DEER LODGE, Mont. — Bill Foley drove his orange Jeep Wrangler around the property at Rock Creek Cattle Company on Friday keeping tabs on the latest developments in free agency.
The Golden Knights majority owner was especially interested in the goaltending market and watched with interest as other teams filled their holes in net.
“There’s not a lot of places for (Marc-Andre Fleury) to land,” Foley said, “and I’m glad there’s not. I like it. I’m glad that we’re in this situation. I hope it keeps on working out that way.”
In a wide-ranging interview with the Review-Journal, Foley added a major plot twist to the drama with Fleury by flatly stating he wants the goaltender to return next season.
That offered a glimmer of hope the Knights can reconcile with the face of the franchise and pair Fleury with newly signed Robin Lehner to form a dynamic duo in net.
“We’ve been talking about it in these meetings. If we’re playing four nights out of seven nights, we need two good goalies,” Foley said. “I’ve been a proponent in the background, because it’s really (president of hockey operations George McPhee’s) and (general manager Kelly McCrimmon’s) decision, Vaughn Karpan our director of scouting. They’re the guys, they make the calls.
“I give them some input, but my input was, ‘Boy, if we can afford it, why don’t we keep two (No. 1) goalies and give ourselves some real protection?’ Because someone’s going to get hurt, and if you have two great goalies, you’re sort of in pretty good shape. I’m hopeful that we can keep those guys.”
Fleury lost the starting job to Lehner in the postseason, and on the eve of the Western Conference semifinals, his agent tweeted a picture of Fleury being stabbed through the back by a sword with coach Pete DeBoer’s last name on the blade. The post was deleted the next day.
“The guys apparently after the tweet and so on, they had a team meeting and talked about it and everyone started joking about it,” Foley said. “I think (Jonathan Marchessault) asked Flower, ‘Does this mean you’re on IR now and you can’t play?’”
After the Knights were eliminated by Dallas in the Western Conference Final, Lehner was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract extension that seemed to spell the end of Fleury’s time in Las Vegas.
In an interview with The Athletic, Fleury said he hoped to remain with the Knights and did not ask to be traded. Along with Foley’s comments, that has thrust McPhee and McCrimmon into the uncomfortable role of bad cops who must decide whether to part ways with Fleury.
The Knights have shopped the three-time Stanley Cup champion throughout the offseason but haven’t found a taker for his $7 million salary cap hit.
However, Foley indicated Friday’s trade that sent center Paul Stastny to Winnipeg for defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a 2022 conditional fourth-round pick might have changed the team’s thinking.
By shedding Stastny’s $6.5 million salary cap hit rather than dealing Fleury, the Knights are under the salary cap and can make a run at free agent defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
Should Pietrangelo sign, the Knights would need to make another move to comply with the $81.5 million salary cap. But other names such as defensemen Alec Martinez and Nate Schmidt, along with forward Max Pacioretty, have emerged in recent days as alternatives to dealing Fleury.
And Foley said he is in favor of spending $12 million on two goaltenders for the 2020-21 season. Only Montreal would have a higher projected cap hit among its goalies.
“If we can make the cap space work, I’d definitely do it,” Foley said. “I’d overspend for goalies because we’re going to need it. We’re going to need them next year. You need depth.”
Foley’s desire to keep both goaltenders is based largely on how he believes the 2020-21 season will shape up.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is targeting a Jan. 1 start and hopes to play a full 82-game season.
But Foley thinks Feb. 1 is a more realistic goal and believes it will be a 48- or 56-game season so that the Stanley Cup is awarded before the Summer Olympics begin in July.
He also said T-Mobile Arena would need to have approximately 40 percent attendance to be economically viable.
In Nevada, facilities with a capacity of greater than 2,500 are allowed to host 10 percent of their total capacity, and Foley said he expects to meet with Gov. Steve Sisolak in the coming weeks to discuss the matter.
The Henderson Silver Knights are expected to begin play this season, and Foley said the American Hockey League team is not as dependent on ticket sales for economic survival.
“On the NHL team, we need fans,” Foley said. “It’s a pretty desperate situation for hockey team owners. My projection is that we would lose, if we don’t play hockey in front of fans, we’ll lose $125 million in the hockey business versus making pretty good money.”
Foley confirmed the organization asked its employees on the business side to take a 20 percent pay cut by working four days a week starting June 1. He said there have not been layoffs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“What we’ve built is really so good for Las Vegas, and it’s great for the sport,” Foley said. “I’m really focused on that and trying to keep things afloat, keep everyone employed, not get too radical.”
Foley said he was pleased with the Knights’ season, which saw coach Gerard Gallant fired in January and Pete DeBoer hired as his replacement.
The Knights won their second Pacific Division crown in three seasons and advanced to the Western Conference Final for the second time in their history.
But Foley believes the Knights were adversely affected by the lack of fans in the bubble during the postseason.
“Against Dallas, we just sort of lost something,” he said. “We were the better team, but we got beat.”
Foley also expressed his elation with the Knights’ new gold jersey that was unveiled Oct. 2. He said the gray home jerseys are “a little reserved” and the gold will drown out the team colors worn by opposing fans.
“I wouldn’t mind the gray jersey eventually matriculating to be the third jersey and the gold jersey being our home jersey,” he said. “It’s really a good-looking jersey.”
Silver Knights jersey on its way
The Henderson Silver Knights are expected to unveil their jersey within the next eight weeks and are targeting an early December release, Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said.
The American Hockey League is scheduled to begin playing Dec. 4, though that could be pushed back.
The Silver Knights released their war horse logo in late May to much acclaim.
“It’s basically done. They’re just going to wait to release it,” Foley said. “I think the jersey pops, and the logo is fantastic. The logo is at the level of the Golden Knights’ logo. It’s a really well-thought-out logo, including the two eyes that are golden eyes, the aspirations of becoming a Golden Knight if you’re a Silver Knight.”
David Schoen Review-Journal