The clock is ticking on the Golden Knights’ goaltending decision.
What happens between now and next week is going to be seismic as it pertains to what Vegas does through the NHL Draft and free agency, particularly the decisions involving Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner.
The consensus remains Fleury will no longer be with the Golden Knights when free agency opens at 9 a.m. PT on Oct. 9, with a long-term deal for Lehner not far behind. Fleury stated publicly to The Athletic he wishes to stay with Vegas, as well as his agent Allan Walsh, who is the reason why this has become a topic of discussion since the Golden Knights were in the Edmonton bubble.
While these public outcries are to obtain positive PR and put fans at ease, it’s unlikely that the Golden Knights will move forward with $12 million committed to two goalies, especially when the goalie making the most money will be the backup next season. In short, the Golden Knights are more likely on the trail for a backup netminder.
The best solution might be to replace the fifth winningest goalie in NHL history with the sixth. That means going after Henrik Lundqvist, the longtime New York Rangers goaltender whose final year of his contract was bought out by the only team he’s ever played for Tuesday.
Much like the Golden Knights, the Rangers are going with a youth movement in net. After moving on from Lundqvist, New York is rolling with Igor Shesterkin (25) and Alexandar Georgiev (24), leaving no room for the 38-year-old Lundqvist.
Fleury will be 36 by next season, and it’s not like he’s fallen off a cliff. He looked good in his four playoff starts, going 3-1 with av.910 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average; those numbers were inflated by the four goals allowed on 16 shots against the St. Louis Blues in the round robin.
The goalie market is so stacked that finding a suitor through the trade market will be difficult, which is why the buyout route would make sense for Fleury. But if Elliotte Friedman’s reporting of the Golden Knights not wishing to buy out Fleury is true, then a trade sounds imminent.
Ideally, the Golden Knights would acquire a goalie in return for wherever the Golden Knights send Fleury to, but that might change with Lundqvist now on the market.
I’m a firm believer in established veterans will do well when there’s motivation behind it. The Golden Knights are a top contender in the Western Conference. There is some merit to getting a player who has been playing at the bottom of the barrel for so long that a contender revitalizes him — case in point, acquiring Alec Martinez near the trade deadline in February.
Lundqvist would be in a similar situation. Even at 38 years old and what seems like his best years behind him, Lundqvist went from being a playoff regular with the Rangers to, until this return to play scenario, having missed the playoffs as New York’s primary goalie the previous two seasons. One of the winningest goalies in NHL history, a surefire hall of famer, has only one Cup Final appearance under his belt. Going to a team with a purpose should be a top priority at this stage of his career.
A contending team could very well make a play for Lundqvist to be their starter on a short-term deal. The Washington Capitals come to mind after moving on from Braden Holtby, but they wouldn’t move on from their Stanley Cup-winning goalie if they didn’t think Ilya Samsonov was ready to be the No. 1 guy. The Edmonton Oilers could also provide purpose with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and the Vancouver Canucks could be a team worth looking at with Jacob Markstrom’s impending free agency, but both of those teams might still be a few years out. Also, how much would Vancouver pay Lundqvist to back up Thatcher Demko?
Since Lundqvist led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, his numbers have been mixed. The save percentage stayed above. 910 for the next three seasons, but dipped below that the past two and as low as .905 in 30 games this season. The GAA has gone up, eclipsing 3.00 the past two seasons, but I refer that to the Rangers’ lack of talent since losing in five games to the Los Angeles Kings six years ago.
Lundqvist’s goals saved above expected, though, is intriguing. According to Evolving Hockey, his 4.12 GSAx was third among the best available goalies in free agency behind Anton Khudobin and Corey Crawford, and somehow better than Markstrom. Lehner’s was 1.8 when with Vegas. His mark was 16th among all goalies, yet far away from the elite 19.86 from Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck.
Lundqvist can still deliver in stints, but likely not as a full-time starter. A team would have to break the bank for that, and in a flat cap world for a contender, that’s still unlikely. The Golden Knights will still have to do some cap maneuvering if they want to land a big fish like Alex Pietrangelo, but Lundqvist could be had on a one-year deal. Spending close to $9 million for goalies sounds a lot better than $12 million.
Until anything is set in stone, the Golden Knights could very much hold on to Fleury and Lehner if they desire, but if this is indeed Lehner’s team going forward, the anticipated change needs to happen. Lundqvist would not be a bad option in this scenario.