LAS VEGAS — Marc-Andre Fleury wants to stay with the Vegas Golden Knights, and hopes Robin Lehner stays as well.
“Our relationship grew over the season. We got along very good,” Fleury said Saturday. “As goalies, that’s something you strive for is winning games, but also not giving up too much. I think both of us, we accomplished that this year.”
The goalies are at the forefront of the Golden Knights offseason again after being eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Thursday.
It’s the second consecutive season Vegas has been eliminated short of the Stanley Cup Final. The goalies were not the issue; Vegas scored 13 goals in the series, nine of them by defensemen.
The Golden Knights relied on their combined $12 million average annual value in goaltending to reach the third round for the third time in their four NHL seasons.
“Playing with Marc is a privilege,” Lehner said. “We’ve grown a lot closer to each other. It’s been a special few seasons here with everything that’s been going on. You’ve just got to appreciate the situation. I think we’ve handled it well.”
Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon would not comment on its unrestricted free agents: defenseman Alec Martinez and forwards Mattias Janmark and Tomas Nosek. Finding a solution for the goalies could alleviate that.
Fleury is entering the final season of a three-year, $21 million contract extension ($7 million AAV) he signed July 13, 2018. Lehner, who was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 24, 2020, signed a five-year, $25 million contract ($5 million AAV) Oct. 3.
“We just finished a couple days ago and it’s still on my mind,” Fleury said. “Frustrating to see Montreal advance and think if we can be there. I haven’t given much thought to the future, but it’s always been in my heart to stick around and finish up here.”
McCrimmon’s decision to keep both goalies for the condensed 56-game season paid off. Fleury and Lehner won the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goalies who allow the fewest goals in the regular season; Vegas allowed an NHL-low 124.
“The Jennings Trophy is a good indicator with how good it worked,” McCrimmon said. “Those two goaltenders were front and center in any success we had in that regard. I think it helped us in the playoffs as well. We were very fortunate to have two goaltenders as good as they were.
“In regards to what lies ahead, we’ve been done for 48 hours, not even. Those are things that will have to be discussed as we get ready for the offseason and going into next year. We’ll get to that in due course.”
Fleury had one of the best seasons of his NHL career; he was 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. The 36-year-old started 16 of 17 games from Feb. 11-March 18 while Lehner was out with a concussion and was 11-5-0 with a 1.90 GAA and .936 save percentage.
Fleury for the first time was voted a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the top goalie in the NHL.
Lehner was 13-4-2 with a 2.29 GAA and .913 save percentage.
The two maintained a rotation upon Lehner’s return. Lehner was 9-0-1 in his next 10 starts but lost three of his four to end the regular season.
Fleury started 16 of the 19 playoff games. The rotation returned in Game 4 against Montreal.
Fleury allowed three goals on 23 shots in Game 3, a 3-2 overtime loss, including a misplay behind the net to allow Montreal forward Josh Anderson to tie it at 18:05 of the third period. Lehner started Game 4; he made 27 saves in a 2-1 overtime win.
In Game 5, Fleury allowed three goals on 25 shots in a 4-1 loss. Lehner made 29 saves in a 3-2 loss in Game 6.
“The salary cap and that maneuvering is above my pay grade. That’s for Kelly and (president of hockey operations) George [McPhee] to figure out,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “I can tell you it was obviously an integral part of our success this year in the unique year we were in. It was obviously a blessing this year. Next year’s a different story. We’re not in those unique circumstances anymore.”
The Lehner-Fleury tandem has been viewed closely since Lehner’s arrival. That magnified during the Edmonton hub city in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh tweeted an illustrated photo of Fleury pierced with a sword with DeBoer’s name on it. Lehner started 16 of 20 playoff games in Edmonton.
Lehner has continued to insist there is no squabble. He said Fleury’s daughters made posters and letters for him prior to Game 6, wishing him good luck.
“My two girls love arts and crafts, love letters, as you can see. They make me a lot of those, and it was a big game coming up, Game 6 in Montreal,” Fleury said. “They thought with their art, they wanted to send Robin some love, and that was very sweet of them.”
Whether teammates or not, that respect is evident.
“‘Flower’ is as much of a legend to me as he is to you guys,” Lehner said.