While the Stanley Cup playoffs begin to wind down, Leafs fans are full steam ahead on the Speculatetember train in regards to who will be acquired this offseason. There’s a certain defenceman that has Toronto as one of his top choices in free agency, a particular forward that is open to donning the Blue and White, and goaltending being the team’s biggest area of need heading into the draft.
That last one, in particular, has been one of the biggest question marks of the offseason. More specifically regarding Frederik Andersen and what the future holds for him. You already know my stance on what the Leafs should do with him, but the caveat is that they must first get their new starter acquired before going forward with dealing Andersen elsewhere. Luckily for Leafs management, there are a number of teams that might be looking to trade one of their netminders.
Matt Murray is one we’ve heard a bunch of times; the same goes for Darcy Kuemper and Cam Talbot (the latter being to a lesser extent). But one team that doesn’t get discussed as much in terms of a potential trade partner with Toronto is the Vegas Golden Knights. That’s because there is a goalie controversy brewing and will likely see one of their netminders depart in a few weeks’ time.
Leafs fans were hoping that Robin Lehner would be available in free agency, but there are rumours suggesting he will be sticking around in Sin City for a while (although he denies that to be the case). This leaves Marc-Andre Fleury likely on the outside looking in and could find himself on a new team soon. And if it comes to the point where he is available for a trade, the Leafs should consider giving Kelly McCrimmon a call.
First, I need to acknowledge that Fleury did not play as well as he’s been accustomed to during the 2019-20 season. In 48 starts, he won 27 games, posted five shutouts, a .907 SV%, and a 2.77 GAA. His subpar play played a factor in why Vegas went out and acquired Lehner at the deadline and why the latter became the number one option in the postseason. Fleury won three playoff games, recorded a .910 SV% and a 2.27 GAA in only four starts. The drop off in games played is a big reason why Allan Walsh, Fleury’s agent, tweeted that infamous photo of his client.
Marc-Andre Fleury has completed the dream save for 90's goalies – the elusive and technically demanding overtime poke-stack-mill. Tonight, we're all living through MAF. pic.twitter.com/SnzPxb013F
— InGoal Magazine (@InGoalMedia) January 19, 2020
With that said, it’s hard to look past his resume because Fleury has achieved quite a lot in his NHL career so far. On top of making five appearances in the All-Star game, he has helped bring his team to five Stanley Cup Finals appearances, three of them resulting in a Cup victory. This is a goalie with a proven track record of finding success in the playoffs and that’s something Toronto will need from their netminder. He’s also just two years removed from helping the expansion Golden Knights make a surprise appearance in the Finals where his performance was a huge factor in how the team was able to reach those unexpected heights.
If the Leafs do decide to take a flyer on the 35-year-old, will they be getting that same goalie who has helped backstop his team to the Cup or are they bringing in a guy who is beginning to decline in performance? Although he is on the wrong side of 30, gaining a fresh start elsewhere with the guarantee of being the starter might provide him with the motivation to bounce back. Acquiring a different goalie won’t automatically solve all of the Leafs problems (*cough cough* team defence *cough cough*), but getting a galvanized netminder will put the team in a better position.
Toronto won’t be obtaining Fleury to be the number one option for the long-term future because it’s unrealistic due to his advanced age. Instead, it would be to make him a transitional netminder as the Leafs wait for their goaltending prospects continue to develop in the minors. One of Joseph Woll or Ian Scott is projected to take over as the starter in a few years’ time, so it would certainly be beneficial to have a veteran option on the roster for a couple of seasons before handing the keys over to the younger players. Given that Andersen appears all but certain to depart the Leafs at the conclusion of the 2020-21 campaign, it would make a lot of sense to get an experienced netminder with years of control as a replacement.
One obstacle that has to be overcome in a potential transaction is Fleury’s contract. He has two years left on his current deal that pays him $7 million a season, meaning Vegas would have to retain salary for the Leafs to even consider trading for him. Cap space is going to be tight this fall and for the foreseeable future for obvious reasons. Toronto will need plenty of it to make the necessary upgrades while keeping the reality of a flat cap in mind. This will no doubt force Toronto to give up more assets in a trade, but it will be worth it should it mean getting Fleury on the roster on retained salary.
But the benefits for adding a commodity like Fleury will make up for the package the Leafs will have to pay the Golden Knights for his services. In addition to his track record, he is viewed as one of the most likeable players in the league. Having a guy who can lighten the mood and keep the spirits of his teammates high is critical for solidifying the locker room chemistry. A tandem of him and Jack Campbell might just be the most likable goaltending duo in the league (and we already know how wholesome Campbell is). The Leafs will also be acquiring a player hungry for an opportunity to showcase he can still be a capable NHL starter, which could go a long way in helping his team find more success.
So if Vegas decided to put the first overall pick of the 2003 draft on the market, the Leafs should look into trading for him. Despite a rough season from a statistical perspective, he has proven to be a reliable goalie in the playoffs and would be arriving in Toronto looking for a fresh start. A potential trade will likely involve Vegas retaining salary and the Leafs have to give up some pieces, but bringing in a goalie to transition the team from Andersen to either Woll or Scott will be beneficial in the long run.
Plus, who wouldn’t want to get the goalie that put an end to Mike Babcock’s tenure?
Save of the Year by Marc-Andre Fleury or… ? pic.twitter.com/QX5YM0oL7l
— NHL (@NHL) November 20, 2019
All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com.
All salary information is from PuckPedia.com.