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Expansion Draft Chaos: Could Vegas Renege on Fleury?

Exactly how strong was the handshake deal between Penguins GM Jim Rutherford and Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee? Was there a blood oath to seal the deal? The flood of new potentials and increasing desperation by some GM’s to keep their players has complicated Marc-Andre Fleury‘s escape to Vegas.

The story first made its rounds in February: Marc-Andre Fleury would be a Vegas Golden Knight. It was a done deal. Sources with knowledge of the handshake agreement began to leak details of the arrangement between the Penguins, with Fleury’s blessing, and the Golden Knights. The teams were limited to a handshake because Vegas could not yet officially deal. Nor would the Penguins give up a goalie with nearly 400 career wins for future considerations, at least not before their chase of another Stanley Cup and history concluded.

The original story was–a trade had been arranged, in which Vegas would send an asset back to the Penguins in exchange for Fleury. However, that version has changed over the last couple weeks. Alternate versions have emerged, including: The Penguins will merely allow Fleury to be selected in the expansion draft without compensation, and most recently, the Penguins will need to supply additional assets to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights taking Fleury’s 5.75 million dollar cap hit.

Count me most skeptical of that the latter. There aren’t many goalies on the planet who could have beaten the Capitals, as Fleury did. Those goalies typically cost quite a bit more than Fleury’s modest paycheck.

The larger point to emerge from the diverging reports is this–the situation is fluid. What was true, and what is true, may not be true tomorrow. Or even one hour from now. The situation has suddenly become more fluid and crazy than anyone could have predicted.

The protected and available list for each team was made public, Sunday.

Then, Vegas GM George McPhee flung open the doors for business. He publicly baited teams to keep their players at the price of additional picks or assets. And, it appears many teams are scrambling to do just that. The Anaheim Ducks and New York Islanders are rumored to have parted with First Round draft picks to keep unprotected players, like Sami Vatanen and Brock Nelson, out of Vegas.

Directly affecting the Penguins, rumors from Sweden emerged Sunday night suggesting the Dallas Stars have a deal in place for Vegas to select highly paid, but inconsistent goalie Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen, 33, has one more year on his contract which carries a 5.9 million dollar cap hit.

…uh oh.

Vegas could have over 12 million dollars committed to goalies next season (11.675 million to Fleury and Lehtonen, plus the third goalie which they are required to select, per expansion draft rules), if this latest story is also true.

The Redwings Petr Mrazek, Washington Capitals youngster Philip Grubauer, and New York Rangers back-up Antti Raantta are other goalies available.

How strong was that handshake between Rutherford and McPhee? McPhee spent 17 years as the GM of the Penguins arch rival Capitals. Anyone else beginning to wonder?

The Penguins, comfortable they would lose Fleury, gambled by protecting only eight skaters so they could keep four defensemen (Letang, Maatta, Dumoulin, Schultz). Had they protected only three defensemen, they could have protected 10 skaters. The casualties of the shortened list are Bryan Rust and Carl Hagelin.

Based on the information Rutherford had on Saturday, it unlikely felt like a large gamble. Suddenly, the Penguins must feel uneasy.

Scenarios:

If Vegas bails…

Scenario #1:  If Vegas reneges on the deal because of better offers, the Penguins will be in trouble. The Penguins would likely lose Bryan Rust, whose inexpensive contract, speed and Top 9 forward flexibility have been invaluable to the Penguins championship runs. In addition, the Penguins would lose his near legendary ability to score in playoff series clinching games.

If this scenario unfolds, the Penguins will be suddenly stuck with Fleury. Winnipeg and probably Philadelphia are the only remaining goalie poor teams. The Calgary Flames struck a deal, Saturday, for Coyotes netminder Mike Smith. The Vancouver Canucks could also use a goalie, but their retooling efforts have gone sideways and a 32-year old high-end goalie doesn’t fit that situation.

Not exactly a fertile market.

Scenario #2:  If Vegas bails on the original agreement, they could extort a higher bounty from the Penguins in order to take Fleury. Perhaps a draft pick to take Fleury? Perhaps a young asset?

Or Vegas could simply follow through on the trade for Fleury and pick the Penguins pocket for extra dollars and valuable salary cap space.

McPhee and Vegas hold all the cards (Sorry, first and last Vegas pun).

The Gamble

The Penguins gambled. Had they left Dumoulin unprotected, they would have been able to protect 10 skaters. The extra two spots would have guaranteed the return of both Rust and Hagelin. Also, leaving Dumoulin exposed would have meant the likely return of Ian Cole and his affordable salary (2.1 million dollars). Dumoulin is a top four defenseman for the Penguins, but not by a wide margin and his salary figures to reach significant levels this off-season.

The Penguins have potential top six wingers in-waiting: Daniel Sprong and Zac Aston-Reese. However until either one establishes himself in the NHL, the Penguins have a great need for Rust.

We’re all to wait and wonder until Wednesday, including the Pittsburgh Penguins. They currently have no reason to worry, at least not based on the information…today.

11:36am–UPDATE:

Or–if you can read Swedish, here’s the report claiming a deal:

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Darcie Dolce at Blush
4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Not Falling For That

    June 19, 2017 at 9:13 am

    “Rumors from Sweden” about Kari Lehtonen…

    You know if you’re going to make stuff up, at least have the courtesy to do some research so you would know Lehtonen is a Finnish goalie, not Swedish.

    • Dan Kingerski

      June 19, 2017 at 9:15 am

      And? Swedish journalists are also covering the process. The reports were published Sunday eve.

    • Dan Kingerski

      June 19, 2017 at 9:22 am

      In case you read Swedish, or have a subscription—here is the link to the original piece (Forgive us, we didn’t think most of our audience keeps a subscription to the Swedish papers): http://www.dn.se/sport/har-ar-spelarna-som-kan-hamna-i-vegas-golden-knights/

  2. Pingback: Brace Yourself: Penguins Poised to Improve With Expansion, Trades Looming | Pittsburgh Hockey Now

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