The Chicago Blackhawks missed the NHL playoffs last season, but general manger Stan Bowman apparently is hell-bent on that not happening again. Already having acquired star defenseman Seth Jones in trade from Columbus, the Blackhawks are landing reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights … if he doesn't retire. At William Hill Sportsbook, Vegas is a +700 third-favorite to win the 2022 Stanley Cup and Chicago a +8000 long shot (those odds likely to shorten).
Interesting that the Knights would do this considering they are in a win-now mode and were favorites to win the 2021 Stanley Cup after upsetting the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the playoffs. Fleury was marvelous in that series but then a bit shaky in the semifinal round upset loss to Montreal. The thinking with Vegas is that Fleury is due $7 million next season in the last year of his contract and will be 37 in November, so it would have been his final year with the team regardless.
Thus, the Knights are now committing to their 1B goaltender in Robin Lehner, who is only 30 and under contract through 2024-25 at around $5 million per season. Fleury and Lehner won the William Jennings Trophy as the goalie tandem with the best save percentage this past year. Ironically, the Blackhawks traded Lehner to Vegas in February 2020.
Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, was 26-10-0 with a 1.98 GAA, six shutouts and .928 save percentage in the 2021 regular season in winning his first Vezina Trophy in his 17th season. Fleury allowed two goals or fewer in 25 of 36 starts. His 492 career wins are third in NHL history behind Martin Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551). Chicago's primary goaltender was rookie Kevin Lankinen last year, and he was 17-14-5 with a 3.01 GAA and .909 SV.
There are some reports that Fleury might choose to retire for family reasons because he wanted to finish his career in Las Vegas. The Hawks did get him pretty cheap, sending back only minor leaguer Mikkael Mikael Hakkarainen and takes on all of Fleury's salary. Because Fleury might retire instead of report to Chicago, that lowered the price significantly. In fact, Fleury's agent just tweeted this: "Marc-Andre will be taking time to discuss his situation with his family and seriously evaluate his hockey future at this time."
Clearly, Bowman is hoping to make one last run at a Cup with veterans and future Hall of Famers Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews nearing the twilight of their careers; Toews sat out last season with a non-COVID illness but will play this year. I'd imagine Chicago's Cup odds will improve once this deal is official and if Fleury accepts it.
The Hawks open the 2021-22 season Oct. 13 in Colorado and visit Vegas the first time Jan. 8.
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