The flat salary cap continues to make things awfully weird in the NHL — weirder than we might have ever imagined.
The Vegas Golden Knights, as they always do, found themselves up against it financially, with only about $5 million in space, and Alec Martinez, the recently acquired Nolan Patrick, and the less pressing Thomas Nosek in need of re-signing. Kind of hard to do, considering that Martinez could swallow all that up himself, and as the Knights learned last season, not having any space whatsoever during the season means you can’t call anyone up should injuries hit and leave you skating with 16 or 17 guys for some games. Which, with the season going back to 82 and most of the roster over 30 or close to it, could be a real problem.
So what do you do? You give away your Vezina-winning goalie for free! And maybe don’t tell him you did?
The Knights “traded” Marc-Andre Fleury to the Hawks for… nothing? There’s apparently some prospect going back to Vegas, except it’s someone no one has heard of and might not even play hockey. Might be an equipment guy somewhere. We’re efforting to find out. This is a donation, such as it is. And it was definitely news to Fleury, the day before his NMC kicked in and he could have stopped this.
The move bumps the Knights up to some $12 million in space, which could allow them to make another move besides just re-signing whoever they want to (Eichel trade? Ryan Strome?). They could probably use some bolstering down the middle, though Eichel would just be impolite for the rest of the league. They will turn over their goaltending duties to Robin Lehner, who could hardly be better than Fleury was last year and is also about 12 times more volatile. It will be interesting to see how a team like the Knights handles him bus-tossing everyone after his first bad loss in November. Still, Lehner can also be near Vezina-level himself when he’s on, and that’s what the Knights will be counting on.
As for the Hawks, it’s not clear what they’re getting because no one is sure Fleury will actually show up. He made it very clear he didn’t want to play anywhere but Vegas, and very well might retire rather than play anywhere else. And once he gets a look at the Hawks’ defensive numbers and their numbskull coach, retirement might sound pretty damn nice.
For the Hawks, it’s obviously a no-risk play. Either they get the reigning Vezina winner to paper over their defensive chasms, or they’re back where they started while having lost nothing. Should Fleury show up, it will completely eradicate the cap space the Hawks finally had gotten, though they can engineer plenty during the season through Long-Term Injury Reserve thanks to Andrew Shaw and Brent Seabrook hanging out on Tupac’s and Biggie’s island and not technically retiring. But that won’t help them during the offseason, and they still need a ton. Unless they use that LTIR during the offseason, which teams can do, but it ruins their flexibility during the season. Then again, the Hawks might have so much LTIR (especially if Jonathan Toews can’t make the bell again), they could pull it off. Because even with Fleury and Seth Jones, the Hawks don’t look anything like a playoff team in the Central Division.
It’s also hard to ignore the “Wag The Dog” factor of the Hawks’ past few days. Being under investigation for allegedly covering up sexual assault and being sued for endorsing an alleged sex assaulter by another victim, a portion of the fanbase must wonder why they’re even bothering. But there’s no better “HEY LOOK OVER THERE!” than some big moves with big names that even casual fans might know. But maybe that’s my cynical side talking (it’s generally the only one that does, but I’m a reflection of my time and not a miserable person, I swear).
It’s definitely a healthy state of affairs though where the best goalie of last season and one of the most likable people in the NHL can just get gifted to another team because his original team has to fight the salary cap. This is working out well for everyone.