The Vegas Golden Knights have a grand total of two (2!) players under contract at the moment. Those players are Reid Duke, who scored 37 goals for the Brandon Wheat Kings last season, and Vadim Shipachyov, a 30-year-old center who is set to make his NHL debut this season after playing in the KHL since its “Russian Superleague” days.
Obviously, that will change very soon, though. The NHL Expansion Draft will take place on June 21, where the Golden Knights will select one player from the other 30 NHL teams. Trying to guess who will be wearing a Golden Knights uniform in the fall is nearly impossible at the moment.
Unless we’re talking about goalies.
The Golden Knights need to select three goalies to fill out their roster and there are several very reliable netminders who are not expected to be protected by their current teams. Who are those players? Let’s start with the obvious.
Put some money down on Fleury to be a Golden Knight if you’re a gambling man. The 32-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins netminder is coming off his second straight Stanley Cup. However, it was Matt Murray, the 23-year-old back-to-back champion, who was the workhorse for the Penguins.
Barring an unforeseen gaffe by the Penguins, Fleury’s days in Pittsburgh are essentially over. On Monday, Fleury waived his no-movement and no-trade clauses, meaning that he can be exposed in the expansion draft. Fleury is one of the most decorated goaltenders in hockey and would make an excellent addition to the Golden Knights.
Fleury had a suspiciously down year last season. He started just 34 games and sported a GAA of 3.02 and a .909 save percentage, which is, um, bad. This is not normal for Fleury, though, and it’s hard to believe he can’t rebound on a different team. Maybe the Knights will be that team?
Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi
The Dallas Stars had arguably the worst goalie tandem in the NHL last season. Neither Lehtonen or Niemi could get in a groove and provide the Stars with even halfway decent play in net. That’s why the Stars traded for former Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who spent the latter half of the season with the Los Angeles Kings. With a shiny new six-year contract invested in the 6’7” goaltender, there’s no room for both Lehtonen and Niemi in Dallas.
Speaking of Bishop, the former All-Star may have dropped a hint as to what kind of goalie the Golden Knights could be targeting. After signing his long-term deal with the Stars, Bishop was asked on Hockey Central if he was thinking he could have been taken by Vegas:
I think there was some talk of it. From what I understood, I didn’t think it was an option. I’m honestly not sure what they’re gonna do, but from what I heard, they were thinking younger and a different direction. I think they’re going to be a competitive team to start out with.
If the Knights go younger in the crease, that eliminates Lehtonen and Niemi, who are both 33 years old and on the decline. But if Vegas does opt to add someone with more experience, they’re both solid options. Niemi is a former Stanley Cup champion and Lehtonen has over 13 years of NHL experience. Both have just one year remaining on their contracts, so neither would be long-term solutions.
Why not add one of the NHL’s top up-and-comers at the position? The Capitals obviously aren’t going to expose last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, so Grubauer will be eligible.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Grubauer has become one of the most reliable backup netminders in the league. He has a career record of 28-21-8 and sports an impressive .923 save percentage. His performance in 2016-17, however, was out of this world. Appearing in 24 games, Grubauer finished the season with a 13-6-2 record, a .926 save percentage and an astounding GAA of just 2.04.
Jason Rogers of Japers’ Rink had this to say about the potential loss of Grubauer in his 2016-17 season review.
The Capitals might have had - I know, I know, it’s nuts - two of the top 10 goalies in the NHL on their roster this season. Given that nine of those ten are starters, and therefore likely protected, it should surprise no one on Earth if Philipp Grubauer is, extremely deservedly, the first-ever franchise starting goalie for the Vegas Golden Knights come next season.
George McPhee drafted Grubauer when he was with Washington in 2010 and it wouldn’t be surprising if he brought him onto his team once again. This almost seems too perfect not to happen.
And speaking of former McPhee draft picks...
At the moment, Neuvirth is the only Philadelphia Flyers goaltender under contract for the 2017-18 season with experience as a regular starter in the NHL. The team even signed him to a two-year contract extension. If the Flyers are willing to extend Neuvirth for two more years, they’ll surely protect him from being taken by Vegas, right?
Conspiracy theorists believe there could be a deal in place between the Flyers and Golden Knights involving Neuvirth. It’s highly unlikely, but it’s possible the Knights and Flyers could have made an agreement that if Neuvirth was given a contract extension, Vegas would take the 29-year-old goalie off of Philadelphia’s hands. After all, George McPhee has a relationship with Neuvirth. He selected him 34th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft when he was the Capitals. The two were together until he traded Neuvirth to the Buffalo Sabres in 2014.
Neuvirth has a career save percentage of .911 and a GAA of 2.68. He may be coming off a down year, but there’s no questioning Neuvirth’s potential when he’s on his game.
We only have a week until the Knights’ full roster is unveiled. Until then, all we can really do is throw darts.