Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
The other 30 franchises in the NHL have a lot to be envious of when it comes to the Vegas Golden Knights, but their goaltending situation isn’t one of them.
No beating around the bush: the Knights only have a few practical options when it comes to dealing with their two goaltenders. Exploring which options are better for the team in the long run (and inevitably which choice they pursue) will be key to which direction they go: basement, playoffs, or cup contention.
With Robin Lehner headed into Free Agency and Marc-Andre Fleury entering the latter stages of his career, the Knights have to make a decision, and fast, if they want their contention window to stay open as long as possible.
Option 1: Keep the Goaltending Tandem Alive.
This is known as the “High Risk/High Reward” option. The Robin Lehner trade was marketed as a playoff rental at the time of the trade, but the 29-year-old goaltender really turned a lot of heads come playoff time. Though the Knights bowed out in the conference finals, he proved to the NHL for the second time that he has what it takes to carry a franchise into a deep playoff push.
With just under $5 million in projected cap space this season, is this a good choice for the Knights? Maybe. It really depends on Fleury. His visibly decreasing statistics put up a lot of red flags and his value on the trade market is still high. He has 2 years left on his 3-year/$21m deal the Knights signed him to during the 2018 offseason.
If Robin Lehner re-signs, we could be looking at a 4 or 5 year-long deal with an AAV somewhere in the neighbourhood of $5 million. Given that it would take up the remaining cap space the Knights can play around with next season, they would have to move a few pieces around, such as shipping off new acquisition Alec Martinez or a declining Brayden McNabb. Plus, there are more than a few teams around the league that will tell you how risky it can be to put too much money into your goaltenders. Anyone rational hockey fans will tell you: $12 million is a lot to put towards 2 goalies.
If Fleury mesmerizes us with yet another stellar season like 2018, this would be a huge plus for the Knights moving forward. Having two solid pieces at the goaltending position is the key to any team looking to win the cup.
If he doesn’t? The knights won’t be in too deep. They’d only have to swallow 2 more years of his contract, and there’s always the trade or buyout route (if it REALLY starts to stink, but I wouldn’t bet on that).
Option 2: Keep Fleury, Dump Lehner.
As Oct 9th looms closer and closer, it’s looking more and more like the Knights will just let him go to the open market. Robin Lehner has fulfilled his goaltending role as the playoff rental the Knights wanted, and now it’s time to bid “adieu” to the Panda where he will be rewarded with a handsome contract from a team vying for a playoff push.
While this may be an okay short term decision, I think this will hurt the Knights in the long-run. Relying solely on Marc-Andre Fleury for your goaltending situation won’t be a good look in a few years with how his statistics are declining. You would need a decent backup to him just to stay on the safe side.
With impending free agents such as Tomas Nosek, Chandler Stephenson, Nick Cousins, Jon Merrill and Deryk Engelland (and just under $5 million to resign them all) it’s not looking good for Lehner staying in a Knights uniform. The Knights will have to rely on their prospects in Oscar Dansk (who has made a good impression in the minor leagues) or Garret Sparks, who has plenty of NHL experience (you can still hear Leafs fans groaning about it).
Option 3: Re-sign Lehner, Drop Fleury.
In a perfect world, this would be the best decision for the Knights moving forward and, contrary to popular belief, isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Dumping Fleury would be significantly easier than most people think. The NTC on his contract is modified; he only submits a 10-team list “No Trade” list. Assuming teams like Ottawa (who are currently trying to hit the cap floor) are not on that list, it wouldn’t be challenging to send him away from the Strip.
That way, with another $7 million in cap relief, you can lock up Robin Lehner on a long term deal and have a little extra to play around with.
This would be a fantastic decision if the Knights pull this off. Robin Lehner has showed no signs of regression since he left the Isles organization and has proved with his play in the Bubble that he can carry a franchise to a deep playoff run. Being under 30 years is a HUGE plus, allowing his signing team to get a solid 5 years of goaltending out of him (Fleury’s current contract expires when he is approaching 38).
If the Knights were to explore this option and all goes according to plan, they can remain a contender for a good 5 years down the road, and who doesn’t want to see the Knights make the league their personal playground again? (besides literally everyone)
Option 4: Blow it the **** up.
Now we are stepping a little outside the realm of reality. Unless the Knights spontaneously sell the team to Eugene Melnyk or hire Jim Benning for their front office, I don’t see them even considering losing one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL.
On the plus side, you’d get over $17 million in cap space to play with, so there’s something! Maybe even outbid the Capitals for Alex Ovechkin, while we’re dreaming.
Hang in there, fellow Knights fans. I put my faith in the Knight’s front office and you should too. This will be a very exciting team, come next season.
Enjoy the offseason, Knights fans.
Scream it from the rooftops: We’re still contenders!
Follow me on Twitter at @twitter for more of my content!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!