The Chicago Blackhawks now have an elite goaltender on their roster. However, this might not end up being the best-case scenario the team is hoping for.
For the second time in under a week, the Blackhawks have set the hockey world alight with news. As first reported by TSN’s Darren Dreger, Chicago has acquired goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights. In exchange, Vegas received minor-league forward Mikael Hakkarainen.
In my opinion, this move was a bit of a double-edged sword for general manager Stan Bowman. After completing the trade for Seth Jones during the draft, the team likely figured that acquiring a proven veteran like Fleury would help Kevin Lankinen grow between the pipes.
Now, I’m not saying that Fleury won’t greatly help the Blackhawks. After all, he is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, and one of the best goaltenders of the last decade. If anyone could make an impact in net, it’s Flower.
However, there are a couple of reasons that I think this trade has some underlying issues around it. First of all, there have been a lot of reports, including from reputable sources like HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman, that Fleury was very happy in Vegas, and was considering retiring if he were to be traded away in order to spend more time with family.
If Fleury were to retire, then it would be no harm, no foul for Chicago. His salary wouldn’t be on the books against the Blackhawks if this were the case, and all it would really mean is that Vegas ended up giving away their Vezina winner for nothing.
The bigger issue, in my opinion, is if Fleury does end up playing for the ‘Hawks next year. While he will obviously be a great addition in net and immediately become the team’s number one starter, this would create some significant salary cap issues.
The ‘Hawks just signed Seth Jones to an eight-year, $9.5 AAV contact, and now they’ve taken on Fleury, who has one year left on a $7 million contract. The odds that he would ink a new deal with Chicago next year are slim. However, either way, if Fleury takes the ice this season, it means the Blackhawks will be in a big salary crunch next year, and all the cap space they freed up from the Duncan Keith trade is now gone. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Ben Pope sums up the trade well:
I’m not saying that this is a bad deal, because on paper, it’s not, but given the salary cap issues it creates, it is a risky move. For a team that claims to be rebuilding, as the ‘Hawks are, this just doesn’t seem like a rebuilding move to me.
As much as I like the idea of Marc-Andre Fleury on the Blackhawks, for the amount of time he’d spend on the team, taking on his salary simply may not be worth it. If they are looking to keep improving this team over the next few years, they’ll need as much cap space as possible, and this trade does the opposite of that.
Perhaps Bowman has changed his mind on the rebuild given his recent moves, and feels that, with the addition of Jones and Fleury, the team can get back to a ‘win now’ mode. I just don’t feel that this is the case, and I think personally I would’ve rather seen the Blackhawks use this salary space to re-sign a guy like Pius Suter, or sign other free agents who could help the team in the long run. Now, they can try to shed some more contracts during the offseason and work around with the guys on the LTIR, but this will still only free up so much cap space.
Overall, though, it remains to be seen how this move will play out. It will end up being totally consequential if Fleury retires. On the other hand, if he plays, then the ‘Hawks just made a brilliant move to acquire one of the all-time great goaltenders practically for free, but put themselves right back into a bad cap situation. We’ll have to wait until the puck drops on the upcoming season to get the answer.