The hockey world was dealt some unfortunate news yesterday morning when Henrik Lundqvist announced he was going to have to sit out the entire season due to a heart condition.
The former Ranger star signed with the Capitals for a paltry $1.5 million against the cap this offseason. The only other NHL quality goalies, and it’s debatable in both cases, on the Washington roster currently are 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov and 28-year-old Pheonix Copley.
Clearly, the Caps felt they needed help at the position and shored it up by signing Lundqvist, but without him, one has to wonder if they are in the market for another goalie to hold down the fort.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights remain in a situation in which they are trying to unload a future hall-of-fame goalie and his $7 million cap hit. Could there be a potential match between the teams to kill two birds with one stone?
I was asked this question quite a bit following Lundqvist’s announcement and my initial thought was absolutely not. That was mainly based on the fact that the Capitals are pushing up against the cap and simply don’t have the space to take on half of Fleury’s salary, let alone all of it like Vegas would prefer. But, when I dug a bit more into the idea, if a third team were to step in and “broker” the deal, it could make sense for everyone.
So, what does that look like? Teams like New Jersey, Nashville, Columbus, Detroit, Los Angeles, Ottawa, and a few others could be potential options to step in as the third party to broker the swap. Let’s use Detroit as an example because I think they fit best based on their rebuild status and expected willingness to buy draft picks.
The final deal would actually be done through two completely separate trades. (It’s important to note that in order to do this, both teams must not be listed on Fleury’s no trade list, otherwise it would be reliant upon Fleury waiving his no trade clause.) Trade 1 would be moving Fleury to Detroit with Trade 2 being between Detroit and Washington.
The final amount of cap hit Washington is willing to pay for will determine how much salary each of Vegas and Detroit would retain and/or accept in return. If they are okay with Fleury making $3.5 million against their cap, the Golden Knights wouldn’t have to retain any salary (which would be great for Vegas). Vegas would move Fleury to Detroit, then Detroit would send Fleury to Washington and retain half of his salary. But, if the Caps would rather it was closer to the $1.5 million Lundqvist was making, Vegas could have to retain quite a bit and/or take an NHL player in return.
By rule, an NHL team can only retain 50% of a player’s salary in a trade. That salary also must be retained over the complete remaining length of the player’s contract. Thus, for Fleury, that means the retained salary would be for this coming season and the next one. Since 50% is the max, the Golden Knights could hold $3.5 million, and then the Red Wings could hold $1.75 million (half of $3.5 million) leaving the Capitals on the hook for $1.75 million.
Vegas would surely like to avoid that if possible. So, that leaves the Golden Knights with two other options. They could retain a smaller portion, so say $1 or $2 million or they could accept a player in return from the Capitals to offset their cap increase adding Fleury. Names like Carl Hagelin ($2.75 million), Richard Panik ($2.75 million), or Lars Eller ($3.5 million) would make the most sense. In each case, they are usable NHL level players, which means the deal would cost Vegas even more assets despite the cap relief for Washington.
The compensation coming from Vegas to clear Fleury off the books would be reliant upon how much cap relief they actually accrue. If they get all $7 million shipped away, it will likely cost north of a 1st round pick, but if they retain a portion and/or take a player in return, it could be a bit less.
Whatever the compensation may be, most would go to Detroit for brokering the deal. Vegas is getting cap relief, Washington is getting a new goalie, and the Wings are getting a bushel of assets for allowing this deal to happen.
In the end, everyone gets what they want. Vegas will be rid of their albatross $12 million of goalies (plus the controversy that will once again come with having multiple starting goalies), Washington will get a bonafide starting goalie to try and keep their Stanley Cup window open, and a rebuilding Detroit team would get valuable picks for nothing but cap space over the next two years when they aren’t expected to win.
It sounds crazy at first, Fleury to Washington, and it would be if the two teams had to deal only with each other. But with a third party involved it could stand to make three clubs better all at once.
Vegas will have to work hard to solve the no trade clause hurdle and then pay a big price (either picks or cap space) to make it happen. Otherwise, the search to solve their financial problem between the pipes rages on.