such as the Wild have in Fleury and Talbot. The 1A/1B situation has worked out well for the organization so far and having a three-time Stanley Cup champion between the pipes certainly legitimizes the Wild as a championship threat. Even if they don’t go all the way this year, Fleury has proven that he makes Minnesota a better team and if Guerin can get one more year out of the former’s career, he needs to do everything he can moving forward to ensure that Fleury is in a Wild jersey next season.
As a lifelong hockey fan and recent Master of Journalism graduate, it’s always been my dream to write about the sport. That’s why you can find me here on THW covering the Minnesota Wild! You may also see my work on FanDuel, the Ottawa Citizen, and various sports betting sites. Follow me on Twitter @devplat!