Logan Thompson Should Get Opportunity to Step Up Again in Goal

Robin Lehner’s injury presents another opportunity for Logan Thompson

When Robin Lehner was battling injuries toward the end of the 2021-22 regular season, the Vegas Golden Knights turned to Logan Thompson, and even with a new coaching staff and urgency to be more competitive this season, the team should turn to him again. The loss of Lehner, which is expected to be the entire season barring a miraculous recovery, is a tough blow the Golden Knights, but it represents an opportunity.

Thompson did the best he could down the stretch for the Golden Knights, and he was playing in front of a team that was less than 100 percent. Had it not been for the team’s inability to perform in the shootout, there’s an outside chance he would have done just enough to backstop the Golden Knights into the playoffs.

In 19 games at the NHL level, Thompson went 10-5-3 with a 2.68 goals against average,  a .914 save percentage, and per Evolving-Hockey, Thompson saved 3.95 goals above average, and 2.2 goals above expected.

His performance was admirable, and the chart above gives some context to how he performed relative to the team in front of him. This year the team should have a healthy Jack Eichel to start the season, and the same can hopefully be said of Mark Stone. While the roster is different in composition with Max Pacioretty and Evgenii Dadonov out of the picture, it still will be in a better shape than it was to end the year when you consider how shorthanded Vegas was because of injuries. They are less talented, but in terms of composition they will be in a better position to try and win hockey games.

While Thompson is relatively inexperienced, he only has 20 games of NHL experience, it makes sense for the Golden Knights to see what they have in him before trying to acquire another goalie. It also makes sense to give him more of a leash than Laurent Brossoit or Michael Hutchinson.

At this time it is unclear when Brossoit will be available following hip surgery, but for the purposes of this story I am looking at it from the perspective that he will join the team at some point.

Hutchinson joined the organization this offseason, but the 32-year-old has bounced between the AHL and NHL frequently the last few seasons. Hutchinson went 11-10-5 with a 3.23 goals against average and .899 save percentage with the Toronto Marlies last season, and wasn’t much better in two NHL appearances with the Maple Leafs.

He appeared in 8 games during the 2020-21 season, 16 in 2019-20, 9 in 2018-19, and 3 in 2017-18. A lot of the things I get into with Brossoit also apply to Hutchinson who has a career NHL record of 55-55-15 with a 2.79 goals against average, and a .905 save percentage. With that out of the way, we can proceed.

For a team with playoff aspirations, it is easy to see why the front office might think it would make sense to have an experienced goalie who has shown he can do the basics of the job over an extended stretch of time. Brossoit has experience on his side with a career line of 42-41-8 with a 2.84 goals against average, and a .905 save percentage, but it is fair to say there enough information to suggest that we know what he is. And that to be specific is an average backup at best.

This isn’t a bad thing, as backups are valuable, but there’s been no real consistency in his performance year to year. For example, here’s a recent look at his performance using advanced metrics over the last few seasons.

Via Evolving-Hockey:

  • 2021-22: 24 games played | -7.52 GSAA | -2.05 GSAx
  • 2020-21: 14 games played | 4.62 GSAA | 0.97 GSAx
  • 2019-20: 19 games played | -6.59 GSAA | -3.45 GSAx
  • 2018-19: 21 games played | 10.03 GSAA | 10.89 GSAx
  • 2017-18: 14 games played | -10.32 GSAA | -9.32 GSAx/

The caveat that is important to point out is that the role he played is important, because goalies are creatures of habit who often times need to get into a rhythm of play. It is hard to play a game, sit for a bit, and get back in for another start and always be at the top of your game.

The amount of games he’s appeared in indicates that he was a traditional backup and not a true platoon player. His most recent season saw him play the most he has in years, and the results weren’t all that great.

Given his up and down play there’s always the chance that he bounces back this year in a starting role where he can get into a routine. But in terms of what is best for the franchise long term, I think it is more important for Vegas to learn if they can count on Thompson, because they may need him to play a large role beyond this season.

Brossoit was in a worse similar situation in terms of the team in front of him not being all that great, but comparatively Thompson had the better numbers from a GSAA and GSAx perspective. Obviously there are other factors to consider, but I return to the point that the team needs to learn more about Thompson overall. They may very well opt to give Brossoit a look first, but I think that would be the wrong move.

Lehner may not be the same goalie after having hip surgery, and someone like Thompson could be the future of the team in goal at a bargain. Ultimately he needs reps during the rigors of a regular NHL season, and this season he has a chance to get them.

Thompson was stellar in his first season in the AHL, and finished the season with a record of 16-6-2 with a 1.96 goals against average and a .943 save percentage. He then went 3-2-0 in the playoffs with a 2.33 goals against average and .919 save percentage.

This past season he had a record of 13-9-5 with a 2.77 goals against average, and a .920 save percentage at the AHL level. At times the Henderson Silver Knights were a little depleted, as they often were promoting players to the main roster whenever injury or illness struck. In a way it kind of prepared Thompson for what he would face once he was a bit of a mainstay to end the season.

The Golden Knights are a team that views making the playoff this year as something that has to happen. And they’d like to try and make a lengthy run to win the Stanley Cup. That means it could be risky to experiment with an unproven goalie. There’s no telling if Thompson will be the answer. In a short sample the results have been solid, and good enough to the point where he deserves an opportunity to be the guy in goal.

The hand they’ve been dealt with injuries and having to make trades to get under the salary cap has presented challenges, but some of that is a result of the team’s doing by being aggressive in adding big ticket players.

In the event Thompson falters, the Golden Knights may ultimately have to make a trade, but it would be better to do so later on before he gets a chance to prove himself. They can’t afford to burn more assets and cap space, so when they make their next move they need to be as sure as they can possibly be.