The Vegas Golden Knights made four great moves before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. One is already paying off for them, as Alec Martinez, collected from the Los Angeles Kings, has four points in three games so far in his Vegas tenure. Another, just made, saw Vegas pick up a goaltender in Robin Lehner, fixing what has been their weak spot so far this season.
The Golden Knights also picked up forward Nick Cousins from the Montreal Canadiens. Finally, the fourth was a move of avoidance more than addition. The rumored interest in Erik Gustafsson did not pan out, as the Chicago Blackhawks’ former defenseman was traded to the Knights’ inter-division rival Calgary Flames instead. Gustafsson is bad, so it’s a good thing that Vegas avoided him (for reference, Deryk Engelland is defensively superior in every metric so far this season).
The moves saw Vegas give out three second round picks, a fourth, Malcolm Subban and Slava Demin, but they make one of the best teams in the Pacific division so far this year better, and allow them to prepare for what should be another deep playoff run.
Now, Lehner is exactly what Vegas is looking for, or should have been at the deadline. The Golden Knights rank 23rd in team save percentage this season, 17th in high-danger. Together with Corey Crawford, Lehner made the Blackhawks seventh in save percentage, ninth in high-danger. Lehner comes in tied for 14th in save percentage with a .918, has made 10.61 goals saved above average, and -2.21 goals saved above expected on one of the most porous defenses in the NHL. That’s not what Vegas has.
Lehner also helped elevate the Islanders above their likely station last season after John Tavares left in free agency, and helped push them past the Pittsburgh Penguins in a first-round sweep before losing in the second round to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 playoffs. He was a Vezina nominee as well in the 2018-19 season.
Vegas’s defense this year is much closer to the Islanders than they are to the Blackhawks, so it may take Lehner some time to make adjustments to the way the Golden Knights play. However, with Marc-Andre Fleury’s recent increase in play level (four wins in his last four starts, a .926 save percentage over those four games, including a shutout), the Golden Knights have ways to account for such adjustments.
The Golden Knights had one glaring flaw before the deadline in their goaltending. They fixed it with the addition of a starting netminder who can play a 1B role if necessary, or allow Fleury additional time to recover. It also gives Vegas two options in the playoffs, should they need it. The move was necessary, and in the end, not too much was given up on Vegas’s side.