The recent news that Golden Knights starting goalie Robin Lehner will miss all of next season due to injury proves the Golden Knights made a big mistake during the 2021 offseason.
Back in 2021, a lot of Vegas fans were upset, and possibly still are, about a certain move the team made during the offseason. I know I still am, and I know that the fans know exactly what I’m talking about.
The Golden Knights traded the young franchise’s greatest-ever player and one of the NHL’s all-time best netminders, Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Greatest Golden Knight
Never mind that he was a three-time All-Star and one-time NHL Second All-Star Team selection with Vegas. Or that he was the team’s original expansion draft pick. Or that he won both the William M. Jennings Trophy and Vezina Trophy (NHL’s best goalie) during his last season with the team. Or that he led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals as an expansion franchise in 2018. Don’t forget he was a fan favorite, the face of the franchise, and an outstanding presence in the Las Vegas community.
They traded him anyways, even though there was only a season left on his contract and he had stated his desire to retire a Golden Knight.
The common excuse seemed to be they did it to save salary cap space, which is quite ironic knowing they’ve had even more issues with cap space and contracts in the past year even with Fleury off the books. Another theory that floated around for the cause of the trade was that Fleury was 36 and aging and that Robin Lehner was the younger, more long-term option. That option made little sense considering Fleury was coming off a career-best campaign.
No matter the reason, “Flower” was traded to Chicago, a team that wasn’t even a contender. To make matters worse, the Golden Knights made a giant public relations mess when the trade was reported, with Fleury finding out on Twitter instead of from team management.
They treated a franchise legend poorly on his way out. After a whole season and then some having passed, how is that decision faring for the Golden Knights? Not well at all. Call it unlucky, or karma, call it whatever you’d like, but it has been a disaster in Vegas since the trade happened.
The Consequences Followed
Injuries were a major problem last year, yet somehow the Golden Knights actually traded for a player who was injured. There have been salary cap issues, which recently led to the trade of Max Pacioretty to Carolina for basically nothing. Vegas missed the playoffs for the first time, and head coach Peter DeBoer was fired.
Oh, and the decision to keep Robin Lehner over Marc Andre-Fleury? Add that to the long list of failures over the last year or so, too.
Fleury vs. Lehner
Not only did Lehner help the team not make the postseason, but Lehner’s numbers weren’t great either. Part of that was the defense in front of him, but Lehner bears responsibility as well. He also played just 44 games, being injured like every other Golden Knight for a large part of the season. He wasn’t even available down the stretch when the team’s playoff hopes were hanging by a thread and he was needed most, being shut down with just a handful of games remaining. Now he’ll be out all of next year due to needing hip surgery, leaving the Golden Knights without a proven, long-time starter in net for 2022-23.
Meanwhile, Fleury was traded before the deadline to a contender, landing in Minnesota. He then helped the team reach the playoffs and his stats improved, replaced Cam Talbot as the starting goalie, and recently signed a new two-year contract extension. Fleury will be 39 when the deal expires, meaning he’ll more than likely retire with the Wild, which is a damn shame.
The Golden Knights traded Fleury and kept Lehner because they supposed it was the better option for not just the long term, but last season as well. Vegas was one of the favorites to win the 2021-22 Stanley Cup after all. Instead, that decision has not only helped derail one season, but it could possibly be the cause of demise for another.
What Could Have Been
And that’s just too bad. Fleury could have finished out his contract or signed an extension with the Golden Knights. He could have helped the team make the playoffs last year and possibly even more. He could have retired as a Golden Knight, had his jersey retired by the franchise, and been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame with a large part of his career having occurred in Vegas.
Fleury might’ve even been able to lift the Stanley Cup at T-Mobile Arena and lead a championship parade down The Strip.
Now we will never know what could have been, but I sure wish Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Vegas Golden Knight.