The Chicago Blackhawks and Vegas Golden Knights executed a trade this morning, sending 2021 Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury to the Blackhawks in exchange for minor-leaguer Mikael Hakkarainen’s contract. That’s it. Also, the Golden Knights will not be retaining salary on Fleury’s final year of his current deal, with a $7M AAV cap hit coming Chicago’s way.
OFFICIAL: We’ve acquired reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury 🌸 pic.twitter.com/PspWRdlQSR
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) July 27, 2021
From a purely on the ice standpoint, this is a great deal for the Blackhawks. They add a big cap hit, which we will get to, but they also add a sure-fire No. 1 goaltender to their roster to pair with last year’s breakout rookie Kevin Lankinen.
But wait, there’s more…
While Marc-Andre Fleury still hasn’t heard from anybody with the Vegas Golden Knights, he has apparently been traded to Chicago. Marc-Andre will be taking time to discuss his situation with his family and seriously evaluate his hockey future at this time.
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) July 27, 2021
Allan Walsh, Fleury’s agent, tells us that not only has the three-time Stanley Cup Champion not heard from the Vegas Golden Knights about the trade, but that it is also possible that the 36-year-old might retire, rather than play for the Blackhawks.
The Athletic has a little more context, none of which sounds all that good for the Blackhawks:
A source close to Fleury described him as “totally shocked.” Another source said Fleury “doesn’t want to play there,” though stressing that the sentiment had nothing to do with the Blackhawks organization but rather Fleury not wanting to uproot his family for an unfamiliar locale …. Those closest to Fleury have said he and his wife hoped Fleury would finish his career with the Golden Knights. The Fleury family has taken to life in suburban Vegas and did not want to uproot their three children.
Well, okay, then. The Blackhawks must be confident they can change his mind. For what it’s worth, one of The Athletic’s sources did wonder if the Golden Knights and Blackhawks had discussed an alternative return if Fleury does retire, though it remains unclear if anything of the sort exists.
At least, if he were to retire, the Blackhawks would not face any financial penalties, according to CapFriendly.
If Marc-André Fleury decides to retire instead of playing this season in Chicago, his $7M cap hit will be completely removed.
Chicago will not have a cap hit charge due to Fleury in that scenario.
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 27, 2021
So … cool?
You’ll remember that when the Golden Knights had their expansion draft, they acquired Marcus Kruger at his full cap hit back in 2017, for virtually nothing in return. Two day later, Vegas flipped him to the Hurricanes. Maybe, there is a chance, this is connected and a way for Stan Bowman to payback the Golden Knights franchise for doing them a solid.
McCrimmon: "This is a player that is at the very top of his game… I should think that he'll play this year."
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) July 27, 2021
Even still, the Blackhawks will need an answer from Fleury sooner rather than later, as the NHL Free Agency period opens in less than 24 hours. It’s paramount the Blackhawks know if Fluery is on their books or not heading into free agency, because if he is, they are screwed and will need to shed money, fast.
#Blackhawks have used all of the $10M cap space they had after the Duncan Keith trade
They're projected with $0.6M in cap space and after further signings are projected to be an LTIR team
We currently have the club with the least cap space in the leaguehttps://t.co/eDhze3ndUG
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 27, 2021
If Fleury does play his final year of his current deal in Chicago, that likely means the Blackhawks will have to say goodbye to Nikita Zadorov and possibly also Calvin de Haan, who would otherwise both come back to the team next season earning somewhere in the $4-4.5M range. We already know de Haan’s cap hit next season is $4.55M. Zadorov, an RFA, is asking for the same or more on his new deal. Chicago is going to have to get creative if they expect to have enough cap space now to just sign their in-house free agents, let alone add anyone from the open market.
Stan Bowman on the Fleury trade from the release:
"The opportunity to acquire a Vezina-winning goaltender is rare & one you cannot pass up. Marc-Andre improves our goaltending, strengthens our team defense and will have a huge impact on the overall development of the Blackhawks.
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) July 27, 2021
If Fleury intends to play, all the “rebuild” branding the team has done over the past year was BS.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing against adding the reigning Vezina winner and a first-ballot Hall of Fame goaltender to try to compete in the league again. But leaving yourself without enough cap space to sign even one league-minimum deal is not what a team who is rebuilding does. Adding Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury is trying to accelerate the process, and you can see why they are doing it. That 2022-23 season is looking more and more like the last hurrah the Blackhawks will potentially have before everything, everything, gets blown up.
Again, IF Fleury plays in Chicago. Which seems to be less and less the case as the day moves along.
It is believed Fleury made it clear he didn't want to be traded, whether to Chicago or anywhere else…and this confirms it.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 27, 2021
For the time being, the Blackhawks have their starting goaltender for 2021-22 in Marc-Andre Fleury. We’ll see where this goes as the hours count down to the opening of the NHL Free Agency period at 11:00 a.m. CT tomorrow.