The Vegas Golden Knights have traded face of the franchise and reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Marc-Andre Fleury, to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for prospect Mikael Hakkarainen in an effort to open up cap space.
According to The Athletic, the veteran netminder was "totally shocked" by the move and received no heads up from the organization, instead finding out via Twitter.
But there's an even bigger twist. According to The Athletic, Fleury has no desire to play for Chicago due to family reasons and is assessing his options. Those options appear to be retirement, or forcing Chicago's hand to trade him back to Pittsburgh, who reportedly explored acquiring him last summer.
It's an unfortunate end in Vegas for Fleury, who did so much for the four-year-old franchise after being selected in the expansion draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2017. He won 145 games split between the regular season and playoffs in his four seasons, leading the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in their inaugural season.
Fleury proved to be indispensable to Vegas's success this past season, handling most of the responsibilities in the crease despite being shopped following the acquisition of Robin Lehner. He was named the league's top netminder for the very first time in his 17 seasons based on his brilliant regular season, fashioning a .928 save percentage in 36 starts.
He was also the lead option in the postseason, helping the Golden Knights return to the NHL semifinal before tripping up versus the Montreal Canadiens.
In a perfect world, the Golden Knights would surely prefer to keep both Fleury and Lehner, who combined to win the William M. Jennings Trophy last season as the league's most efficient goaltending duo. But with handcuffing cap inflexibility and serious roster issues, it no longer seemed tenable for Vegas to carry two netminders at a total cap hit of $12 million, prompting the move to Chicago.
The Blackhawks aren't supposed to be true contenders next season, however they have made a few splashy offseason moves, namely acquiring Seth Jones. It's also expected that Jonathan Toews will return after a season spent addressing health issues.
Vegas, meanwhile, is believed to be in agreement on a significant pay increase for defenseman Alec Martinez, so much of the cap savings will be devoted to that. The Golden Knights also have to broker an agreement with newly-acquired former top-two draft selection Nolan Patrick, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers, by way of the Nashville Predators through trade.
Even so, management should still have the ability to make a free-agent splash with the $7 million owed to Fleury now off the payroll.
It's expected that Hakkarainen will continue to develop in the Chicago system despite being property of the Golden Knights.
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