**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
It has been an interesting week to say the least for the Golden Knights — both on and off the ice.
There was the celebration of a rival’s personal accomplishment. There was the clinching of a fourth consecutive playoff spot. There was an underwhelming response by the NHL and none from the team in the wake of the conviction of the police officer who murdered an unarmed African-American. And at the top of the list, a lengthy impromptu vent by a player to the league’s protocols as it pertains to COVID-19 that wound up going national.
Oh, and the team won a franchise-record ninth straight game Saturday.
But lost in all of that is the franchise’s most popular player inched closer to another milestone. And unless something crazy happens, we will see the spotlight once again shine upon Marc-Andre Fleury as he looks to continue his climb up the NHL’s all-time goaltender wins ladder.
Fleury currently has 487 wins and sits in fourth place on the career victories list. Roberto Luongo, who has 489 Ws and is No. 3, is in his sights. Fleury is scheduled to play Wednesday against Colorado, in what is a huge game for obvious reasons, and again Saturday at Arizona. He can tie Luongo with a pair of wins. That would leave only Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur ahead of Fleury — the two goalies he idolized as a kid growing up in Sorel, Quebec. Brodeur has 691 wins. It’s unlikely Fleury, or anyone else for that matter, catches him.
Roy? He has 551 victories. That number is within reach for Fleury if he can continue to play for a couple more years and have success.
The Knights have nine games left in this truncated 56-game season. Fleury will likely start in four of them, perhaps more if Peter DeBoer decides to use him in additional games. If he wins three of the four, he’ll have 490 going into next season, the final year of his VGK contract. He’ll be 37 on Nov. 28. But with Fleury, age is truly just a number. He is having one of the best seasons of his career this year and barring an unforeseen drop-off in performance, he can work his way to closing the gap between himself and Roy in half.
What would make the chase problematic for Fleury would be if the Knights chose not to resign him after 2022 and he went to a team which didn’t perform as well. He’d be 38 by then and who knows where his skill set will be at that point.
Right now, he’s in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. The joy has returned and when Fleury is having fun, he is tough to beat.
So we’re going to have to see what develops in the coming months. But this much we know: He’s had a remarkable career to date. He’s a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. He owns three Stanley Cup rings and maybe he gets a fourth this year. He has been the face of the Golden Knights franchise from the day the team took him in the NHL expansion draft in June 2017. I will always remember the roar inside the Fortress when it was announced the team selected him and that love for Fleury has never abated.
I also believe that when and if they start putting up statues in Toshiba Plaza, Fleury’s will be the first. Without him, there’s no way the Knights accomplish what they have so far.
It’s easy to point to the numbers —112 wins; 2.44 goals-against average; .917 save percentage; 22 shutouts — in his four years in Vegas. But he’s so much more than stats. He is the soul of the franchise. The entire locker room loves him and he is adored by the fans. When he lost his father 15 months ago, we grieved with him. He handled his playoff benching last summer with grace, even if his agent didn’t. And best of all, we saluted his competitiveness in his quest to return to greatness this year, where he helped keep the team in or near first place in the West Division while Robin Lehner was convalescing following a concussion. Fleury was determined to show his coach and management that he was far from being through, and at $7 million, his salary was not a liability to the franchise.
He is to be applauded for all of that.
So what will happen next month when the playoffs begin and the pressure gets ratcheted up considerably? Will Fleury be the man? Will DeBoer opt for Lehner as his starter? Will the $12 million experiment continue into the postseason? Only PDB knows and I’m not sure his mind is entirely made up at this point. But there’s no doubt Fleury has made the decision tough on his coach and that’s a good thing for the Golden Knights.
Lehner’s brave rant
Some of you asked me my thoughts about Lehner’s appearance on the team’s Zoom media call Wednesday and his 11-minute rant about the NHL’s refusal to adjust the COVID-19 protocols.
I totally respect Lehner for what he did. I wish he didn’t walk back the “prison” comment, but I believe in his mind, being trapped in this cycle of home-to-rink-to-home must have felt like jail along with the rigid rules as it pertains to the road.
Let’s not forget that Lehner deals with a lot of mental health issues and he’s been totally candid about his situation. To him, not being able to be around his teammates is a big deal. He sees how other leagues, the NBA in particular, have relaxed their protocols once teams have been fully vaccinated, and wonders what’s taking the NHL so long to follow suit?
Yes, the Canadian teams are lagging behind in getting jabbed with vaccines, but Lehner believes he and his teammates were sold a false bill of goods, either by the NHL, the NHL Players Association, or Golden Knights management that if he and his teammates accepted taking the shot, restrictions would be relaxed.
Yet the NHL quickly refuted that notion. But why would he lie about it? Why would he volunteer to come on a media call if he didn’t believe it and bare his soul for 11 minutes?
I don’t believe Lehner lied. I think he truly thought the restrictions were going to be eased once the majority of the team was vaccinated. And I respect the fact he had the guts to stand up and say something, even when not one of his teammates backed him up and said, “Yeah, Robin’s right. We were told the restrictions would be eased once we got vaccinated.” The best we got was from Mark Stone as the Captain said, “We all have Robin’s back.”
Think about this: A year ago at this time, we were all in lockdown ourselves. No hockey games. No casinos. Nothing. Businesses were closed. We worked from home and were only allowed to venture outside for essentials like food and medicine. Remember how you felt?
Now, as the state prepares to relax restrictions even more beginning this coming Saturday, think how Lehner and his teammates feel — continuing to get tested daily, even though they are vaccinated. They can’t go outside and do the things we can do. Maybe we can understand how they feel. They’re human beings too. Maybe well-paid, but human beings nonetheless. Let’s not forget that.
I went to watch the Silver Knights Thursday and see what’s up with Cody Glass.
The 22-year-old is trying to find his game and get his confidence back. He scored the lone HSK goal in a 4-1 loss to Bakersfield and used his good hockey sense in doing so, going to the net and being in the right place at the right time.
Overall, Glass looks like he’s fitting in. In seven games, he has five points (2G, 3A). However, he is not a dominating presence when he’s on the ice. It’s not like he’s striking fear into his opponents when he gets the puck on his stick. He looks like a very good AHL player at this point.
Whether that’s enough to get him back with the Golden Knights, I’m not entirely sure. They may have no choice but to recall him in the wake of injuries to Tomas Nosek and Nicolas Roy Saturday vs. the Ducks. If either or both can’t go Wednesday vs. Colorado, perhaps Glass is back. Remember, Patrick Brown is not an option right now and Peyton Krebs’ season ends Tuesday. To get him back across the Canadian border and in the lineup Wednesday if the Knights really wanted to go that way isn’t feasible.
I believe once the Silver Knights are done in the Calder Cup Playoffs, we’ll see Glass back in Vegas as a Black Ace, on-call in the event the Golden Knights need to replace an injured or slumping player.
Perhaps by then, Glass’ overall game will have perked up to where PDB would be comfortable putting him in the lineup. But for now, he’s right where he needs to be — in Henderson.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**