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Report: Jim Rutherford tried everything to bring Marc-Andre Fleury back to Pittsburgh

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This might turn out to be the best non-move the Golden Knights have done.

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How badly did Jim Rutherford want to bring Marc-Andre Fleury back to the Pittsburgh Penguins?

The former general manager called Kelly McCrimmon during the Western Conference Final to gauge interest.

“I did what I never do and will never do again if I work again,” Rutherford told The Athletic. “I called a general manager (McCrimmon) during their playoff series (against Dallas). I said, ‘If you’re moving Marc, you make sure you call me. I want him.’”

The Vegas Golden Knights went on to lose the conference final to the Dallas Stars in five games, which then began a period of uncertainty regarding Fleury and his status with Vegas. The Golden Knights had just signed Robin Lehner to a five-year, $25 million extension, and Fleury’s $7 million cap hit was a possible hindrance to Vegas’ eventual pursuit of Alex Pietrangelo.

Nevertheless, the interest was there from Rutherford, who had been the Penguins’ GM since 2014. Fleury, drafted by the Penguins in 2003, was the starting goalie for the first of Pittsburgh’s three Stanley Cup titles in 2009 against the Detroit Red Wings. He was the backup to Matt Murray when the Penguins went back-to-back in 2016 and 2017.

That was one of the reasons why Rutherford bought out maligned defenseman Jack Johnson, he told Josh Yohe, was because he wanted to create cap room to bring Fleury back to Pittsburgh.

“We tried to bring him back,” Rutherford said. “You have to realize there are moving parts because of the money he makes now. The only way we would have been able to pull it off is if they took back a lot of his money.”

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Much has been made about the eventual transaction that partnered Fleury and Vegas together. Rutherford confirmed in this interview that he and Fleury met many times months before the 2017 expansion draft, and that Fleury only wanted to go to one place.

The Golden Knights, in fact, took Fleury in the expansion draft and were also given a second-round pick to ensure he was selected.

“He understood the situation and he never really wanted to leave,” Rutherford said. “But he looked at me one day and said, ‘If I have to go anywhere, can you please try to get me to Vegas?’ So I did everything I could to get him there.”

Bringing back Fleury was a goal of Rutherford’s since last October, and it was also on the to-do list as early as January when interim general manager Patrik Allvin replaced Rutherford. But the Golden Knights haven’t budged, and it’s turned into the best non-trade Vegas has made to this point.

Fleury is playing, arguably, the best hockey of his career with a league-best 1.77 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. This is on par rivaling, if not better, than his play in Year 1 when he led the Golden Knights to the Cup Final. He’s started 16 of the last 17 games due to Lehner missing the past month with an upper-body injury.

The Golden Knights, thanks to Fleury, are atop the West Division and are second in the league in points percentage, trailing the Carolina Hurricanes.

“They made the right decision,” Rutherford said. “The other goalie has been hurt. Marc’s been great, maybe the best in the league.”

Perhaps the biggest what-if is the price Rutherford would’ve had to give up to get Fleury back. Golden Knights owner Bill Foley recently said on the Cam and Strick Pod that no trade for Fleury ever made sense and that he promised Fleury he would retire in Vegas.

“I was serious. Very serious,” Rutherford said. “Very willing to give a lot to get him, too. What I think is a lot and what the other team thinks is a lot may be two different things. I wasn’t looking at it as them giving him away. I was certainly willing to pay the price to get him back. I tried.”