The Blackhawks landed a Vezina Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion on Tuesday, acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for forward prospect Mikael Hakkarainen.
It was a salary-dump move by the Golden Knights, who have Robin Lehner locked up on a five-year deal, and it's a blockbuster-type acquisition for the Blackhawks. But it's also a complicated one from Chicago's point of view.
Fleury, 36, has one year left on his contract that carries a $7 million cap hit. Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon confirmed in a video conference call on Tuesday that Fleury didn't want to leave Vegas and is "taking time to discuss his situation with his family and seriously evaluate his hockey future at this time," according to his agent Allan Walsh.
There's a possibility Fleury may not even play for the Blackhawks. But judging by his statement, President/GM Stan Bowman is speaking like someone who's expecting Fleury to be part of the fold, although it may be wishful speaking.
"The opportunity to acquire a Vezina-winning goaltender is rare and one you cannot pass up," Bowman said. "Marc-Andre improves our goaltending, strengthens our team defense and will have a huge impact on the overall development of the Blackhawks. 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."
So what happens now? How do the Blackhawks move forward not knowing if Fleury is committed to playing for Chicago with free agency less than 24 hours away?
If Fleury ultimately decides to retire, the Blackhawks would face no penalty whatsoever. They would be completely absolved of his $7 million cap hit, so there's no issue there. The problem is the timing of it all.
If the Blackhawks want to address the goaltending position, they would probably like some reassurance soon, one way or another, as to what Fleury's plans are. You would think they would've gotten that before making the trade, but perhaps there's a game of poker going on.
If Fleury decides he still wants to play, just not with Chicago, only one team comes to mind as a potential option: The Pittsburgh Penguins, where he won three Stanley Cups.
According to The Athletic, Fleury not wanting to play for the Blackhawks — or any other team, for that matter — has "nothing to do with the Blackhawks organization but rather Fleury not wanting to uproot his family for an unfamiliar locale." Pittsburgh, however, is where his wife grew up and where Fleury started his NHL career.
The Penguins have been interested in reacquiring Fleury dating back to last season, but owner Vegas owner Bill Foley blocked any potential trades from happening. No doubt they'll be circling back now that Fleury is property of the Blackhawks, who have the cap space to retain salary in a potential trade and could recoup assets by doing so. Vegas did not, and Pittsburgh just couldn't afford to swing a deal without a team absorbing a portion of his $7 million cap hit.
Again, the Blackhawks are expecting Fleury to be their No. 1 goaltender next season. They traded for him because they legitimately want him in the fold.
But the fact the Blackhawks didn't give up much of anything to acquire Fleury indicates they're aware this deal comes with the possibility that he either retires or ends with Chicago helping facilitate a trade for Fleury to a team where he and his family would be comfortable with to finish his NHL career.