Blackhawks Goalie Situation Looking Less And Less Clear

Marc-Andre Fleury #29, Vegas Golden Knights Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Marc-Andre Fleury #29, Vegas Golden Knights Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Stan Bowman made a very aggressive move in acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights for virtually nothing in return and got an additional draft pick in the deal. Perhaps he should have talked to Fleury or his agent prior to making the deal.

As far as making a splash this offseason, the Blackhawks front office got off to a great start. Trading Duncan Keith’s salary to Edmonton for Caleb Jones. Trading for a potential # D-man in Seth Jones from Columbus. And then trading for Marc-Andre Fleury, the Vezina Trophy-winning goalie from the Golden Knights. On paper, the Blackhawks look to be significantly improved with their free agency signings and trade acquisitions.

Unfortunately, there’s a “BUT” in this busy and exciting offseason. Marc-Andre Fleury had expressed that he wanted to finish his contract in Vegas, and after winning the Vezina, he felt he had earned that right. While the relationship between Fleury and Vegas has not always been perfect, he is highly regarded in the locker room, and almost universally loved among the fan base.

Making the decision to trade him to Chicago was a bold move by the Knights, who have designs on getting over the hump and winning a Stanley Cup.  They needed his $7M of cap space to maneuver this offseason to get more scoring punch, and bring some pieces back (Alec Martinez and Mattias Janmark to name a couple). So the deal makes sense for the Golden Knights.

Once the trade was announced, Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, notorious for his boldness on behalf of his clients, released a statement that Fleury would be considering his hockey future with his family, and whether he continues playing. Now this creates a problem for the Blackhawks in the short term, as well as for this upcoming season.

While Fleury is making up his mind (which in my opinion he has every right to do), the Blackhawks are carrying his $7M cap hit on their books for the upcoming season, and currently, show as over the 2021-22 Salary Cap by $667K. They still have needs to address, most notably signing Brandon Hagel and Alex Nylander to deals, and right now, they don’t have the cap space to do so.

It’s all a paper issue, because they will clear Andrew Shaw’s $3.9M off the books when they move him to LTIR at the start of the season, but there’s a bigger issue in play here: What happens if Fleury decides to retire, or forces a trade from the ‘Hawks to another team?

What if Fleury Retires?

There are 2 elements to this:

  1. Positive Cap Space: The Hawks get their $7M back immediately, with no penalty for the retirement. They would then be able to use that cap space in any way they want.
  2. Goalie Situation Goes Into Flux: They would now be back where they started, with Subban and Delia vying for the backup role behind Lankinen.

The Blackhawks have made a statement through their trade to get Fleury that their goaltending wasn’t good enough across the board to go into next season like they finished this past season. How do you reasonably go back to that, and have confidence in the same cast of characters to get the job done?

Free-agent options on the market right now reads like a goalie retirement home resident list, with names like Tuuka Rask, Devan Dubnyk, and Henrik Lundqvist. Any upgrade would likely require a trade, which means more assets out the door, and they have given up a ton this offseason already.

What if Fleury Forces a Trade?

There were initial rumors that Fleury would only accept a trade to Pittsburgh, where he spent the majority of his career, and he and his family view as “home.” It also sounds like Pittsburgh would be amenable to a reunion, with questions about Tristan Jarry in goal.

Pittsburgh doesn’t have the cap room to take on Fleury’s deal (~$2.6M in space according to Cap Friendly), so the Blackhawks would need to a)retain salary, AND/OR b) take on a bad contract from Pittsburgh in return. Neither really helps the Hawks in their rebuild.

They would still need a second goalie, which brings us back to what was mentioned above, and they would have less cap space to do it with.

In my opinion, the ‘Hawks need to try and get a response out of Allen Walsh or directly from Fleury by the end of this weekend, because they are running out of options to regroup if he doesn’t report or retires, and if they know with certainty he IS coming in to play in Chicago, they still have a few roster moves to get done, and they will need to complete them while teams are still dealing.

If it drags on too much longer, they will be forced into a corner, and will need to proceed as if he is coming to Chicago, or force the issue by making another trade of him to another team, and see if that makes him come forward with a decision.

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Either way, it’s not going to be great for Fleury this upcoming season, as every option he has is not where he wanted to be.