Silly season has officially arrived.
In a shocking move that few saw coming, the Vegas Golden Knights traded goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday morning in exchange for minor-league forward Mikael Hakkarainen.
That's it. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was just dealt for essentially nothing.
Why did this happen? How? Well, a few reasons.
Namely, Vegas more or less forced their own hand. After committing a combined $12 million to the goaltending position last season, the Golden Knights needed to move one of their high-priced netminders heading into the summer. That was obvious. Context would label Fleury as the logical choice, given that he happens to be older, more expensive, and has less term remaining on his contract than his tandem partner, Robin Lehner.
Not to mention, the Golden Knights had just signed Lehner to a five-year contract extension the previous offseason, clearly tipping their hand as to whom they viewed as the franchise's goalie of the future. Sprinkle in some rumblings that Vegas has quietly built themselves a reputation as a team that will sign players long-term only to move them out soon after, and that dealing Lehner would add even more fuel to that fire, and Fleury was the natural choice.
But that doesn't mean this trade isn't surprising.
Fleury did, after all, take home the Vezina last season as the NHL's most outstanding goaltender, putting up a remarkable .928 save percentage in 36 games while leading the Golden Knights to the third round of the playoffs. The 36-year-old silenced a score of doubters that popped up after a dismal 2020 playoffs. And what he did in 2021 was prove, definitively, that he's still got it, an outcome which Vegas' front office clearly didn't plan on, given how they had just committed a half-decade of term to Lehner mere months earlier.
But to deal him for nothing? That just doesn't make sense, right? Well, not exactly.
According to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, Fleury may never don a Blackhawks sweater in the first place, with reports suggesting that the veteran netminder could simply choose to retire rather than move his family halfway across the country this late in his career.
As such, a ticking clock was started. With free agency less than 24 hours away, the Golden Knights needed cap space. And with the very real possibility that Fleury never reports to Chicago and ultimately leaves them empty-handed, it would only make sense that the return heading Vegas' way would do the same.
If nothing else, this presents a tremendous opportunity for the Blackhawks.
If Fleury does choose to retire, it's a moot point. They simply wipe their hands clean and shift their focus to the free-agent pool. But if Fleury can be persuaded to play, and actually does report to the Windy City, the Blackhawks gain a Vezina-winning netminder at a reasonable $7 million cap hit that expires after the season for, quite literally, nothing.
No matter what happens, one thing is for sure: All eyes will be on Fleury in the days to come.