Agent provocateur Allan Walsh wasn’t speaking publicly Saturday, but in his case, a picture said a thousand words, perhaps several hundred thousand words. We have no idea whether Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury endorsed or even knew that his agent was going to crash hockey Twitter Saturday afternoon, but we do know this: That a tweet from Walsh that graphically suggests Vegas coach Peter DeBoer stabbed Fleury in the back had still not been take down hours after it appeared.
That suggests that relations between the Golden Knights and their first-ever expansion draft pick and face of the franchise are strained. But until Fleury speaks about it, we really can’t know. The Golden Knights have spoken with Fleury about the situation and it’s believed he’s on board with what the team is doing and just wants to win another Stanley Cup. And that he will remain with the team in the bubble in Edmonton and continue to serve as the backup to Robin Lehner. Walsh could not be reached for comment on Saturday. Both DeBoer and Golden Knights president of hockey operations, George McPhee, did return calls placed by TheHockeyNews.com, but declined to comment.
Very shortly after the picture, which shows Fleury making a save with a bloody sword embossed with ‘DeBOER’ on the blade, was posted to Walsh’s 42,800 followers, people took to wondering whether he might end up back with the Pittsburgh Penguins next season. Or whether the Edmonton Oilers should be inquiring, or how Fleury might look in an Ottawa Senators uniform.
We do know that Fleury is lauded as one of the best teammates in the history of the game and it doesn’t fit his profile to either initiate or endorse a move like this one. Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, in fact, said Fleury was exactly that in 2016 when he lost the crease to Matt Murray during the Penguins’ run to the Stanley Cup. It’s very possible that Walsh, who is unfailingly loyal and passionate about his clients, went rogue on this one. And if that’s the case, there’s nothing to suggest that the relationship between the Golden Knights and Fleury is not salvageable. But there has been enough going on in Vegas to suggest that the Fleury situation has caused some turmoil.
For example, two days after the Golden Knights acquired Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks, goalie coach Dave Prior stepped down as the team’s goaltending coach, but remained with the organization in a management role. It’s important to note that Prior highly recommended the Golden Knights take Fleury in the expansion draft and was a huge Fleury supporter. Lehner, a pending unrestricted free agent, was acquired Feb. 24. The two goalies alternated games until the league paused March 12, but once the NHL reconvened for the playoffs, Lehner was the undisputed No. 1 man in the crease. Since the playoffs began, Fleury has played only two games – when he stopped 13 of 17 shots in a round-robin win over the St. Louis Blues and a 26-save performance in the Golden Knights’ 2-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the first round, a game in which DeBoer called Fleury “our best player tonight.”
That Chicago game was the first of a back-to-back scenario. Lehner got the starts in Games 4 and 5 and is expected to get the start in Game 1 of the second round Sunday when the Golden Knights face the Vancouver Canucks, despite the fact Fleury has a 12-2-2 record against Vancouver and was 1-0-1 against the Canucks during the regular season. Fleury has not lost in regulation to the Canucks in 14 years and when asked whether that might influence his thinking, DeBoer said: “When I think about it, I don’t think it changes our roster decisions or our line makeups, at least not for Game 1.”
Fleury was asked about the goaltending situation after the win against Chicago and if he were upset with the situation, he wasn’t showing it. “I don’t feel I’m against Robin,” Fleury said. “I just feel I need to beat the Blackhawks. That’s where my focus is at, just trying to do my best to help my team get a win and be 3-zip in the series. Robin likes to play, I like to play and it’s the coach’s decision, right? It’s playoffs an I think everybody’s going to be a good team guy and all that matters is winning one game at a time here.”
After the Chicago victory, DeBoer appeared to sympathize with Fleury, saying, “The boys want to play well for (Fleury) because he’s such a good man, such a good pro and such a good teammate. Everybody wants to play. Players with his pedigree have a great pride in their game. It’s not easy to sit. He handled it exactly how you would expect a guy like him, with his professionalism, to handle it. And he did exactly what we needed him to do, which was play his ass off.”
A very wise hockey person once said that he has yet to meet the coach who doesn’t want to win. DeBoer, like every other coach in the NHL, is going to make lineup decisions based on which players he thinks give him the best opportunity to win every game. And it’s important to note that he took the Vegas coaching job in mid-January, so he doesn’t have any history with Fleury. DeBoer is playing the goaltender he believes gives him a chance to win, even if it means having one of the most respected and decent men to play the game at the end of his bench. And that is definitely not sitting well with at least one person in Fleury’s camp. It will be interesting to see where this goes.