If you’ve spent much time on hockey Twitter in the past week and a half or so, I’m sure you know about Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent’s tweet on August 22nd. If you don’t, well, check it out in the embedded tweet below.
Fleury: “I just want to be behind it and move on. I told them all I care about is winning and what’s best for the team, and I think they know what.”
— Justin Emerson (@J15Emerson) August 23, 2020
This tweet was unnecessary. I’m not here to deny that. It caused an unnecessary and unpleasant distraction to the team, which is a big reason why Fleury had it taken down. However, I can’t say his agent doesn’t have a point here. Marc-Andre Fleury deserves better than what he’s getting right now. Here’s why.
Stats Don’t Tell the Whole Story
Fleury has spent the entirety of the Knights playoff run as their back-up goaltender. However, there really isn’t a good reason for this. He doesn’t deserve it. Yes, Robin Lehner’s stats were better during the regular season. He had a 19-10-5 record in 36 games this season between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden Knights, over which he had a 2.89 goals-against average (GAA) and 0.920 save percentage (SV%). This is compared to Fleury’s 27-16-5 in 49 games this season, over which he had a 2.77 GAA and 0.905 SV%. However, stats don’t tell the whole story.
Fleury played in 13 more games than Lehner. The more games you play, the more likely you are to have some stinkers in there that bring down your stats. So, there’s a very good chance that had they played the same number of games, their stats would be quite a bit closer. Bad games aside, it’s also almost guaranteed that Fleury saw tough competition a lot more frequently then Lehner. Malcolm Subban certainly wasn’t going to see those games for the Knights, whereas Chicago’s Corey Crawford probably saw some of them.
So, game discrepancy aside, Fleury almost surely saw the better competition, albeit behind a better defense. That’s going to bring a goalie’s stats down too. Fleury didn’t have his best year this year, but he still played well. Stats never tell the whole story, particularly when there’s been a trade, so it’s not a great reason to demote him.
Fleury is the Reason the Knights Are in the Playoffs
The biggest reason I have a problem with how Fleury is being treated is this: he’s the reason the Knights are in the playoffs. Beyond that, he’s the reason they made it to the Cup Final in year one, and really the reason they’re even good. But, focusing just on this year, Lehner only played three games for the team after coming over at the deadline before the season paused. Fleury played 49. Like I explained above, stats don’t tell the whole story. So to use them as a reason to demote the goalie that got you to where you are is just stupid.
Without Fleury, the Knight’s wouldn’t have even sniffed the playoffs this season, or any other one for that matter. Yes, they are a very good and deep team. But if they had to rely on Malcolm Subban as their goaltender? Yikes. They would not be in the playoffs right now, to put it nicely. Head coach Pete DeBoer is completely disregarding that fact in his decision on who should start. Lehner didn’t get you to where you are. He just joined the team a few weeks before the shutdown, and he’s probably not going to be around next season. Meanwhile, Fleury has been with the team since their inaugural season in 2017-18, and he’s signed for at least another two years. Why are they starting a guy who’s barely been with the team and probably won’t be sticking around over a guy who has been and is? It simply makes no sense.
Is There Something Wrong Behind the Scenes?
Simply put, there is no reason for Fleury to be the Knight’s back-up. He got them to where they are, he’s incredibly loyal, and he played well this year. It’s baffling to me that DeBoer decided to make Lehner the start over him. It just makes no sense. So to me, it has to mean that there’s something more going on behind the scenes. Ever since DeBoer took over as head coach on January 16th, Fleury has been treated poorly. I think there is a big issue between the two of them.
Think about it: why else would Vegas have even acquired Lehner, let alone start him in the playoffs? Why go after a great goalie when you already have an outstanding one? Yeah, it’s great to have two starting goaltenders. It gives you the flexibility to play whoever you want and have a chance to win. But it’s not necessary. There were other moves the Knights could’ve made that probably would’ve been more beneficial, like getting additional premier scoring help. If this was for the long-term, I could see it more. But Lehner’s contract is up at the end of the year, and he’s going to want more than the Knights can afford to give him. It’s unlikely he stays. So they made this move knowing it was just for one year.
To me, this shows that something is going on. There’s a rift between Fleury and someone in the Knight’s organization, and the only one that makes sense is DeBoer because when he came is when things went downhill for Fleury. I honestly have no idea what the issue could be though, as Fleury is exactly the kind of player you want on your team. So this whole situation is very weird to me.
What Happens From Here?
This offseason could be a very interesting one for Fleury and the Knights, especially if I’m right and there is a rift between Fleury and DeBoer. If the Knights make a big push to re-sign Lehner, and in particular if they are somehow successful, it’ll pretty much confirm my suspicions. If that’s the case, something is going to have to give, and not just from a money but a chemistry standpoint. The Knights have to know this. Fleury is still too good for a goaltender to be a back-up. He doesn’t want to be one, nor do I think he’ll accept it over the course of a season. He shouldn’t have to. He’s tolerating it now because he just wants the team to win. But as much as he loves it in Vegas, I don’t think he’ll do it from here on out. It’s wrong to make him.
Re-signing Lehner could be the Knights way of forcing Fleury out, just like Pittsburgh did when they had Matt Murray take over the starting duties (which hasn’t worked out too well for them) the year before Vegas’ expansion draft. The Seattle expansion draft next summer is another reason I think this. If the Knights re-sign Lehner, it is almost certain that either him or Fleury will be taken in the expansion draft. Fleury has a no-move clause (NMC) on his contract, and Lehner will likely want one as well. So that’ll make it so one of them has to waive it. I can see that player being Fleury, as it’ll be the same thing he went through in Pittsburgh. So, if Lehner is re-signed and Fleury doesn’t waive his NMC and so he isn’t traded between now and then, I think he’ll go to Seattle. I really hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s a possibility.
Either Way, Fleury Deserves Better
Regardless of what happens this offseason, Fleury deserves better than this. He deserves to be the starter for these playoffs. He’s more than earned it. Beyond that, he deserves to stay with the team, as it’s clear he wants to. If they force him out, which would likely be due to a rift between him and DeBoer, that’s a horrible look on the Knights’ upper management. You do not trade the player you built your franchise around, especially because of a coach you just hired. You just don’t. They shouldn’t have even let him make Fleury the back-up. But they did. So, this is going to be a very interesting storyline to watch unfold. I sincerely hope it ends well for Fleury though. He’s a hell of a player who deserves so much better than what he’s gotten.
-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)
Featured Image Courtesy of Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal