The Blackhawks made their second blockbuster move in less than a week on Tuesday, acquiring Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for prospect Mikael Hakkarainen.
Fleury is only the second goaltender in NHL history to be traded in the offseason right after winning the Vezina Trophy; Dominik Hasek is the other when he was moved from Buffalo to Detroit in 2001.
"The opportunity to acquire a Vezina-winning goaltender is rare and one you cannot pass up," President/GM Stan Bowman said in a statement.
The move is essentially a salary dump for the Golden Knights, who are in a cap crunch and are committed to Robin Lehner as their long-term starter. At some point, carrying two goaltenders at a combined cap hit of $12 million was going to catch up to them from a financial perspective.
For the Blackhawks, it's a little more complex.
Fleury immediately slots in as the No. 1 goaltender and shores up the most important position in hockey for the Blackhawks, who have statistically been one of the worst defensive teams over the last several years. He also becomes a perfect mentor for Kevin Lankinen, who emerged as one of the top rookie netminders this past season.
It's unclear whether Lankinen has the potential to be a full-time starter at the NHL level or if his ceiling is just a really good backup, but the Blackhawks probably feel Fleury's presence both on and off the ice should help with the overall development of their young netminders that also includes Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban, who served as Fleury's backup in Vegas. It sure helps make the team better, as a whole, as well.
"Marc-Andre improves our goaltending, strengthens our team defense and will have a huge impact on the overall development of the Blackhawks," Bowman said. "Having a goaltender like this on our team will put the talent we currently have on our roster in a better position to achieve sustained success. The entire organization is thrilled to have this future Hall of Famer on our team and his reputation of being an excellent teammate on and off the ice precedes him."
Here's the big question mark: Will Fleury report to training camp? There were, reportedly, rumblings that he could contemplate retirement if he was traded out of Vegas, and his agent Allan Walsh confirmed after the trade made its rounds on social media that Fleury will be reassessing his future.
"Marc-Andre will be taking time to discuss his situation with his family and seriously evaluate his hockey future at this time," Walsh wrote.
If Fleury chooses to retire, the Blackhawks would be off the hook entirely of his $7 million cap hit. The team is hoping that won't be the case but understands it's a possible scenario.
And while it's a low-risk, high-reward move for the Blackhawks, not knowing whether Fleury is committed to playing for Chicago next season puts the team in a dicey situation going into free agency. That's $7 million the Blackhawks must set aside as they await word from Fleury's representatives on what he decides to do.
Closing thoughts: Chicago acquiring Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury in a five-day span doesn't necessarily mean that the Blackhawks are suddenly in win-now mode. But it sure feels like they're taking a page out of the New York Rangers' book and are trying to accelerate the rebuilding process.