Fleury deserved better than he got from VGK

The Golden Knights traded goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago Tuesday. (Photo by Kevin Iole)

There is no dispute what Kelly McCrimmon’s job is: As the general manager of the Vegas Golden Knights, he’s charged with putting the best team possible on the ice. And given that his team has gone the Stanley Cup semifinals in three of its four years of existence, it’s been a job well done.

And so the news, stunning as it was when it was leaked on social media, that the Knights had traded franchise icon Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks, is not all that shocking.

Despite coming off a Vezina and Jennings Trophy-winning season, Fleury is 37 with only a year remaining on his contract that counts $7 million against the cap. The Knights’ other goalie, Robin Lehner, has four years remaining at $5 million per year. So it made sense to keep Lehner and open the salary cap space needed to help the team take the final steps toward winning a championship.

Whether that is signing a winger like Gabriel Landeskog or a defenseman like Doug Hamilton or trading for center Jack Eichel, it is going to take cap space. And that is an asset that the Knights, in trying so hard to win, don’t have much of. Trading Fleury from that perspective makes sense.

Where McCrimmon, VGK owner Bill Foley, team president George McPhee and all of those in hockey operations failed miserably was in the way this was handled.

Fleury found out he’d been traded on Twitter.

That’s not going to ruin his life or hurt his family or make it difficult to pay the bills. But it’s not the way to treat anyone, let alone an iconic player such as Fleury.

No one has meant more to the Golden Knights than Fleury, and he was as important to the franchise off the ice as he was on it. And on it, he was pretty damn important.

McCrimmon, in lengthy remarks Tuesday during a media availability to discuss the trade defending its handling before he was asked. And one of his early comments explained why.

“He’s the most popular player I’ve ever seen in sports,” McCrimmon said. “He was the face of the franchise.”

We’ll agree with the latter but the former is a bit over the top, though it illustrates Fleury’s significance. And that’s why the Knights should have moved mountains to make sure he heard the news from them and not on social media.

McCrimmon said Tuesday that he’d told Fleury multiple times that he might be traded, and said that on July 12, they had several conversations with Chicago being mentioned. He added that he updated Fleury’s representatives on Saturday of the talks.

Yet, McCrimmon said he couldn’t tell Fleury until his call with the NHL’s Central Registry was complete. He said it hadn’t even begun when the news was on social media.

That might be true if the player had no idea he was being traded, because then it would create an awkward situation if, as McCrimmon suggested, the deal fell through.

In Fleury’s case, though, he met with McCrimmon on June 29 for the first time and, in McCrimmon’s own words, was told there was a chance he’d be traded. They spoke multiple times since then and as recently as Saturday, he’d updated Fleury’s agent on the prospects.

So when he agreed with Hawks general manager Stan Bowman on the deal, he should have had Foley or McPhee call Fleury and tell him it looked like a deal was done. He knew one might be happening, so it wouldn’t stun him.

Let him find out from you, and hear from your most important people how much his contributions were valued and what they meant to the franchise and the city.

It’s ridiculous that that didn’t happen, and it created perhaps a not-fair perception of the Golden Knights as a franchise that doesn’t treat its players correctly.

There has never been a player who has said the Knights haven’t treated him and his family anything other than first-class. They’re ruthless in pursuit of victory, true, but they ran a classy organization.

Now, they do this to one of the most iconic players in the NHL. What message does that send to other players, both on the team and who might be thinking of coming to Las Vegas as a free agent?

If the Knights win the Stanley Cup, this will all be forgotten by a joyous public.

But it should never be forgotten when you treat a wonderfully and classy man like Fleury less than as if he’s the most important person in the universe.

McCrimmon’s job is to re-sign Alec Martinez and maybe add Landeskog or Eichel to the mix in pursuit of that elusive Cup. He’s good; I have no doubt he’ll do a terrific job.

But his job also entails running a first-class ship. Somehow, letting your franchise icon find out he was traded via social media was a massive failing that doesn’t make anyone look at this organization as first-class right now.

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